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Our handy guide decodes these common wine terms so you can decide which one is best for you.
If you’re buying conventional wine, chances are it contains sulfites, pesticides, and other weird additives (like bentonite clay and fish bladder proteins). Fortunately, you can now find a plethora of wines that boast better ingredients and production methods—like biodynamic, organic, and natural wines. But what exactly do all of these terms mean? Use this handy guide to learn the difference between conventional, biodynamic, organic, and natural wines so you can decide which one is the most worth your money.
Unlike food, alcoholic beverages aren’t covered by the Food and Drug Administration, and most ingredients aren’t required to be labeled on bottles. But aren’t the only ingredients in wine grapes and yeast? Not exactly.
It turns out, no matter how many variables you try to control, grapes have a mind of their own, which means there can be a difference in the flavors and colors of grapes from the same crop. As a result, conventional wines may contain pesticides, additives, and other chemicals to give each bottle the same recognizable flavor and color. Our government also allows dozens of artificial ingredients in alcoholic beverages, most of which aren’t required to be listed on labels, so there may be cause for concern when perusing the wine section of your supermarket on a Saturday night.
Sulfites are one concern for wine consumers since they're one of the few ingredients required to be labeled on bottles. While sulfites are naturally occurring to some extent, more are often added to conventional wines to preserve the color and shelf-life. While there are some lower-sulfite options out there, it is difficult to find one that is 100 percent sulfite-free. However, only one percent of the country is actually sulfite-intolerant, and a sulfite-free wine won’t exactly keep headaches at bay.
Biodynamic farming is all about limiting one’s negative impact on the environment by reusing farm waste, utilizing crop rotation, and excluding chemical fertilizers and soil additives. Biodynamic wine has to not only be produced organically to be labeled “biodynamic,” but it also has to receive a certification from the Demeter Association, an organization that certifies farms as biodynamic based on rigorous growing and processing standards. These biodynamic farms must be self-sustaining, have diversified crops, and also prioritize their impact on the ecosystem.
The good thing about choosing an organic wine is that you know it has received a legitimate certification, promising the grapes in your wine were grown, harvested, and processed in a certain way. Organic wine should be made from grapes that were grown without any herbicides, pesticides or other non-organic soil treatments and shouldn’t have any genetically modified ingredients, such as yeast. Make sure you’re purchasing certified organic wine and not just wine made with organically grown grapes for a 100 percent organic bottle of vino.
The tricky thing here, however, is that the U.S. has different standards for organic wine than Europe and Canada. The U.S. doesn’t allow added sulfites in organic wine, while Europe and Canada do allow the addition of sulfites in small amounts.
Looking for great wine tips?
Natural or clean wines are different from organic and biodynamic options, because they currently do not have to undergo any official certification process. Labeling a wine as “clean” is pretty new to the wine industry, as Thrive Market was one of the first companies to launch a major clean wine collection in the fall of 2018. However, Thrive Market has pretty strict standards for which wines make the cut.
According to Thrive Market, their clean wine collection consists of not only organic, biodynamic options, but these wines have other specific processing and farming standards, such as being sourced from small to mid-sized producers and minimal fining and filtration processes. While this collection makes a great option for those looking for truly clean wines, beware of others labeled as such without first doing some research on the brand’s farming and production practices.
The bottom line: If you’re looking to keep wine headaches at bay, choosing an organic, biodynamic, or clean wine won’t necessarily keep you headache-free, although they're free of toxic chemicals. However, if you are looking for a wine to go with your organic, grass-fed ingredients, non-conventional options may be best for those looking to avoid chemicals and practice sustainability in all areas of their lives.
What's the Difference between Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine?
Browse the endless wine shelf at the supermarket and you might grow curious: what's behind this bottle of red besides fermented grape juice? These days, we're more savvy than ever about where our food comes from and how it's produced. But most of us can't say the same thing about that glass of vino we're enjoying along with it. The truth is, the method of wine production is as varied as Big Ag chicken versus pastured-raised farm birds. Some wines are more natural—or "cleaner"—than others. To understand the difference between organic, biodynamic and natural wine, it first helps to have a little background.
