Organic wines can be confusing. Some are labeled organic while others are not, and the definition of what makes a wine organic can vary among winemaking countries.
In general, organic wines are made from grapes that are free of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers, and they don’t have added sulfites. Most wines have a small amount of sulfites as a byproduct of fermentation, though additional sulfites are often used to preserve the wine.
For a wine to be certified organic in the United States it must be made from organically grown grapes, contain no added sulfites, and have information about the certifying agency. If a wine does not have the USDA seal but indicates it is made with organic grapes or organically grown grapes, it can include added sulfites. In other countries with organic regulations, organic wines must meet the standards set by a government agency.
Further complicating the concept of green wines are the terms “sustainable” and “biodynamic.” Sustainable winemaking attempts to lessen the carbon footprint of the vineyard. Instead of man-made chemicals, growers use natural fertilizers and cultivate plants that attract animals and insects that are beneficial to the vines.
Biodynamic winemaking incorporates the concept of organic farming with a broader worldview. A biodynamic vineyard is thought of as a living system that is closed and self-sustaining. Many things are done by hand, including harvesting grapes or plowing the vineyard (sometimes horses are used), and winemakers only use indigenous yeasts. Throughout the year growers will treat the soil to enhance its life.
The best way to tell if a wine is organic is to read the label. Or you can save yourself the trouble and look for one of these great tasting green wines:
2008 Familia Zuccardi Santa Julia Organica Torrontés ($11)
Malbec is to red wine in Argentina as Torrontés is to white wine there. This wine is floral and crisp, with an explosive bouquet of rose, orange peel, lime, white peaches and aromatic herbs followed by ripe flavors of citrus, peaches and a spicy finish.
2008 Leth Grüner Veltliner ($17)
This lush white from Austria has ripe peach and buttery apple flavors with a long spicy and creamy finish. A slight effervescence makes this a fun wine to drink. Like most Grüner Veltliner, this is a very versatile wine and can pair with seafood, shellfish, spicy dishes and Asian cuisine.
2008 Aguaza Sol-E-Cic-O Almansa ($12)
This is a white blend of 50% Monastrell, 25% Verdejo and 25% Sauvignon Blanc. It’s intensely silky with notes of green pears, banana, ripe lime and a hint of spice from the Monastrell. It’s a perfect wine for a sunny afternoon.
2005 Old River Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon ($18)
This is a medium-bodied blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Cabernet Franc from California’s Mendocino County. Smooth and well-balanced, this red has compelling aromas of dark fruits and earth. Flavors of cherry, plum and strawberry are enhanced with a hint of vanilla from 8 months in new French oak.
2007 Finca Luzon Verde ($9)
This red wine is made from 100% organic Monastrell grapes. For a wine that costs less than $10 it has quite a big taste. It’s a bold and peppery red from the Jumilla region in southern Spain, bursting with black currant, spice, smoke and vanilla.
2007 Paolo Scavino Rosso Vino da Tavola ($18)
This Italian red is 40% Nebbiolo, 25% Barbera, 25% Dolcetto and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aromas of currant, cherry, mocha, pepper and smoke introduce a concentrated flavor of red berries and black pepper. Good acidity and smooth tannins lead to a ripe finish.
2006 Jorge Ordoñez Muscatel Malaga Seleccion Especial #1 ($17)
This dessert wine is sweet without being syrupy, with flavors of honey, jasmine and tropical fruits balanced out by a lively acidity. 375ml
I tasted these wines at the Organic Wine Party: Green Wine Demystified at the Chelsea Wine Vault, part of the New York City Wine & Food Festival. All the wines can be purchased at Chelsea Wine Vault or ordered online at chelseawinevault.com.