It seems everything these days has gone or is going "green" - green construction, green cars and organic food. It seems natural that there should be a push to develop green wine. But, like any other organic product, you need to be a savvy shopper when perusing these wines, as many may not be what they seem.
There are, of course, varying degrees of dedication to the concept of sustainable agriculture. Wine in the U.S. is governed by simple label laws. As for organic wine, there are a few labels to look for:
"Made from organically grown grapes." This classification is based on the fact that the grape-grower has followed the relatively lax laws governing the growth of vines organically. It has nothing to do with how the grapes are treated in the winery and it allows for the addition of sulfites as a preservative.
"Organic wine" means that the wine is made from organically grown grapes, and that no unnatural sulfites are added to the wine. Only natural and organic products may be used when fining and filtering.
"Biodynamic" is an extremely strict and noteworthy wine production style that was developed by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s. The theory is that by keeping the soil healthy the crop stays healthy. This idea was the basis for the creation of the Demeter Association in 1928 in Germany - now called Demeter International - whose goal has been to spread and monitor biodynamic production worldwide.
It wasn't until the last few decades that biodynamic winemaking has really taken hold. Some of the best winemakers in the world are using biodynamic viticulture. Not because they are the only ones who can afford it, but because it is a quality-conscious decision that takes time and dedication.
Domaine de la Romanée Conti, Nicolas Joly and Zind-Humbrecht (which Utah has stopped carrying, for reasons unknown) in France have all jumped on the biodynamic bandwagon. Quintessa, my favorite house in California, and Ceago Vinegarden, in Mendocino County, produce very fine wines using biodynamic production.
Here are a couple things to keep in mind when shopping: Be aware that if the label says "organic wine" in big print, then the focus may be more on the effect the organic/biodynamic characterization creates rather than on the quality of the wine, which is paramount. Secondly, ask wine-store personnel about which wines are organic or biodynamic, because wines are not always listed as such.
* ZEV ROVINE, a certified sommelier, teaches wine classes at Spotted Frog Bookstore and Wine Bar in Park City. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wines to try
* 2002 CEAGO CABERNET SAUVIGNON ($28, biodynamic) Nice ripe fruit of currant and blackberry. The palate is round and full and the finish breaks off into slight notes of chocolate and tobacco.
* 2005 FROG'S LEAP CHARDONNAY NAPA VALLEY ($27, organic) A really clean and bright chard. Just a touch of oak allows the bright fruit and floral characters to really stand out. The finish is balanced and long and develops into honey and fruit.
* 2001 ROBERT SINSKEY ARIES MERLOT LOS CARNEROS ($15, organic) This is more in a European style with velvety texture and ripe fruit. A great wine for the price.