Wine is the product of two processes: wine growing and winemaking. Wine growing encompasses planting, farming and harvesting grapes in the vineyard. Winemaking includes crushing, transforming and bottling these grapes into stuff you might sip by the glass at your favorite restaurant, bring to your brother's holiday dinner or swig on the couch during Seinfeld reruns.
Though the intricacies of a good glass are all held in the bottle, variations between wines aren't always transparent. One thing is clear when strolling through the aisles of polished pinot noirs and rieslings at your local shop: aside from seemingly simple decisions—do I want red or white tonight?—there are more qualifications to consider. Like "organic," "biodynamic" and "natural."
To help make sense of the wine aisle, let's break down some phrasing.
Why Is Natural Wine Such a Big Deal?
In the age of wellness Instagram influencers and food bloggers, and the prevalence of cleanses and detoxes, consumers are much more mindful about what they’re putting in their bodies than ever before. That shouldn’t stop with the wine they bring home.
All too often wine is an afterthought, and bottles with familiar labels and cutesy names are thrown in the grocery cart with the organic produce and cage-free, farm-raised eggs. And that, my friends, just doesn’t make sense.
Many places still consider wine and liquor stores to be essential businesses during this time of shelter in place ordinances—and for good reason. Wine is a source of comfort, pleasure, and something we can share at home or via virtual happy hours to make self isolation more tolerable. While there is an emphasis on immune-boosting foods, and staying healthy during quarantine, the kind of wine we drink should be a part of that conversation.
Do yourself and the earth a favor by being a better wine drinker. Follow these tips for how to pick out responsibly made, unadulterated, clean wine that won’t blow your budget, made even easier by contactless pickup and delivery services.
What You Need to Know About Natural Wine
If you’re in touch with the wine world at all, or even if you’re not, you’ve probably heard this term “natural wine,” an old practice that’s had quite the resurgence in the past five years or so. So what does natural wine mean, and why should we be drinking it?
Well, it’s not super clearly defined or regulated, but it’s essentially wine grapes that are farmed without pesticides or herbicides in the vineyard, are handpicked, and fermented spontaneously with wild, native yeasts. There are no additives, no filtration, no manipulations. Natural wines are authentic, pure, raw, and naked. Sustainable, organic, and biodynamic wines all fall into the natural category.
Isabelle Legeron, who is a Master of Wine, the founder of the RAW WINE fairs in London and New York showcasing natural wine producers, and all around authority on natural wine, says we should be drinking natural because “Natural wine hasn’t been tampered with. Something that is really artisanal and small production gives you wine that’s more authentic. It’s more of a representation of where it’s from.”
It also has important environmental benefits, especially for biodiversity. Legeron says natural winemakers are “Encouraging biodiversity and wildlife to come back to the vineyards. It’s encouraging butterfly populations, birds to be nesting nearby,” which for human enterprises is becoming increasingly more rare.
Natural wines are wild, very expressive, sometimes funky, often lighter bodied, with chunky sediment at the bottom and higher in acid. Some of the natural wine touchstones to look out for are light, chillable reds—or “glou glou” reds whites that are cloudy or have skin contact, a.k.a. the trendy orange wines and pet nats—sparkling wines made using the original, single fermentation method.
Besides making the more responsible choice for the environment, you’re also being good to your body by drinking natural wine. When you drink natural wine, you’re just drinking fermented grape juice, with little to no added sulfites, no chemicals, and nothing fake. Natural wine skins also have more antioxidants, says Legeron.
Another perk: Often, natural wine has a lower A.B.V. which means little to no hangover (if consumed in moderation), and you can drink more of it without getting hammered.
Mixed Opinions on Natural Wine
While many wine drinkers—especially millennials—embrace the natural wine movement of the past several years, there are some traditionalists who vehemently denounce it.
For many years leading up to this newfound interest in natural wines, it was big, bold, oaky, fruity, heavy, opulent reds of Napa and Bordeaux that were deemed superior, in large part thanks to the Robert Parker points system and the wines the famous critic favors. Much natural wine criticism stems from the category being legally undefined, and for that critics like Parker have called it a “scam.” Ironically, it’s the wines that are meddled with to taste the same vintage after vintage that seem like the scam, not the wines that have nothing to hide.
