Q&A: How to Find Organic Wine

  • December 12, 2012 4:30 pm

Question:

Dear Alexandra,

Now that it is holiday season, our family tends to have a lot of wine. I do try my best to buy organic wine but I have a really hard time finding it. Was wondering if you had some suggestions of where to find some?

Best,

Nancy

Answer:

Hi Nancy,

Glad to hear you’re trying to buy organic wine. Many people tend to forget that wine comes from grapes, and grapes are typically heavily sprayed with pesticides. I agree that finding organic wine can be tricky at times. This is partially because if it contains sulfites (which most wines do) it can’t be labeled USDA organic. Here is an excerpt about wine from my book The Conscious Kitchen that I think will be helpful:

“Organic standards do not permit the use of sulfites, the bacteria-killing preservatives used in making pretty much all wine. Some producers use organic grapes and add varying degrees of sulfites, resulting in wine that cannot technically be certified organic. These wines are often labeled “made with organically grown grapes” and are a good option….’Biodynamic’ is a third-party-certified method and term (Demeter-USA.org) that’s a bit confusing to explain. Basically biodynamic farming shares many tenets with organic farming (no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are permitted–some people call it a forerunner to the organic movement) but takes it several steps further. Biodynamic vineyards have not only vines but also other plants, trees, and animals, all of which work together as a unified system–this is call biodiversity. “

So when it comes to looking for sustainable wine to drink, here is a sliding scale of what to look for:

  • Biodynamic
  • Certified Organic
  • Labeled “Organically Grown” or “made with organically grown grapes”
  • Bottles marked “sustainably grown” or “made with sustainably grown grapes”

Hopefully this will help you locate a bottle or two. You can also always ask questions in local wine stores. There tend to be producers who don’t bother to label their wines as organically produced, and the shop buyers can point you in the right direction. Here is a previous post from my old intern, Glenny, about her favorite organic wines that might also be of use.

Cheers!

-Alexandra

A Case of Wine from Glenny

  • October 23, 2011 9:51 am

Last week Alexandra asked me to put together a case of some of my favorite wines for her to enjoy throughout the fall.  (I work at a little wine shop called Smith & Vine in Brooklyn).  I happily agreed – what fun!  She also suggested that I write a little bit about what I chose and why, hoping to encourage all of you to check out some of these delicious (and affordable!) wines.

The case was mixed: six red, five white and one rose.  All organic.  I’m going to pick just a few of my top choices to tell you about:

-Finca Luzon  Jumilla Verde 2010: Made from the grape Monastrell (also called Mourvedre in France), this Spanish wine is dark and earthy with lots of plumminess and spice.  My favorite thing to eat with it?  A falafel sandwich.

-Reunion 2009: An Argentinian gem made with the grape Malbec, this red wine is full-bodied and full-flavored – exactly what you want from a new world Malbec.  It tastes of blackberries and cherries, dark chocolate and a hint of spicy pepper.  Handcrafted by the winemaker and his family, it is made with sustainable farming practices and organic grapes.  Easy going and approachable, this wine is perfect with anything from big barbecue flavors to more subtle and rich autumn fare.

-Domaine de la Fruitiere Jardin de la Fruitiere 2009: From the Loire Valley in Western France, this lovely white wine is a blend of Melon de Bourgogne and Chardonnay.  Melon de Bourgogne is also known as Muscadet, and is a grape that has flavors of clean minerality and limestone.  Paired with the fruitier Chardonnay, the result is a delightfully dry and crisp wine.  It tastes like green apples!

-Shinn Estates Coalescence 2010: We love the Shinns!  And you should too.  Their gorgeous organic vineyard on Long Island is well worth the day trip – you’ll be pleasantly surprised by all of the tasty pours this husband and wife team have to offer.  One of my favorites is their zippy little white wine made from a field blend of grapes from their vineyards.  Talk about not wasting anything!  The Coalescence is young and bright with lots of citrus.  Pair it with anything from the sea and you’ll be very very pleased.

Enjoy the recommendations!  If you can’t find any of these wines in shops near you, check out www.winesearcher.com and plug in your zip code.  It is a great tool for finding specific bottles that you’re dying to taste.

Cin cin!

-Glenny

What You Don’t Know: Additives in Your Wine

  • May 3, 2011 8:10 am

My lovely new intern, Glenny Cameron, works some at a local wine store and is keenly interested in sustainability. I asked her to write up something about what we drink–beyond grapes–when we open a bottle of wine. Conventional grapes are an intensely sprayed crop. But somehow even people who eat organic food neglect to drink organic wine. It may be an oversight, or maybe it’s because organic wine has long had a stigma of not being too tasty. Luckily this reputation is now undeserved.

