Today is Earth Day, so why not uncork a bottle of organic, biodynamic, or natural wine and make a toast to all things green and sustainable? Here's a brief primer on what those words mean when it comes to wine, and a few suggestions to guide your shopping.
- Organic means the same thing it does for food - no pesticides in the vineyard, no un-organic additives - and as with some small farmers, many small wine producers do things the organic way without seeking an official certification. This is especially true in Europe where "organic" is just doing what they were doing for centuries before chemicals came along, but you'll find the same thing happening stateside as well. Robert Sinkey Vineyards is one of my favorite organic producers in the US, and you'd only know they were if you read the small print reading "Ingredients: Organic Grapes" on the back of their bottles.
- Biodynamic takes organic a step further, requiring producers to also adhere to a set of farming guidelines developed by Rudolph Steiner that encourage a healthy ecosystem and involve some unusual methods. Again, some wineries seek certification from organizations like Demeter while others resist officialdom. The thing about biodynamic wines is that at the very least you know the producer must really respect her land and care about the vines, and that's a fine starting point for making good wine.
- Natural wines are the most hardcore earthy of all: We're talking organic, biodynamic, minimal intervention in the vinification process, and just letting the grapes be grapes and the yeasts hanging out on the grapes make them into wine without adding or filtering out a thing. A wise sommelier once told me that natural wine producers are either geniuses, madmen, or both, given the level of obsession required to make good wine without all the manipulations that nearly every producer (including organic and biodynamic ones) will do in the winery to enhance wine's flavor and make it shelf stable before bottling. There's no certification to refer to for specific guidelines, but if you want to learn more, read this great explanation from natural wine importer Jenny & Francois and pick up a bottle of Olivier Cousin's funky, compelling Loire wines and see what you think of the results.
- Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - Coming from a producer that's organic, biodynamic, and focused on sustainabilty, this wine has all the crisp refreshing character you'd want in a Sauvignon Blanc with flavors and aromas of fig, grapefruit, lemon, and honeysuckle. It'd be nice with roasted chicken (especially stuffed with figs!) or fish. Since summer's coming, I'll add that Quivira also makes really nice rosé! (14.1% abv, $21.95)
- Southbrook Triomphe Chardonnay 2008 - Most people associate Ontario with ice wine (if they even know that the Canadian province makes wine at all), and that's a pity when there are great wineries like Southbrook making wines that are as distinctive as they are green. Coming from an estate that's organic, biodynamic, and LEED-certified sustainable, this Chardonnay has bright acid, apple, grapefruit, and mineral notes, well-intregrated oak flavors, and a lingering toasty finish. (12% abv, $21.95)
- Nativa Terra Reserva Carmenere 2009 - Chile's favorable growing conditions make organic agriculture easier to pull off than it is in many other regions, so you can find some bargains there (and before you talk about carbon and shipping, remember it comes by boat!). This blend of 90% Carmenere, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Syrah has appealing aromas of cinnamon, black pepper, and pine needles (for real!) and bracing tannins that'll dry your mouth right out if you don't enjoy it with some food. It's great with pizza or grilled meats, I can personally attest. (13.5% abv, $10.99)
Now that you know the terms, here are a few earth-friendly wines you might want to check out.
"On the Bottle" is a column about wine and spirits appearing every Friday on the Martha Stewart Living Radio blog. Email your boozy questions and wine quandries to email@example.com and they'll be answered in a future post.