What are organic wines?
It is quite straightforward really. EU laws simply state that wine is organic when it is made from grapes grown organically. That means no harmful pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and chemical fertilisers are allowed to grow the grapes. Organic carrot or organic grape – it is all about no harmful additives. It is not up to a grower to say, this whole thing needs to be certified.
Even though legally there are not so many other stipulations, you can expect no artificial or synthetic preservatives to be used, or colours added, or reagents to alter the taste.
Do they taste different?
Decanter, a renowned wine magazine, conducted a research based on blind tasting and the panel concluded that there were some organic wines that performed better than their non-organic analogues (from the same region, grape and winemaking practice), but there were others that were on par or slightly worse. There is simply no evidence to support either claim, so it is down to a particular wine to be tasted and determined whether its quality level is up to scratch.
Are all wines vegan or at least vegetarian?
Would you be surprised that a product made from grapes could not be vegetarian. Well, this may be just the case! Organic or not, wines could be filtered or fined with the use of animal based products. This can be animal gelatin, a fishy isinglass, egg whites or a milk based casein. Vegan wines are normally made without fining, whereas other methods like gravity-based or an inert clay ‘bentonite’ are available, but they do have some significant disadvantages (i.e. bentonite is not gentle, so it can strip your wine of its light and delicate flavours).
There is no legal requirement to either label or not that it is vegetarian, so you can watch out for special ‘suitable for vegetarians’ or ‘suitable for vegans’ signs on the label, but even if the wine label does not say something about it, it also doesn’t mean it is not. It is quite confusing, that is why it is worth to read reviews to get to know more about the wines you drink!
What are natural wines?
Natural wines are the ones that are made without major interventions during winemaking process. Basically, as opposed to the above mentioned organic wines, these are not necessarily made from organic grapes (even though most of them actually are), but what happens in the winery after the grapes were picked, remains strictly natural – no artificial yeasts, preservatives or even fining.
To get your head around this, you need to associate natural wines to what happens in the winery: whatever are the grapes, if the process to convert them into wine is stripped of all additives and artificial manipulations towards the resulting wine, it is a natural one!
There are no added sulphites in the natural wines, just naturally occurring ones.
Natural winemaking is a gamble – what if the weather turns out to be austere or there would be some interruptions during fermentation? There are no easy means (like additives or extra manipulation) how to get this wine to taste good. Yet these wines can taste differently in a good way – they can surprise and spark your imagination. You need to try a few good ones to make your own opinion!
What are biodynamic wines?
Biodynamic is something different, again! There was a guy called Rudolf Steiner, who back in 1920s developed a concept for a holistic system of agriculture. It focuses on improving soil and plant health by using herbal and mineral composts. What is important that the interventions are made strictly during particular days, which are selected based on the movement and positioning of the moon and other planets.
Sounds a bit weird? You may have an opposing opinion on the whole ‘planets and Earth’ concept here, but biodynamics goes head-to-head with using no harmful preparations to the soil and treats the farm as a whole self-nourishing organism, and this makes the winemaking process somewhat natural and considerate of the other external factors. An inspired winemaker produces exciting wines, do you agree?
Tell me more about sulphite free wines.
Sulphites or ‘preservatives 220’ are additives that are used during winemaking process to hide some faults, prevent oxygen from entering the vats and, in general, protect the winemaker from accidental flaws. It is quite wide-spread that winemakers will use quite a significant amount of sulphites during the process of making wine.
Some are not, but still some minor level of sulphites occurs naturally in the bottle even though the levels are very low – should be maintained below 10 ppm (parts per million). Wine made with grapes grown organically normally calls for sulphites no higher than 100 ppm, so if you see ‘organic’ sign on the label it doesn’t mean that there are no sulphites, just the fact that the levels are lower. The wine will be labeled as ‘no added sulphites’ if there are none, or less than 10 ppm.
Why not care about sulphites? They are quite aggressive preservatives that can give that ‘morning after’ headache, allergic reaction or even in some cases more severe symptoms like fast heartbeat, dizziness, stomach upset. It can be even life-threatening for people with asthma.
It is a bit weird that a substance that is being used as an antiseptic and an antioxidant can cause all that harm, but it is clear that you may want to ingest it as little as possible. Most organic wines contain lower levels of sulphites, so if there are levels indicated on the label just check that it is less than 50 mg / litre for a red and less than 75 mg / litre for a white wine.
Do organic wines taste worse?
As per the above, blind tests did not show any evidence to support or reject this. Yet there is a misconception that organic wines taste worse, because sometimes they display some off-flavours and some faults that normally would have been eliminated by sulphites. It is true. Not that they taste worse than any of the non-organic alternatives, but they are largely a gamble – there just is not any safety net in sight to safeguard from a possible flaw.
Most of this ‘they taste worse’ notion comes from young organic or young sulphite free wines – their aromas are left to their own devices and sometimes they smell like a bunch of rotten eggs. Nobody likes that, and hence we have a problem!
Fear not, nowadays the winemaking processes are quite well developed and there is little excuse to produce a wine with such a smell.
Organic wines will not be much different from their analogues, whereas natural wines will be appearing cloudy, more rustic and tasting quite unusual – it all depends what you are in the mood for!
Check our reviews, avoid bad, smelly and faulty organic wines and you would be the one who decides if it is indeed exciting or not!
What are the benefits of drinking organic?
I am not a biologist or a health practitioner, but it is quite a common sense for me to say that if wine contains less man-made toxins (like pesticide residues) and sulphites, then it is better for you!
If you look further than that, you also are contributing to a cleaner and healthier environment.
Ok, back to you. Red wine contains resveratrol, which is an antioxidant that protects against cancer, heart disease, is anti-aging and may even extend your lifespan. You can imagine that pesticides can significantly decrease the potency of any antioxidant. In fact, the French government in 2012 officially released a statement that there is a link between pesticides and Parkinson’s disease in agricultural workers.
There is an ongoing debate on wine, its benefits and harm, whether organic wines are better or not. Regardless of that, many people make a conscious decision to buy organic products not just to better nourish themselves, but also because they are being environmentally responsible. The choice is yours! Please note that you should be drinking responsibly, be it an organic wine or not, check drinkaware.co.uk for more facts and help.
Do organic wines cost more and why?
Even though in theory organic wines are not more costly to produce than their non-organic versions, the fact that something can happen in the vineyard that cannot be remedied by using additives and preservatives, winemakers bear a greater risk of simply producing no acceptable wine that particular season. That is why organic wines can cost slightly more.
As you can see on our site, there are everyday wines, which you can buy starting from £6-7, moving on to a higher priced wines that are considered very good ones and priced at £12-15, and finally some premium examples of organic wines can bear a price tag of more than £20. As you can see, no major difference from the regular price range you can see in the supermarkets or at your independent wine merchant. Use Internet to search for organic wines and find out here to buy them online. Check out our reviewed Best Organic Wines as well.
EU regulates which wines can bear organic sign on their label – these should be certified accordingly. In the UK Soil Association regulates how the country complies with EU legislation, whereas Organic Food Federation looks after a production. In principle, each country has their own rules (generally speaking quite similar, but procedures could be a bit different), so it is interchangeable within EU and can bear a uniform organic logo.
For biodynamic wines the situation is a bit different as it is not a uniform practice, yet if a vineyard wishes to get a formal certification, they need to obtain a certificate from a body called Demeter. They then can use the respecting logo.