When buying wine, do you think about how the producer has treated the vines?  The soil?  What about what has been added to the wine to make it taste more like conventional wine?  There are so many mainstream producers that are fussing with their grapes by using toxic pesticides, aromatic yeasts, and too many sulfites.  Did you know that historically some winemakers have used egg whites, milk, or blood as finings to improve their wine’s clarity?  Or that some vintners add an elixir called Mega Purple (discussed in depth by Wines & Vines) to enhance their wine’s taste and color?

Wine is a very confusing subject, made more perplexing because U.S. wine labels are not required to list any additives but sulfites, which are necessary to preserve the wine.  Unfortunately, the labels do not specifiy the amount of sulfites, which can be extremely high in some conventional wines.  To choose the best wines for the health of your body and the environment, I suggest looking to organic, sustainable, natural, and biodynamic wines.

In this excerpt from The Conscious Kitchen I write more in depth about natural wines.

Natural winemakers try to avoid additives as much as possible, and certainly never use anything synthetic.  Sulfites are the additives that most wine drinkers are aware of (they’re the only one listed on bottles), but there are actually two hundred additives that can be used in wine.  Many conventional winemakers use lab-produced yeasts to aid fermentation because their overuse of sulfites kills off not only bacteria but also natural yeast.  They also rely on additives like sugars and acids to adjust the flavor of grapes that don’t taste like they’re supposed to anymore, thanks to years of pesticide use.  Natural winemakers grow their vines in healthier, spray-free soil and therefore have healthier grapes that require fewer additives, and less of any one.  “Natural is about making quality choices, lowering yields, and hand picking in small containers instead of machine harvest,” says Jenny Lefcourt, cofounder of Jenny & Francois Selections.  She and her partner import to many states, from Oregon to North Dakota to Kentucky.  I have tasted most of what they bring to New York – and even visited one of the winemakers in France – and the wines are quite a bit different from what I’m used to.  They are for the most part very much alive – over the course of drinking a bottle they open up and taste surprisingly different.  Our (current) house red is a Jenny & Francois selection, Chateau Haut Lavigne Cotes de Duras 2006.  I was amused to realize that our winemaker, like our CSA farmer, is a woman: Nadia Lusseau.  Bonus: It’s about twelve dollars a bottle.  Natural (or organic or biodynamic or sustainable) wine doesn’t necessarily mean more expensive.

More from Glenny: For a comprehensive take on these issues straight from a vintner, check out Robert Sinskey’s open letter on his website.  This Napa winemaker is committed to treating his land with devotion and care.  He believes in biodynamic farming techniques–the land should be improved with farming, and that every aspect of the vineyard is integrated in a healthy circle of life.  This attention to nature has yielded thoughtful, delicious, and sublime wines.  His ’07 Merlot tastes of plums and smooth chocolate, perfect for a winter’s meal.  For lighter fare, Sinskey’s ‘ 09 Pinot Gris is fabulously floral and vibrant.  Its soft pear and apple flavors pair beautifully with minted snap peas from the Greenmarket.

At La Clarine Farm in Somerset, California, they aspire to the “do-nothing farming” technique. No tilling, no fertilizers, no pesticides, and no weeding.  The goal is to let the natural balances of the land do the work.  Less is more.  Without much intervention the farm should produce healthy, vital, and robust fruit, which in turn will create lively wines.  Their ’09 Syrah is hauntingly wonderful – complex and interesting, it tastes of sage and thyme, tobacco and cloves.

To find natural wines in your neighborhood, ask for them at your local wine shop.  More often than not, if they do sell any organic, biodynamic, or natural wines, they will be thrilled to guide you through them.  The more you know, the better purchases you’ll make.  And what could be a better evening tipple than a glass of wine you can feel good about?  Who says you can’t have two?  Cheers!

And cheers to you, Glenny, for writing this up–I love it. And kudos for working in the word tipple–fantastic!

The Conscious Kitchen At The Books For A Better Life Awards Ceremony

  • March 7, 2011 9:48 am

You’re supposed to love all of your children the same. Right? Well I feel the same way about my books. They’re all so personal, such labors of love. I adore them all. That said, The Conscious Kitchen is the only one I have written (so far) that I didn’t co-author. It’s mine all mine. And it’s truly a description of how I approach food and everything in my kitchen (cleaning products, safe cookware and food storage, composting, not really following recipes, and so much more). It comes right from me to you in an effort to help people figure out how to navigate having and maintaining a green(er) kitchen, all while loving food. I think it’s a really helpful guide.

So I was understandably overwhelmed/touched/thrilled when my labor of kitchen love was named a finalist for a Books For A Better Life award. I found out many months ago about the nomination. And the ceremony is at long last happening this Monday, March 7th. My competition is truly fierce. I’m only expecting to show up at the Millenium Broadway Hotel in midtown and have a lovely glass of wine with my editor in a room filled with authors. But just in case for some reason I do win, I have the two minute speech they asked me to prepare. My hopes aren’t up but, um, it was really fun coming up with it.