It’s these expectations of what a wine from a particular winery, region, or grape varietal should taste like that lead to opposition of the natural wines that disrupt that mentality. Because there are so many artificial ways to protect grapes in the vineyard and tinker with wines in the cellar, there is little to no variation with each vintage. Natural wines can be very inconsistent from year to year, and that’s considered a good thing, at least in the natural wine community.
As for those conventional wines with smoothed over edges, Legeron says “Those wines can be redundant. Why have the same thing year after year? Why have ratings and critics at all?”
Regarding the natural wine backlash, Legeron says “It has ruffled a lot of feathers. It’s made a lot of noise for something that makes up so little of the marketplace. Fortunately, the amount of coverage it gets is disproportionate to the space it holds in the marketplace.”
Legeron also points out that a lot of these critics can’t necessarily identify the region or the name of the wine that they’re rejecting. “It’s people who have a lack of experience, or haven’t tasted that many natural wines,” says Legeron.
Legeron’s advice? “Take it with a pinch of salt and try it for yourself.”
No matter your preference or stance on the issue, wine made without the use of pesticides or synthetic materials is undeniably a good thing for your body and the environment. Not to mention, you’re supporting farmers, small business, and a reduced ecological footprint, which is crucial—now more than ever.
How to Find These Wines
If you’re new to sustainable, organic, and biodynamic wines, all of which fit under the natural umbrella, it may be unclear how to find them. Here are the best ways to begin your natural wine adventures:
- Shop at a local, independent wine store. The natural wine selection at big box and grocery stores are meager at best. The staff at wine boutiques are there to help you and they are your top resource for finding the best bottles to fit your tastes and your budget. For an even bigger range of options, do a little research to see which of your local wine shops might specialize in natural wines.
- Look for or ask for wines from natural importers. If you’re unsure whether a wine is natural, check your local shop to see what they have from importers focusing on natural wine producers, like Jenny & Francois, Louis/Dressner, SelectioNaturel, Rosenthal, Von Bodem, Brazos, European Cellars and Ole Obrigado.
- Look for natural wine indicators. Another way to search for natural wines is to look for clues on the bottle. First of all, natural wines will rarely be one of the brands that almost anyone could name, like those that have a cupcake or a kangaroo on the label. Some natural wines actually get certified for being sustainable, organic or biodynamic. However, many don’t have that certification because it’s very expensive, even though they are practicing the same methods. The logos of the companies that grant certifications will be on the bottle, like Demeter, LIVE Certified, USDA Organic and a host of others specific to certain countries. Most will include the words “organic,” “sustainable,” “green,” or “biodynamic” and will likely have a leaf or plant motif.
For when you’re just getting into natural wines, Legeron says to keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to try something different, even if it looks cloudy. She recommends starting with the “uber drinkable, super juicy” pet nats. After all, who doesn’t love bubbles?
Is natural wine the same as organic wine?
While natural wine is always organic, organic wine isn't always natural. Be wary of “clean” wine brands leaning on their use of organic grapes to position themselves as natural-adjacent, warns Pope. “The term ‘clean wine’ is a marketing gimmick directed toward the wellness-obsessed consumer and makes dubious claims,” she says. While organic grapes are the bare minimum for natural wine, winemakers can still add synthetic ingredients later on in the process—so no, the terms are not synonymous.
WHAT IS BIODYNAMIC WINE?
The name biodynamic sounds weird right? Believe it or not, there is such a thing as a Biodynamic Wine Movement, which is a spiritual movement many wine farmers utilize today for agricultural sustainability. Started by philosopher Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s who believed we should live and farm together with the earth’s environment according to the lunar calendar. Today, biodynamic wine is explained as the basic idea of respecting the land and environment.
