How To (Not) Go Green (Organic Wines Still Suck)

Vinted on December 1, 2007 binned in organic wine, wine how to, wine tips

Dude has seen quite a bit of press regarding organic and biodynamic wines, which are understandably riding the marketing wave of increased consumer demand for healthier, more naturally-made food products.

At industry wine-tasting events, organic and biodynamic viticulture is touted at nearly every distributor’s and/or winery’s boot,h in order to get a edge over their adjacent competition for eyes, mouths, and wine orders.

Anyone who has had local, organically grown produce, or tasted a fresh hunk of free-range chicken right off the grill, knows firsthand that these products often taste better, are healthier for you, and are superior in quality to their mass-manufactured counterparts.

The story is a bit different when it comes to wines.

That’s because most organic wines suck.

It’s not just this dude’s opinion – in 2005, Tom Stevenson (noted wine writer and critic, and the driving force behind the brilliant Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia and the indispensable annual industry Wine Report) wrote the following regarding the state of organic wines:

  • “When great winemakers… “go green” they produce great organic or biodynamic wines. However, it is quite another matter when others less passionate about the quality of wine are organic. While they may well have a true passion for the environment, the majority of the world’s organic producers clearly have no idea how to make a superior quality wine.”

Part of this viewpoint undoubtedly has to do with our expectations as consumers of organic / biodynamic products, spurred on by marketing that goads us into automatically assuming that these products are better for the environment (usually true), are healthier for us (also usually true) and are of higher quality (uh… not quite…). That last part still requires skill, and a passion to make something of real quality, no matter what the methods.

As consumers, we’re also confused about exactly what organic and biodynamic really mean. In summary, they are both government-regulated terms, meaning if you follow the production standards laid out by the government, then you’re allowed to use those terms on the label. At a high level, this is what’s required for winemakers to “go green”:

  • Organic: the wine is made with the minimum amount of sulfer dioxide, using grapes that have been grown without using chemically-based pesticides/herbicides and fertilizers.
  • Biodynamic: the grapes are grown without using chemical or synthetic fertilizers & sprays; natural yeasts are used for fermentation of the wine, with minimal use of sulfer dioxide, filtration, and chapatalization (the addition of sugars to raise the potential alcohol in the finished wine – which happens much more often then you really want to know about…).

Notice what is NOT represented above – measurements of quality.

So, how have things fared in terms of quality standards for organic wines since the dire outlook penned by Mr. Steven in 2005? Not too good.

Most organic wines still suck.

A great example comes from the Organic Wine section of the 2007 Wine Report: according to the report, Chile (an ever-expanding hotbed of quality wine production) is becoming “a graveyard for failed organic projects” because in order to make quality wine some producers are running organic and non-organic wine growing systems in parallel – a total nightmare in terms of vineyard management.

The problem is that it’s much easier to market organic than it is to make great organic wines. And if producers had figured out how to make top quality wine organically, they wouldn’t need parallel systems – and certainly would have more certified organic acreage under vine.

Europe has, by far, the largest amount of certified-organic vineyard areas – just under 82,000 hectares, which sounds impressive but is only a “whopping” 2.2% of the total vineyard acreage. Half of that 2.2% is concentrated in just one country – Italy, whose farmers were subsidized heavily by the government to convert to organic! In the U.S., biodynamic conversions are on the rise, but the numbers are equally paltry – 1.7% in California (though Oregon is leading with just under 10%).

The moral of the story, at least for this dude, is not to jump too fast onto the organic bandwagon when it comes to wine. While there are some organic producers making top-notch stuff, if you don’t know the producer and it says organic on the label, then it could (in fact, is likely to be) “green” plonk.




In The News: Res-(veratrol)-ervations Part II

Vinted on November 29, 2007 binned in wine health, wine news

Some of you may recall that I’ve written earlier this month on the reported hype (and potential dangers) of the resveratrol craze.

I won’t spend too much verbiage on this post, as I’m sure the developing story will be covered by dozens of talented bloggers today.

But I caught this story on NPR this morning and was captivated – it’s a fascinating development in the scientific chase to find a ‘miracle drug’ based on compounds commonly found in wine, only this time there may be some true merit (and a potentially huge financial pay off as well):




How To: Select-A-Wine

Vinted on November 25, 2007 binned in wine how to

Executive summary: Leave me a comment on this post with your special event / dinner / what-have-you, and I will respond back with a wine suggestion to match, no strings attached. If you like it, spread the word…

“Will this red really go with Aunt Martha’s roast chicken and cloves…?”

Have you ever been in a pinch for selecting the right bottle of wine for a given occasion? Or just been frustrated by walking the isles in a supermarket or wine store, staring at the seemingly endless rows of bottles and wondering “what the hell is all of this stuff… I just want to know what goes with [insert dinner menu here]??!?

I certainly have – in fact, it’s moments like those that sent me on the path to ‘wine geekdom’. One day long ago, while staring down the intimidating rows of French and CA wines, I made a pact with myself – I was determined that I would “lick this wine thing” and turn it into something that I enjoyed, instead of something that made me feel like running timidly out of the liquor store door.

There are hundreds of tools and articles to help match food & wine, but these can only take you so far, and rarely (if ever) describe the exact situation you may have when you’re facing a a tough food & wine match, or one of those hot-date-night-gotta-get-right scenarios.

So… I’ve been thinking that it would be fun to help others on their quest for the right wine pairings for their given situation, and to use my newfound wine powers for the purpose of good, justice league style (just without the cape & tights).

So – I invite any of who stumble onto this blog to drop me a comment describing your situation/event/meal plan/etc., and I will respond back my recommendations on the style of wine (and, if possible, specific wines that have served me well in similar situations in the past).

Who knows – together we might build an impressive mini-library of real-world wine pairing experiences! And the worst-case scenario is that you get to try something new while tapping into my wine experience and knowledge (at no expense to you, and without having to take all of those damn certifications!).

Cheers, and happy pairing!



Wheel of Misfortune OR "Screw it & pass the Bubbly!"

Vinted on November 24, 2007 binned in Uncategorized

I’ve posted previously about my take on the “main” (aka internationally-recognized) streams of wine certification. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to take one of the certification exams, you should check out the World Wine Challenge game that I stumbled upon recently.

It’s a simple flash game – a) spin the wheel, b) answer the question, and c) unless you’ve done some hard-core wine studying, prepare to become the wheel’s b*tch. The questions are reasonably tough – more difficult than most of the questions in the WSET Intermediate certification exam, and almost consistently as tricky as those in the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) exam.

How did I do? Not as well as I should have considering how recently I passed the WSET Advanced and CSW exams. So… I said screw it and decided to drink some wine instead (back to the old-fashioned wine study method!).

For those times that you say “Screw it! Let’s have a drink…” this holiday season, I advise you not to forget the Bubbly (aka sparkling wine). Here in the Northeast, when the weather gets cooler we start to gravitate towards the heavy, alcoholic, and very red wine styles to give our insides that warm-and-fuzzy feeling. So we tend to forget how awesome it is having a bottle of bubbly around for the holidays.

My buddy Jason has recently penned a list of his holiday fizz favorites for Main Line magazine. A snippet from his picks are below (click to enlarge). If you’re in the mood to splurge, I highly suggest “La Grande Dame” (if you’re also in the Philly area, I also highly suggest that you e-mail me when you open it!).




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