Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Why Organic Wine & What Does Biodynamic Mean?

April is Earth Month and a perfect time to learn about organic wines and their kissing cousins, biodynamic, natural and sustainable wines - and why they're important. And finally, we answer the age-old question about sulfites.

Why is the organic wine movement important: Grapes are some of the most heavily sprayed items and they have thin skins, so having a more "green" option is welcome! Also, we think of wine as something straight from the soil and vines and a somewhat more natural beverage than things like soda, cocktails, etc. But it's surprising to learn how tampered with wine can be. These alternatives help assure us that our wine is a more direct connection from grape to glass.

What do all these words mean? There seems to be overlaps and confusion between all the "green" words out there whether it's with produce or wine. Let's clear some of those up:

Sustainable Wine: This is a term that unfortunately been abused by marketers so be aware. There's no legal definition for this. But true sustainable farmers and winemakers try to create a product that's been made in a way that allows the vineyard to continue to produce in a way that isn't harmful for future generations and production. It's a philosophy that minimizes soil erosion, depletion of soil nutrients, water pollution, etc. It's a holistic approach.

Organic: A wine that is labeled organic and has the USDA Organic Seal is made without chemical pesticides and artificial fertilizers.

Biodynamic: I think of this as extreme organic. Follows same principles as organic wine but adds a whole

other layer. It's a holistic approach to winemaking. Biodynamic farmers view the vineyard as a part of an entire system - animals, other crops, with emphasis on balance between all the elements. The whole "farm" or vineyard should be self-sustaining so there is a lot of composting and not using chemicals. It also involves farming according to a lunar calendar.

"Natural" wines: Again, this is more a philosophy that says "don't tamper with the wine!" But what it entails is not adding sulfites or additives. The shocker here is what others are adding - wood chips, colorants, acidifiers, de-acidifiers, de-alcoholization, etc. commercial yeasts, enzymes, tannin powders, heavy fining or filtration that is hardly sustainable. When a wine is labeled Organic it doesn't mean that all of this other stuff can't happen.

And the age old question - What's the deal with sulfites:

Yeasts naturally produce sulfites during the fermentation process. Sulfites act as a form of preservatives for wine, allowing it a longer shelf life. Conventional wines are allowed to have 350 parts per million of sulfites. Organic wines have less with a maxium of 100 parts per million of sulfites.


Roxy said...

I've always been wary of the term "organic," especially for wines. After years of drinking wine, I think the sulfites are finally giving me headaches. I'm more interested in organic wine now that I know they have fewer sulfites. Thanks!

Anu Karwa said...

Roxy - try to look for "natural" wines as well. Most of those don't add any sulfites in. It's just what's already in the wine naturally. Check for selections from the importer Jenny & Francois or Louis Dressner. Ask a good wine shop for those selections.

How to Pick a Summer Wine: The Gentler, Lighter Side of Wine

Summer’s soaring temps beg you to step away from heavy Cabernets and check out the gentler, lighter side of wine. When choosing the perfect summer wine for your outdoor engagement party or wedding, think light, crisp, refreshing--and because people tend to drink more in the heat--lower in alcohol. Nothing more prettily suggests summer than a dry (i.e. not sweet) rose. Avoid the simple, syrupy versions and try French roses from the Mourvèdre grape or roses made using the Saignee method for more complexity. Pick wines from countries where you imagine the locals sipping leisurely at sidewalk cafés while basking in the sun, like Spain. A Spanish fave is Albarino from the Rias Baixas region. Made to drink young, Albarino is a crisp, white wine with intense fruit, lively acidity and generally a lower level of alcohol. It pairs perfectly with summer foods from seafood to grilled vegetables. But you don’t need to swear off red wine for summer. Look for light bodied wines like Pinot Noir from Oregon or a Valpolicella from Italy, both capable of standing up to barbequed foods. And don’t be afraid to put a slight chill on your red wine. It is summer after all!

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain, “Exceptional with Everything” Oh Really?

There's nothing we love more than a challenge. It's in our makeup. We're two women, thirties. One Indian. One Filipina. The first, founder and CEO of a business in the arguably male-dominated wine world. The second, building experience to be a future proprietess of a wine store. Add to this: In New York City. So when presented with the opportunity to play wine and food critic for a night—to pair Rías Baixas Albariño wines, proclaimed to be "exceptional with everything" with Mercat’s offerings —it is impossible and simply against every ounce of who we are, to refuse.

Mercat means “market” in Catalan, the language of the northern Spanish region where owner, Jaime Reixach, is from and where the restaurant’s menu draws its inspiration. The albariños we’ll be drinking also originate from the northern region, and so we’re already anticipating more perfect wine pairings than tragic mismatches.

It’s a beautiful warm Thursday night—and we are tasting two Albariño wines: Alba Rosa from Martinez Serrantes and Pazo San Mauro, both 2006 vintages. We take our time with each wine—assessing them alone and then side by side. At the end, we agree that both are delightful: the Alba Rosa is sparkling with surprising depth while the Pazo San Mauro would bring life to our springtime picnic. Further, we imagine that if each wine were to be personified, they might just be these two ladies, described as such:

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"
This golden blonde hued wine gives an almost effervescent quality that shoots racy brightness into your mouth. It has the usual grassiness and citrus qualities one expects from this wine. The reason why this wine fits Scarlett most is because it has the quality of lightness but comes with surprising depth of character and fullness in body. The comparison would be perfect were the wine to show great legs, but its light-bodied, lower alcohol nature doesn’t allow it.

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”
Cameron would be a fun addition to any springtime outing. Her lightheartedness would make everyone smile and this wine does the same. The light yellow straw color gives way to granny smith apples, peaches, melon, and citrus scents that jump at your nose, smelling like springtime in a glass. This wine begs to be explored further. The crisp and pleasantly tart apple is balanced with pear and makes it the perfect brunch wine.
Now, we move on to the heart of our challenge: Exceptional with everything? Oh really? How do these two beauties handle themselves in company? After the three and a half hours of glorious sipping, chewing, and chatting, among ourselves and the restaurant staff, here are our findings:

No surprise, our lovely wines get along splendidly with their classic and traditional partners: we have raves for the nicely seasoned patatas bravas—not too spicy, not too garlicky—and the padrones/blistered shishito peppers, the char and oil offset by the tartness of the wines. One of us goes wild for the Canelons de Verdura/eggplant wrapped spring vegetables, manchego, and cranberry reduction. And then Chef Lowder sends over Trencat d’Ous/mushroom with salsa verde topped with a fried egg, which again, goes splendidly with our wines. Even the suckling pig/Cochinillo, which we think will surely clash, in fact becomes the surprise of the evening. Like the beauty and the beast, our wines and the pig make an unlikely but harmonious pair.

We ask ourselves for the last time: Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with Everything?

If not for being the gluttonous bottomless pits that we are, we would certainly have answered YES with an exclamation point. But since we order those two desserts—Torrades Sta. Teresa/fried bread with lemon yogurt and Pa Amb Oli Xocolata/bread, olive oil, and chocolate, our answer must be: Almost. These two desserts with our two Albariños — are disastrous.

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with almost Everything.

--Anu Karwa and Marie Estrada

Visit http://www.riasbaixaswines.com for more info on Rías Baixas Albariños from Spain

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