Farmers believe in the ethical approach that self-sustaining farming and garden practices do to help the ecosystem. To keep the soil fertile, biodynamic wine farmers keep ducks, horses, and sheep to live on the soil so that their waste is used as fertilizer. Creating a rich fertile environment allows the vines to grow and absorb the minerals as well as have higher nutritional content. Some forms of compost preparation include chamomile, yarrow root, and stinging nettles but the main one used is cow horn compost. Cow Horn compost is the process of stuffing manure into cow horns and then buried deep in the ground throughout the winter. When excavated, this manure is sprinkled throughout the vineyard which is said to promote growth, dissolve minerals, and regulates the soil’s pH balance. Farmers also use natural materials instead of GMOs, fungicides, herbicides, growth stimulants, and pesticides to cultivate the soil.
FUN FACT: Biodynamic wine farmers prune and harvest based on the biodynamic calendar. The calendar is broken down with daily tasks that represent the earth’s four elements and broken into four kinds of days: leaf days, root days, flower days, and fruit days. The four classical elements calendar days are as follows leaf days for watering, root days for pruning, flower days the vineyard is left alone and fruit days are meant for harvesting.
DOES BIODYNAMIC WINE TASTE DIFFERENT THAN NATURAL, ORGANIC WINE?
Biodynamic wines do not taste any different from natural, organic wine. The only difference between the three is how they are cultivated, harvested, and farmed. Most if not all natural wines are unfiltered and unrefined, which means each bottle contains the impurities of the wine such as proteins and microbes but you can also get your hands on clean, filtered wines too.
Some characteristics or terms you may hear when one is describing natural wine are “funky, cloudy, barnyard, yeasty and gamey. They also tend to have fewer fruit aromas as non-natural wines and lean more towards the sour yeasty notes, similar to characteristics of hazy sour beer.
IS NATURAL WINE HEALTHIER?
Is natural wine better for you? Wines without additives, no or low sulfites, or any other grape manipulation are said to be healthier for you. Some natural winemakers will use small quantities of sulfites right before bottling the wine, while others won’t add any sulfites because they believe in keeping the wine in its purest form, which is a form of dry, natural wine.
Sulfites are a stabilizer and preservative used in the winemaking process to ensure the wine tastes the same as it did during bottling. Adding sulfites in wine isn’t necessarily a bad thing and wines with little added sulfites don’t disqualify it from the natural wine category. Sulfite additives in wine have been a controversial topic for many years as people equate sulfites to morning headaches, but the word is still out as there is still no evidence to support this claim.
Some other health benefits of natural wines are found to have:
- Higher amounts of resveratrol, which are antioxidants that fight free radicals
- Improve heart health
- Protect against arteriosclerosis
- Reduce the risk of diabetes and obesity
- Decrease triglycerides and cholesterol
- Protect against stroke
- Proper fermentation containers such as stainless steel, glass, neutral oak, and clay amphora pots also aid in health benefits because it keeps the wines clean and free from mold and mycotoxin
4. Natural Wines Taste Funky
OK, this myth actually has some validity. But is funkiness in wine a bad thing? We say no. A small level of brettanomyces—that is, the strain of yeast that gives some wines a whiff of barnyard or saddle leather—or the doughy notes gleaned from leaving dead yeast cells in the bottle rather than filtering them out can elevate a wine. “Natural wines have a broader range of acceptable flavors,” says Kuehner. “But within that broad swath are also all of the same flavors of commercial wines.” Just like some sour beers might not be your jam, others may be the mouthwatering, tart and tangy brews you’re craving. The right natural wine to pique your palate is out there waiting to be uncorked.
Bottle to try: 2019 Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli Georgia ($18), a wine made with white grapes left on the skins, which gives it an orange hue, that’s fermented in traditional underground clay pots called qvevri
10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Biodynamic Wine
Believe it or not, there are wines available that are better for us and for the earth. Besides organic wine, biodynamic wines offer options for drinkers concerned about the impact what they eat and drink has on the earth. Beyond organic, biodynamic wines are sustainable and promote healthy soil, ethical practices, and principles that leave the land enriched rather than overused. Get to know biodynamic wines and see if they are the right choice for you.
