The world of wine loves a trend. From the rise and fall of Chardonnay in the '80s and '90s to the more recent Prosecco and Provence Rose fads. Something that seems to be capturing our imagination at the moment is the environmental impact and provenance of the wines we're drinking. In particular the rise of Organic, Bio-dynamic and Natural wines.
This month we take a peek behind the label and look at what these terms actually mean.
Organic: Simply put, organic wine is wine made from grapes grown in accordance with principles of organic farming, which typically excludes the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. However, requirements for organic certification can vary dramatically from country to country meaning it can be difficult to draw any conclusions from an organic designation. In the UK for example an organic wine just has to be made from organically grown grapes. In the USA however, the controls extend to the wine-making process setting limits on the amount of sulphites that can be used in the winery.
Whilst sulphites are often linked to hangovers, sadly there is not a huge amount of evidence that organic wines will be any less punishing after a night of excess. Dried fruit is likely to contain twice the number of sulphites as any wine, and I've never felt groggy after pounding a packet of dried apricots. Not spraying chemicals around the countryside is surely healthier for the environment though, so that's something.
For something sparkling this spring, Prosecco Spumante Era is a very well-balanced sparkling vegan and organic prosecco that's delicately fruity with a gently aromatic bouquet. Dry but fruity, it's a delicious companion to hors d'oeuvre s and mildly flavoured foods as well as partnering fish and shellfish.
Biodynamic: The concept of bio-dynamics started in the 1920's with an Austrian philosopher named Rudolph Steiner. It is a holistic, homeopathic manner of farming that, of course, can be applied to vineyards. It shares many practices with organic farming - but with added mysticism. For example an astrological based calendar that dictates what tasks can be carried out on any given day and the special compost preparations that are stuffed into cow horns and buried in the soil before being exhumed and used in the vineyard the next year.
Sometimes criticised as "pseudo-science" few would claim to be able to taste the difference between a conventional wine and a bio-dynamic one. However, some great wines are made bio-dynamically - Cristal champagne for one!
The Farnese Group is a large and dynamic company that owns a number of wineries throughout southern Italy. Farnese Fantini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is made entirely of Montepulciano from the estate's vineyards. The grapes are softly pressed then macerated and fermented in stainless steel at controlled temperatures for almost 2 weeks. The wine does not undergo any oak ageing but spends about 2 months ageing in the bottle prior to release.
Whatever your thoughts on some of the frankly odd practices that goes into to bio-dynamics the gentler farming philosophy and meticulous attention to detail required must have some benefits...probably.
Natural: Much like the word "craft" in the world of beer and spirits, there are no legally binding definitions for "natural" wine however, there is a consensus about what the term should mean. Natural wine is wine made with minimal chemical and technological intervention, both in the vineyard and the winery. They often use natural, ambient yeasts and will feature minimal fining or filtration.
Some natural wines taste more like a sour beer or kombucha, the lack of additives can hurt its consistency and it can be a bit of lottery getting hold of a good bottle. However, Gundog Estate Wild Semillon is a fantastic natural wine. Made using natural or "indigenous" yeast. Gundog Estate's aim is to create a very textural and complex style of Semillon that showcases another side of this great wine grape. The Wild Semillon is very aromatic offering lemongrass, and peach notes with bright and fleshy flavours.
Ultimately Natural wine is unusual and a bit of fun, definitely one to taste, you may be hosting a wine tasting experience and a bottle from each type of wine could be a real conversation starter!