As Americans become more concerned with where their food is coming from and how it is produced, I wonder where our beverages are coming from. If no GMO’s are an issue and organic food is the only way, why not beg the question with your wine? The term “Organic” is defined differently in every country. For instance, in Europe it is illegal to label a wine as “Organic Wine,” it must be labeled as “Wine made from organic grapes.”
The world-wide organic consensus includes no use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. In the winery, there can be no added sulfur. The latter is where the difficulty and functionality of organic wine comes into play. No matter what your belief, sulfur is essential to wine making. Without sulfur (which acts as an antioxidant, or preservation agent) wine does not have lengthy aging potential. As the bottle ages and matures, oxygen slowly incorporates itself into the liquid to help balance and soften the tannins and acidity; this melds together to form a beautiful and complex wine.
In America, the USDA National Organic Standard (NOP) is the governing body over who may issue an organic certification. This certification can only come, among many other qualifiers, after a conversion period of 3 years of practicing organic farming. In Europe (where you must practice organic for a minimum of 2 years previous) this runs in much the same way; there are bountiful organic certifiers per country, all overseen by one national organization.
Plenty of producers practice organic yet are not certified. Some producers (mostly stubborn European) have practiced organic since the beginning of their time, so in their eyes, why pay the hefty fee to certify? Also, the fee is so great, many of the small producers are not able to afford it.
In the end, it boils down to this: living organic is a lifestyle, it is sticking true to a belief that what you put into your body should be wholesome and natural. If your palate asks for organic food, give it a wine to match! All wine in this review is certified organic.
Elizabeth Spencer is a co-op winery north of Napa & Sonoma in Mendocino. It is a husband (Spencer) and wife (Elizabeth) team that makes a beautiful and balanced Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is a light in body and straw in color with aromas of crisp apple, honeysuckle and a touch of fresh green peas. The “sur lie” aging style (leaving the sediment from fermentation and wine together) yields depth, complexity and a finish that will leave you wanting more than just a glass. Pair with grilled asparagus, balsamic reduction and goat cheese. $19.99
Vins de Pays (pronounced Van-de-Pie-E) is a classification in France where a producer can use grapes not permitted in the highest quality designation (AOC), yet still use the geographic origin. In this case, Pepiere is growing red Cabernet Franc grapes in a region that is generally used for the white wine, Muscadet. Growing these grapes in the Loire Valley gave him the Vins de Pays du Val de Loire classification. This wine is a fairly deep ruby color with a beautiful nose of tart red berries and a touch of granite. With a surprising amount of smooth tannin, this is a great red to sip with a slight chill. Pair with creamy mushroom polenta. $16.99
This is one of my absolute favorite reds in the shop, from a third generation winemaker who is incredibly minimalistic. Isn’t that what organic is all about? Less is more? These are all hand-harvested grapes with only the indigenous yeast to start and run fermentation. Yeast is a living organism, it is on everything around us, this is how grapes can be crushed and fermentation will start on its own. The only thing needed here will be some temperature control during fermentation to keep the flavors balanced. This deep purple-colored wine offers a burst of acidity with light tannins, cooked mushroom and bright cranberry. Acidity is essential in food and wine pairings, and due to this Barbera is known as one of the world’s ultimate “food wines.” Pair with putanesca sauce. $16.99
Peter Andrews CSS, CSW, MBA, is the General Manager of Grapes & Grains fine wine, craft beer, and small-batch spirits shop in Barrington. Any questions, comments or suggestions on the Monthly Wine Review? Email Peter at Pandrews@grapesandgrainsri.com.