If you’re a wine drinker who is concerned about protecting both your health and the environment, there’s good news. These days, vineyards that use healthy, environmentally friendly growing techniques are producing some of the tastiest wines in the world.
Sharon Sevrens, owner and proprietor of Amanti Vino in Montclair, tastes each of the more than 900 wines chosen for her store. “I think organic and biodynamic wines taste better,” she says. “We’ve seen interest in them literally from the day we opened our doors in 2005, and that interest has continued to grow.”
It’s no wonder. Organic and biodynamic wines aren’t just kinder to the soil; there’s evidence that they’re kinder to our bodies as well, containing more of the cholesterol-reducing compound resveratrol and more vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorous.
For a wine to be called organic, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it must come from a vineyard that for at least three years has refrained from using genetically modified seeds, chemical fertilizers or pesticides. USDA labels that say “100 Percent Organic” or “Organic” (which requires that 95 percent of ingredients be certified organic) also mean that no sulfites have been added, while the phrase “Made with Organic Grapes” means that a wine has been produced using at least 70 percent organic ingredients, and sulfites may have been added up to 100 parts per million as a preservative. (A word to the wise: Labels from other countries or international organizations may say “Certified Organic” even when the wine falls into the USDA’s “Made with Organic Grapes” category.)
Sulfites occur naturally in wine in small quantities because they’re a by-product of the fermentation process. They have also been added to wines for centuries to prevent oxidation and spoilage. But in about
1 percent of the population, sulfites can cause allergic reactions such as asthma or stomach cramps. So if there’s a chance you’re allergic, stick with “100 Percent Organic” or “Organic” wine to minimize sulfites.
Biodynamic wines are another earth-friendly, pesticide-free option to consider. The term “biodynamic” means that a wine is made from grapes grown with an agricultural system inspired by the teachings of the early 20th-century Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who originated Waldorf schools—a system reputed to be better for the soil. To earn this label, a wine must meet strict standards set by an international certifying body called the Demeter Association.
Biodynamic growing practices can sound a bit strange to the uninitiated. They include planting, pruning and harvesting according to the
moon’s phases, and sprinkling a mixture that includes diluted cow manure on the vines. Critics complain that the biodynamic approach has little formal scientific support, but supporters say these wines excel in what the French call “terroir”—expression of the unique flavor of a wine’s place of origin. And a blind taste test conducted by Fortune magazine in 2004 gave biodynamic boosters some ammunition. Twenty biodynamic wines were pitted against similar conventional wines, and 19 of the biodynamics were declared superior.
what to try, where to buy
Sharon Sevrens, owner and proprietor of Amanti Vino in Montclair, recommends wines in three “green” categories:
2009 Pinot Grigio
From outside Verona, Italy, $14
“A medium-bodied white with floral and apricot notes and a bit of richness that doesn’t compromise its acidity”
MADE WITH ORGANIC GRAPES
Tenuta delle Terre Nerre
2009 Etna Rosso
From Sicily, $18
“A light-bodied red with notes of strawberries and cherries, minerality from the soil and ash from nearby Mount Etna”
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
From Napa Valley, California, $57
“A full-bodied, well-balanced, silky-textured wine with flavors of blackberries and black cherries and hints of chocolate”