I started writing this post during the solar eclipse back in March. I’m one of those people that gets a bit excited by natural phenonomens like this. I think that the weirdness that the sun is 400 times bigger than the moon, yet 400 times further away (of something like that) and therefore the moon is the exact right size to cover up the sun is pretty special. However, it was irrelevant as it of course, it was cloudy here in Maidenhead.
I had visions of biodynamic viticulturists literally hopping about filling those cow horns with whatever they put in them to be buried right on the cusp of the solar eclipse but from my very mild research, it appears, for obvious reasons that in fact a solar eclipse is a big boo boo for all things agricultural if you’re cosmic like that.
I’ll fill you in a bit more on biodynamic wines when I have time to explain the nitty gritty but essentially, Biodynamic wine making considers the charts of the moon and its influence on the vines, amongst other peculiar activities. Organic or Natural wines are a bit different in that they don’t worry about that sort of stuff, but have been made with ecological considerations in mind from vine to bottle, using organic grapes grown without (or with limited) pesticides and fungicides as well as using organic wine making practices in the winery. Confusingly, what constitutes a Certified Organic Wine differ from country to country. For instance, the US restricts the addition of sulphur dioxide to 100mg/l (non-organic 200mg/l) whereas in the EU, sulfite limits differ according to red (100mg/l organic to 150mg/l non-organic) and white wines (150mg/l organic compared to 200mg/l** non-organic).*
More on sulfites* below, but the thing is, wine need sulfites to a certain degree to protect the grapes from prematurely oxidising and without additional sulfites (which occur naturally in wine anyway), can result in a pretty funky tasting wine. I’d go as far as saying that a few years ago, I would’ve struggled to find many natural wines that were lacking that ‘funk’. However, as wine production methods are constantly developing and as producers get cleverer, for instance, picking grapes in the cool of night, the need to add nasties to preserve freshness is reduced and I would say, from my latest experience pertaining to natural wine, the taste of these wines, which is what we all (I) really care about, is actually pretty good.
In January, I was fortunate enough to attend the world’s largest natural wine trade fair, Millesime Bio, in Montpellier, bang smack in the middle of my favourite French wine region, Languedoc-Roussillon. If the size of the event or the enthusiasm around following ethical and more ecological methods to produce wine, were anything to go by, I can only imagine that we’re going to see more and more natural wine being made, particularly in those regions where a nice hot and dry climate keeps mini-beasts and rot to the minimum. Moreover, I think we’re going to start seeing more and more organic wines cropping up in our day to day wine offerings, particularly from those regions like Languedoc-Roussillon where winemaking is innovative and forward thinking, not because it’s specifically organic but because it tastes so good – the vast majority of the wines I tasted, tasted like ‘normal’ wines – not a hint of organic funk.
I’m not one to choose a wine just because it has a certain tick in a box, so, so far, I’m yet to stock any Certified Organic wines, but I don’t think it’ll be far away judging by those fabulous wines I came across in Montpellier. I have however recently chosen a new wine that has, incidentally, been made using biodynamic methods, chosen purely because it tastes so flippin’ good, the Laderas de Montejurra Emilio Valerio 2012. A spanish blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Garnacha, made with grapes grown in the cool foothills of Navarra’s Montejurra, about half way between Rioja’s Logrono and Pamplona, famed for its Running of the Bulls Fiesta. This is a powerful but elegant wine aged in old oak for 13 months, so expect some chewy tannins well weighted against lots of ripe blackberrys and eucalyptus. I love it, and at £12.25 (price correct Apr 2015), it represents marvellous value, biodynamic, organic or not.
*I get asked about Sulfites a lot. If you are concerned about sulfite levels in wine, stick to the red as less SO2 is needed due to the naturally high occurring anti-oxidants in the red fruit (beware other food types that have high sulphur levels too such as some fruit juices and dried fruit). In order to be classed as ‘sulfite free’, a wine must contain 10mg/l or less SO2, anymore than that, the label must state that it contains sulfites. Even a wine with no added sulfites will likely contain some naturally occurring S02. Although organic wines are likely to contain lower levels (and certainly fewer of the other additives), this isn’t always the case as not only can Sulphur be sprayed on the vines to combat mildew, interestingly, the EU organic limits of sulfites are not so restrictive when put into context. e.g. The white non-organic Rioja on the PFW list at the moment, Las Orcas Decenio Blanco, contains 120mg/l of SO2, significantly less than the EU organic limit of 150mg/l. Even Australia’s cheap as chips Yellow Tail claims on its website that its white wines contain around 140mg/l of SO2 which is still less than the EU Organic limit (its red wines are around 70mg/l).
** Some sources state 200mg/l others 210mg/l.
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