1. What’s The Difference Between Organic and Biodynamic?
Organic wines do not use any pesticides or other chemicals to grow the grapes or produce the wines – these wines do not have added sulfites. Biodynamic wines are organic but beyond pesticides the entire growing, harvesting and making process are sustainable – leaving little to no footprint on the area’s animals, people, communities and public health. If a wine is biodynamic it is organic if a wine is organic it is not necessarily biodynamic.
2. What Makes Something Biodynamic?
Biodynamic farming adheres to the principles developed and shared by philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s. Steiner believed that the earth was out of balance due to the rapid industrialization of farming, and that continued mass farming practices would deplete the earth’s ability to create healthy soil to yield healthy crops. The land used for growing crops is treated with preparations made from natural substances (manure, minerals, plants and herbs) that are either buried or sprayed on the land. The goal is to enrich the soil during growing and composting to keep it healthy and not devoid of nutrients, as can happen in traditional farming.
3. How Does Biodynamic Farming Work?
Using the biodynamic calendar, crops are planted and harvested during different times based on the part of the plant used: leaf and stem, flower, root or seed. Times are determined by the phase of the moon and its location in various constellations. Strict adherence to biodynamics includes eating or drinking the crop or product made with it during particular times based on the moon. For example, biodynamic wine should not, according to Steiner’s principals, be drunk during a full moon.
4. This Wine Was Made Using Biodynamic Grown Grapes, Does That Mean it’s Biodynamic Wine?
No. Semantics play a role in marketing wine and it would be easy to assume that the wine you’re holding is biodynamic. If it is, it will include that it has been certified by Demeter, a private certifier of biodynamic products. A wine made with biodynamic grapes does not mean the actual wine was produced using biodynamic practices.
5. My Biodynamic Wine Looks Strange, Is Something Wrong With It?
No. The biodynamic process of making wine does not allow for clarifiers, so your wine might be more cloudy than what you’re used to. Also, no chemicals can be added to adjust color so the color you see might be different from that you’re used to. This is because the wine is completely natural and not engineered. The “off” color and cloudiness is similar to using other natural products, like recycled paper. It is never white, but rather a light beige or even gray, because of the fact that it is not bleached. It can take a little getting used to because we are so used to white products, but eventually we don’t notice it when we continue to use recycled or natural, unbleached products.
6. No Pesticides? No Fertilizers? How Can That Work?
Biodynamic farming uses preparations, numbered from 500-508 to prepare and fertilize the land used for farming. These are completely natural and rely on principles developed by Steiner to create balance between the physical and spiritual world.
7. What Are These Preparations? What Is Their Purpose?
Biodynamic uses two types of preparations: those for fertilizing and those for composting. They require combinations of natural substances (manure, herbs and flowers, minerals) and organic materials (cow horns, bladders, skulls) to be buried in the land or sprayed onto compost to help keep nutrients in the earth. Sprays are stirred to create opposite vortexes (clockwise and counterclockwise) to achieve balance.
8. Are Biodynamic Wines or Wine Made With Biodynamic Grapes Vegan?
These wines are not vegan because they use organic materials derived from animals in the process of making them. If you eat a vegan diet rather than adhere to a vegan lifestyle, biodynamic wines would work for you since there are no animal products or derivatives in them. If you adhere to a completely vegan lifestyle (i.e. you do not wear leather) biodynamic wines are not vegan.
9. Where are Biodynamic Wines Made?
Biodynamic wines are produced in all of the world’s major wine regions. Many biodynamic farms are located in Germany, where Steiner originally proposed the idea during a series of lectures.
10. Where Can I Find Biodynamic Wines?
You can ask at your local wine shop if they sell biodynamic wines or visit the Demeter website for a comprehensive list of all wines certified as biodynamic. Many restaurants and wine bars now carry biodynamic wines and note them on the wine list. They are usually sold by the bottle rather than by the glass but as they rise in popularity they will likely become available in smaller sizes (carafe, half bottle, glass).
If you are interested in learning more about biodynamic farming, products or wine there are many online resources and courses to help you understand more about the process and products. While scientists are still studying the impact biodynamic farming has on the soil over time, there are some definitive facts. The process is much less invasive to the soil, and while it will take years to see, the soil is being trained through the type of planting and the preparations. Certain invasive organisms are discouraged from taking up residence in the soil and the soil is richer because of the organic compounds used. While some of the practices may sound strange, it is a sustainable, earth-friendly, ethical mode of farming.
