NEW YORK (MainStreet) You've tried red, white and rosé, but have you had the chance to sip a glass of "green" vino? We're talking about wines created with eco-friendly ingredients or growing practices, which are gaining popularity due to their high quality, reasonable prices and commitment to ecological soundness.
"Green" wines typically fall into three main categories organic, sustainable and biodynamic. Read on for definitions of each, plus recommendations for the best "green" wines under $35.
Organic wines are those produced with organic farming methods, which typically avoid the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, genetic engineering and other non-environmentally friendly growing practices. In order for a wine's label to earn the "organic" distinction, it must meet certain rigorous requirements set by the USDA. For instance, grapes and other agricultural ingredients (such as yeast) that go into the wine must be certified organic. Also, although wine naturally produces some sulfites, sulfites cannot be added to organic wine (a common practice to stop fermentation or preserve flavor).
You might also come across wines labeled "made with organic grapes"; these wines have met slightly less stringent USDA requirements than organic ones. For instance, although 100% of all grapes used in the wine must be certified organic, yeast and other agricultural ingredients in the wine don't have to be organic. Also, sulfites can be added to these wines, but only up to 100 parts per million.
Even if a wine is not organic, it might be considered sustainable if it was produced with environmentally responsible practices, such as energy and water conservation and the use of renewable resources. While there is no legal definition of sustainable wines, some regional associations are working to develop standards, such as the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, explains Devon Broglie, master sommelier and global beverage buyer for Whole Foods Market. There are also independent organizations that provide third-party certification like Sustainability in Practice.
Also making their way onto the shelves of wine stores throughout the world are biodynamic wines, which are produced under an ecological farming system that views the farm as a self-contained and self-sustaining organism, Broglie explains.
"Biodynamic farmers avoid synthetic chemical pesticides, fertilizers and transgenic contamination; focus on farm-generated, living solutions to pest control and fertility; and set aside a minimum of 10% of their total acreage for biodiversity," says Broglie.
Biodynamic farming also incorporates some, shall we say, off-beat growing practices. According to an article in Food & Wine magazine, biodynamics follows the idea that farming can be attuned to the spiritual forces of the cosmos.
"This might mean linking sowing and harvesting to the phases of the moon or the positions of the planets; it also might mean burying cow manure in a cow's horn over the winter, unearthing it in the spring, diluting a minute amount of the substance in 34 liters of water, 'dynamizing' it by stirring it by hand in alternating directions for an hour or so and then spraying the mixture over one's vineyard," Food & Wine explains.
Like sustainable wines, biodynamic wines do not have a legal definition. However, the not-for-profit organization Demeter Association offers biodynamic certification for wines that meet strict criteria.
After speaking with wine experts to find out their picks for the best "green" wines under $35, we've come up with the following list, starting with the least expensive bottle.
Sepp Moser Grüner Veltliner Sepp 2012
This medium-bodied biodynamic wine hailing from Austria is yellow-green in color with aromas of fresh apple and citrus.
"Grüner is Austria's signature whitedry, clean, crisplike a pinot grigio but with a little more kick," says W.R. Tish, managing editor of Beverage Media Group and founder of Wine For All. "It's excellent with veggies."
Certified by Demeter, the Sepp Moser vineyards follow such biodynamic farming practices as applying fennel oil extracts and various teas made from regional herbs to prevent and remedy the farm against fungi, and using a quad instead of a heavy tractor to keep the soil loose and full of life.
Famille Perrin Nature Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2011
Sommelier Jenny Benzie of PourSipSavor.com suggests trying this soft red wine produced from organically grown Grenache and Syrah grapes. It boasts aromas of cherries, spices and licorice with notes of thyme, rosemary and juniper, and its taste has been described as fruity and fresh with a velvety finish.
Famille Perrin is a leading organic wine grower in the Southern Rhône Valley of France. The vineyard is certified organic by Ecocert, an international organic certification organization based in France.
Shinn Estate Red Blend
Located in Mattituck, N.Y., Shinn Estate Vineyards is certified sustainable by Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing and practices biodynamic viticulture on the estate. "It gets extra bonus points for being the first East Coast winery to be solely powered by alternative energy and one of the first to use transparent ingredient labeling," says Tish.
The Red Blend, which combines Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah, boasts flavors and aromas of red cherries, licorice and spice. "It's a nice everyday drinking wine with bright fruit and a smooth texture that calls for a gentle chill and a backyard," says Tish.
Arianna Occhipinti SP68, Sicilia 2012
A blend of Nero d'Avola and Frappato grapes with aromas of raspberry, cherry and garrigue, SP68 was created by winemaker Arianna Occhipinti at her vineyard in Sicily. Using organic farming methods, Occhipinti avoids the use of chemicals in the production of her wine, both in her vineyard and her cellar.
"This is an easy drinking, versatile red wine that will stand up to a steak and also be an excellent red with fish," says Shelley Lindgren, co-owner and wine director for A16 and SPQR restaurants in San Francisco and A16 Rockridge in Oakland.
Richard Grant Wine 2008 Wrotham Pinot Noir Table Wine
This silky-smooth wine's subtle flavors include spicy plums, cherries and violets, which then evolve on the palate to berries, citrus or apricots. It hails from a small two-acre vineyard in Napa Valley owned by winemaker Richard Grant Peterson, who avoids the use of chemical fungicides and insecticides. (The vineyard has not yet applied for a USDA organic certification.)
This pinot noir also has quite an interesting history. "The grapes are descendents of vines planted by Roman armies over 2,000 years ago in England," says Jackie Wilferd, Wines.com founder and president. "These pinot noir vines are naturally resistant to the problems that generally plague other grapevines, so have never been sprayed or treated with anything."
2010 Porter-Bass Chardonnay, Estate, Russian River Valley
The fruity notes of this chardonnay from the Russian River Valley make for a truly exceptional wine that you can feel good about drinking.
"On the palate, citrus notes interplay with Anjou pear and baked apple," says Patrick Boyle, president of NuCellar, an online wine cellar and store. "For the first half year, the wine was aged on lees and stirred monthly, leaving it with just enough creamy texture to hearken back to the days when chardonnay was wine and not syrup."
A Demeter-certified biodynamic vineyard, Porter-Bass Vineyard & Winery is located in Guerneville, Calif. The vineyard stays eco-friendly by avoiding mineral fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides; using wine bottles made from recycled materials; and allowing three-quarters of its land to remain an untouched forest.
--Written by Kristin Colella for MainStreet