by Eileen Weber
A few of my neighborhood buddies gathered at my house this past weekend for a wine tasting. While it’s not unusual for my neighbors to be seen huddling around my kitchen counter for a glass or two, this time the wine was organic.
I picked a few bottles up at Mo’s Wine & Spirits on Post Road in Fairfield. I spoke with Sharon Kardos who writes for the store’s blog. She was rather knowledgeable about the merchandise and said she has a number of customers who inquire about organic wines.
The wines we tasted ranged from around $12 to $30. Kardos suggested two whites and two reds. My neighbor Charles Gill, our resident “wine guy”, brought over another bottle of white making five bottles in all.
The first white we tried was Gordon Brothers Sauvignon Blanc 2006 from the Columbia Valley in Washington state. There was a touch of smoke and oak with a mineral finish. We all agreed it was a bit thin, but certainly drinkable. Charles noted that, because it was a Columbia Valley wine, there was a better chance of it having good notes.
“There are some really great wines coming out of the Northwest,” he said. “It’s the new Napa Valley.”
Charles brought over the next one we tried, Bonterra Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2006 from California. It had lemon and herbs. But it was a simple wine with little to no bouquet. It was certainly drier, or less sweet, than the Gordon Brothers with a clean finish. But that finish didn’t sit well with some. “It’s clean,” said my neighbor Sue Potter, “but it’s the kind of clean that reminds me of a cleaning product.”
The last white we drank was the Frey Chardonnay 2007 also from California. The kindest description we could muster was that it tasted like Sour Patch Kids®, the sour-coated soft candy. It was really nothing more than glorified grape juice. Frankly, I don’t think you could consider it wine.
We quickly moved on to the reds. The first one we tasted was actually the most expensive bottle at about $30. It was the Scott Paul Pinot Noir 2006 from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. This was by far the best wine of the evening. It had a vanilla and gingerbread bouquet with a blackberry jam finish. It was pleasant and drinkable and would pair nicely with food, anything from salmon with an orange-balsamic glaze to grilled lamb.
The final wine was the Our Daily Red 2007 from California. According to Kardos, this wine flies off the shelf at Mo’s. We found it to be tart and seedy with a bit of grassiness. It was slightly earthy, yet had a raspberry sorbet finish. I found it to be less enjoyable than the Scott Paul Pinot Noir. Nonetheless, I didn’t feel like spitting it out in a comical spray as I did with the Frey Chardonnay.
When I asked Kardos why there seemed to be a growing interest in organic wines, she said, “If you’re eating organic, you’re going to be a little more conscious of what you put in your body.”
She went on to say that lots of vineyards are more responsible in their farming habits. These vineyards recycle, use biofuel, use screw caps instead of cork, reduce the glass size of the bottle and try to reduce their overall carbon footprint.
However, there’s a difference between growing sustainably, growing organic and growing “biodynamic”. And, some wines only call themselves organic but don’t necessarily practice organic farming. Which means, you have to read your labels carefully.
To put it simply, organic wines are grown without the aid of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides or herbicides. They may or may not contain sulfites, or sulfur dioxide. Sulfites are a preservative that have antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. But some consumers are sensitive to the additive and prefer their wines without them, hence a growing interest in the organic labels.
If the wine is 100% organic, it is made from 100% organic ingredients, carries the USDA Organic label, and contains no added sulfites. If the wine is simply labeled as organic, it is typically made from 95% organic ingredients with 5% of it non-organic. If it is listed as Made With Organic Ingredients, it is only 70% organic.
According to the Organic Wine Journal, sustainable wineries “jokingly refer to themselves as ‘organic unless something goes wrong.’” These vineyards essentially try to use less chemicals and are mindful of responsible farming. But that doesn’t make them organic, just conscientious.
Biodynamic wines are organic as well, but the growing involves so much more. It was a concept that was originated by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher from late 19th and early 20th century. The grapes are grown 100% organically, but with an eye toward timing the farming and harvesting of them with the stars and the planets. The vineyard is seen as a whole organism—the vines, the soil underneath, as well as the methods used to grow them.
While we tasted each of these wines listed above, I can’t say any one of us walked away thinking we would drink them again. They were too young and too thin. They lacked complexity and nuance many oenophiles come to enjoy in their wine.
As Kardos explained, what makes the wine is the sulfites. “They are a necessary evil,” she said. “You certainly can’t age wine without it. And while wine has naturally occurring sulfites from the fermentation, wine is virtually worthless without a certain level of sulfites in order to age and grow in complexity.”
The concept of organic farming is a good one, perhaps even a noble one. But great organic produce doesn’t necessarily translate into great organic wine. Unfortunately, organic wines, or at least the ones we tasted, have a long way to go in order to be considered good.