Have you tried biodynamic wines? If so, which are your favorites? If not, will you try them now that you’ve learned more about them?
From Washington to Italy, 13 of Our Favorite Biodynamic Wines
Biodynamic wine practices are used globally, from Barbaresco, Italy to Sonoma, California. What are these practices exactly? Biodynamic wineries use eco-friendly fertilizer, employ environmentally conscious farming techniques and follow a different calendar, to name a few of their methods.
Not all of the wines we recommend are certified biodynamic as the certification process is both lengthy and expensive. But all the bottles below are made at wineries employing biodynamic ideals.
Alain Voge 2017 Les Vieilles Vignes (Cornas) $85, 96 points. Old vines averaging 60 years and long oak maturation (20% in new oak) lend spicy, sweet notes of cinnamon toast and clove to deeply concentrated black plum and blackberry flavors in this wine. It’s a creamy Syrah, balanced by tart cassis acidity and ripe but firm, lingering tannins. Delicious already, the wine should show even better from 2022 and improve through 2037. Citadel Trading. —Anna Lee C. Iijima
Horsepower 2017 High Contrast Vineyard Syrah (Walla Walla Valley) $121, 96 points. The aromas explode from the glass, with notes of fire pit, potpourri, black olive, wet stone, dried porcini and stone. The palate is sumptuous, layered, elegant and intensely flavorful, showing abundant savory notes. A lingering black olive and earthy finish caps it off. Best after 2025. Cellar Selection. —Sean Sullivan
Dr. Bürklin-Wolf 2017 Forster Pechstein G.G. Riesling (Pfalz) $120, 95 points. Hints of smoke and charred earth juxtapose tart green apple and yellow plum in this unusually slim but deeply complex Grosses Gewächs. It’s a spicy, laser-edged wine anchored by a reverberating spine of acidity. Still a bit tight in youth but should improve and expand beautifully through 2035. Verity Wine Partners. Cellar Selection. —A.I.
M. Chapoutier 2016 Le Méal White (Hermitage) $190, 95 points. Initial notes of smoke and earth dissipate with aeration to reveal perfumed notes of quince, ginger and pear. It’s a rich, expansive white made from 100-year-old Marsanne grapes grown on the chalk and alluvial soils of the Le Méal vineyard. In youth, it offers pristine orchard fruit and spice, but it’s a wine that’s better left till 2022 at least. It will reward cellaring for decades. 300 cases produced. Terlato Wines International. Cellar Selection. —A.I.
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Yangarra 2017 King’s Wood Shiraz (McLaren Vale) $50, 95 points. From a single block biodynamically grown on a cool site in a cool vintage, this Shiraz, which sees 25% whole bunch, is aged in large French foudre. The result is an extraordinarily precise and complex wine, it’s only downfall being an unfortunately heavy bottle. Notes of raspberry, plum, iodine, damp earth, and chocolate and spice (neither from oak) are cinched with sinewy tannins and lifted by crystalline acidity. Manages an exacting and difficult tightrope walk of power and generosity with restraint and elegance. Drink now, or cellar until 2030—at least. Sovereign Wine Imports. —Christina Pickard
Brick House 2017 Evelyn’s Pinot Noir (Ribbon Ridge) $70, 94 points. Evelyn’s is the estate’s reserve-level, best barrel selection. It’s an all-senses potpourri with aromas of berry, sassafras and cinnamon, plus ripe fruit flavors of strawberry, marionberry and plum. More highlights continue with sassafras, coffee and baking spices. It’s a riot of mixed and delicious components, beautifully balanced, and showing exceptional length and detail. Editors’ Choice. —Paul Gregutt
Rippon 2016 Mature Vine Lake Wanaka Pinot Noir (Central Otago) $62, 94 points. From one of New Zealand’s most celebrated wineries, located on the pristine shores of Lake Wanaka, this Pinot is made for the long haul. Brambly fruit and spice center on an earthy, spicy core. Dense, nearly impenetrable on the palate, a powerful line of taut, fine tannins cinch the fruit and spice. While just starting to show some age, this remains an austere but laser-focused wine that requires patience, but should reward in spades with time in cellar. Drink through 2035. Wine Dogs Imports LLC. —C.P.
