May 23, 2011

What is Natural Wine?

Organic... sustainably farmed... biodynamic... all terms relating to a topic thats both incredibly hot and invariably misunderstood - natural wine!

Luckily for us, last week I had the opportunity to serve at another tasting event (hosted by NY Wine Salon) to put some of these common misunderstandings to rest - this go-around in a more educational format featuring both a tasting and panel discussion on natural wine.

Along for the ride that night were NY wine influentials including the likes of:
And on tap we had more than a dozen delicious natural-tagged wines from around the world, served with platters of artisan cheeses, charcuterie and bread. Sip, nibble, discuss, repeat.

Here's a snapshot of the flights for you to go out and try yourself:

Flight #1
  • Valli Unite 2009 “Il Brut and the Beast” Sparkling Cortese (Piemonte)
  • Domaine de la Haute Borne (Vincent Careme) 2006 Vouvray Sec (Loire Valley)
  • Three Trees 2009 Rosé (Roussillon)
Flight #2
  • Casa Lapostolle 2008 “Cuvee Alexandre” Chardonnay (Chile)
  • Pacific Rim 2008 “Wallula” Riesling (Columbia Valley)
  • Hajszan 2008 “Gemischter Satz Weissleiten” (Austria)
Flight #3

  • Shinn Estate NV Red (North Fork, LI)
  • Christophe Pacalet 2010 Beaujolais-Villages
  • Palacios Remondo 2009 “La Vendimia” Rioja (Spain)
Flight #4
  • Montesecondo (Silvio Messana) 2007 Chianti Classico (Toscana)
  • Guilhem 2009 Moulin de Gassac (Languedoc) from half bottle
  • Bucklin 2008 “Bambino” Zinfandel (Sonoma)
So what exactly makes wine “green?” Let's break down the basic levels and learn together:

Organic wine is made from grapes that have been grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Look to differentiate wines labeled with "organic" connotations by deciphering whats actually on the label. For instance, wines labeled "100% Organic" refers to those produced with grapes that are certified 100% organically grown and do not have any added sulfites. "Organic" wines refers to wines that have at least 95% of their ingredients from certified organic sources. These wines may have an additional 100 ppm of sulfur dioxide added to them. And "Made with Organic Grapes" labels implies that these wines that have at least 70% of their grapes from organic sources. These wines may have sulfur dioxide added as well.

Sustainably Farmed
This term refers to growers and vintners who have adopted sustainable winegrowing practices and to measure and demonstrate ongoing improvement. These practices could include steps to reduce source water use in cleaning and sanitation; minimize use of cleaning products and other chemicals; decrease the volume and strength of wastewater produced and associated energy required for treatment; minimize the water and energy needed for heating and cooling operations; and optimize the effectiveness of land application systems for wastewater treatment.

Biodynamic wines are wines made using the principles of biodynamic agriculture. Biodynamic refers to both the agricultural methods and the handling and processing of the fruit post-harvest.