Soter 2018 Mineral Springs Ranch Pinot Noir (Yamhill-Carlton) $75, 94 points. The biodynamically farmed grapes bring layered and detailed flavors. Raspberry purée adds intensity to the fruit, with accents of toasted grain and lemon. Some 30% of the ferment included whole clusters, and 40% of the wine was barreled in new French oak. The long, drying finish adds highlights of chamomile tea. Editors’ Choice. —Paul Gregutt
Domaine Anderson 2017 Dach Vineyard Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley) $55, 93 points. Distinctive earthy, leafy, tea-like aromas and rich black-cherry flavors give this medium-bodied, tiny-production wine plenty to appreciate. It is well balanced, concentrated and a bit tannic, which adds a nice bit of grip to the texture. Best through 2027. Cellar Selection. —Jim Gordon
Rivetto 2017 Marcarini (Barbaresco) $30, 93 points. Wild berry, camphor, fragrant blue flower and tilled soil aromas mingle with whiffs of star anise. Made with organically farmed grapes, the taut palate offers dried cherry, licorice and tobacco framed in tightly wound, close-grained tannins. Drink 2022–2029. Wilson Daniels Ltd. Editors’ Choice. —Kerin O’Keefe
Rockpile Winery 2018 Rockpile Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel (Rockpile) $49, 93 points. This estate wine is among the last picked by the producer due to the high-elevation vineyard. It tastes of blackberry, cherry, nutmeg and cola, with underlying notes of dried herb and crushed rock. The texture is velvety, with a lasting chewiness. —Virginie Boone
Emidio Pepe 2014 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo $115, 92 points. Reminiscent of running through an orchard in the peak of autumn, this offers nostalgic aromas of sweet hay with ripe apples and pears. The palate is rounded in feel and concentrated in these same tones, with a revitalizing wet limestone streak from start to finish. Polaner Selections. —Alexander Peartree
Solminer 2018 Nebullite Sparkling Syrah (Santa Ynez Valley) $42, 92 points. Sparkling red wines don’t always work, but this herbaceous blend of 72% Syrah, 27% Grenache and 1% Riesling succeeds in spicy ways. Aromas of cracked pepper, bright black raspberry, thyme and marjoram lead into a boysenberry, peppercorn and dried herb palate. There’s tannic tension and a great mousse to boot. Editors’ Choice. —Matt Kettmann
Sustainable & Organic & Biodynamic, Oh My!
Sustainable. Organic. Biodynamic. We have been hearing these words a lot in the wine world over the past decade or so. What started out as an attempt to reduce the amount of man-made materials in the winemaking process has become a huge marketing tool.
Since we know the media will use anything it can to get you to buy a product, at least these products are being touted as somewhat natural. So what do these three comfy marketing . . . I mean . . . viticultural titles mean?
To attempt a complete explanation of each of these terms would result in a lot of snoring and clicking to social media for short spurts of relief from long-winded wine geek talk, so I am going to throwdown in as brief a spell as I can on each term and then tie them all together. In future posts I can get all deep and yawn-y.
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Biodynamic viticulture was the first attempt at organic agriculture. Created by Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s, each vineyard is seen as its own organism to be maintained in a self-sustaining way. In biodynamics, the earth is seen as a living organism with fluctuating rhythmic cycles in tune with the pull of the moon. All farming is done in tune with these cycles. This is founded on the belief that the moon turns the tides as well as ebbs and flows the minutest levels of sap in a vine. It is within these fluctuations that biodynamic grape growers and winemakers do their agricultural work. Yes, in biodynamics there are also horns and silex (ground quartz) and a process called sexual confusion used for fertilization, but that is for another post. As long as on the surface level you grasp that biodynamics is based on the moon cycles, with farming done in tune with these cycles, you have a better understanding than most people currently encountering the term.
Now on to the nice and tricky landscape of organic. The focus of organic viticulture (grape growing) and viniculture (winemaking) is creating good soil health by prohibiting non-organic certified, or genetically modified fertilizers and pesticides. Simple right? However, once the grapes get into the winery, the international differences in organic practices begin, creating tons of rules and regulations depending on where the grapes are grown. To put it generally, there are two distinctions when buying organic wine: “wine made from organically grown grapes” (the European idea) and “organic wine” (the American idea). The former allows sulfur dioxide (SO2) to be added during the winemaking process. The latter, “organic wine,” requires that no SO2 be added. In the American certification, SO2 can occur naturally in the wine, but the winemaker can’t add additional SO2 during the winemaking process, as the Europeans can. Now we can start to see how the term organic is a slippery slope, as the EU, US and other New World wine regions all use differing levels of the “organic” idea. Oh, and Earth rhythms and moon cycles of the biodynamic peeps are not a focus at all here. Dizzy yet?
Sustainable is the newest and trendiest organic-type movement. It is a movement that adheres to most of the organic ideas, yet allows for controlled chemical sprayings and some synthesized fertilizers and pesticides. The sustainable movement clings to “the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Basically this means do whatever you can to grow organically while not allowing the economic success of your vineyard and winery to suffer by using whatever you need to make a profit. And reality sinks in.
Three complex ideas bantered about in wine marketing circles trying to either trick you into buying their product or genuinely wanting you to know how real-deal they are.
All this is to say, if you’re looking for a truly organic wine, it’s hard to navigate these wines simply by what’s printed on the label. My recommendation is to trust your wine merchant, who from talking to the people that originally sold them the wines should know the level of organic practices adhered to by the vineyard. Listen to them and you’ll come out on top.
Biodynamic Wine Versus Organic Wine! What’s the difference?
Okay, so I’ve been noticing a lot of wines being labeled ‘biodynamic’ lately and finally my curiosity was piqued. I found myself wondering ‘What’s the difference between a biodynamic wine and an organic wine. To me the names are interchangeable but I decided to search to find the answer and, of course, share my findings with you all.
First let’s start out with the definitions for both organic and biodynamic wine.
An organic wine is one that is ‘produced without using conventional pesticides, petroleum or sewage-based fertilizers, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. The farmers also emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water for future generations’ (USDA definition).
There are also three types of organic apparently so make sure you really read the label when purchasing to make sure you’re getting what you’re looking for.
Types of Organic *
100% Organic – Refers to wines that are produced with grapes that are certified 100% organically grown and do not have any added sulfites.
Organic – 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.
Made with Organic Grapes – Refers to wines that have at least 70% of their grapes from organic sources. These wines may have sulfur dioxide
A biodynamic wine is a wine that’s 100% organic and doesn’t have any added sulfites as well. However there is a kind of ‘woo woo’ side to this type of farming. Farmers who make biodynamic wines follow the principles put forth by a man named Rudolf Steiner. Mr. Steiner was a 20 th Century Austrian philosopher who created these principles in an attempt to balance farming with nature. Biodynamic farmers do things like make their own compost, watch the stars and planets to time what they do, and have chickens roaming the vineyards to eat the bugs rather than use pesticides.
Biodynamic is a great principle that is meant to work with nature rather than against it. It takes clues from nature to decide what the best things for the vineyard are at that particular time.
My take on it is this. If you want to drink an organic wine then make sure it is labeled ‘100% organic’ or ‘biodynamic’ because those two are basically the same wine. The only differences are some of the things that the farmers do to make sure that the farm is organic. Both have to follow strict organic standards in order to be certified as organic or biodynamic.
Do they taste different? Well, I don’t know. There! That’s my honest answer but I will be reviewing some organic and biodynamic wines in the future and I’ll let you know my humble opinion on it. Until then if you happen to try some please leave comments and let us know what it was, how it was, and all the fun little details.
Stay tuned for my next post on Sunday where I’ll be reviewing the next mystery wine. It’s a mystery because I haven’t decided which one to pick yet. Oh the suspense!