Organic wine demystified

15 Sep 2017
5 min read
On the occasion of Organic September, an initiative by the Soil Association, we take a closer look at organic wines.

Taking a closer look at organic wine, a whole new world opens to wines that are biodynamic, vegetarian, vegan, low-sulphur, no-added sulphur… and it all gets rather confusing for the regular wine enthusiast. Many people swear by their organic wines and proclaim that they live headache- or hangover-free lives since drinking organic wines. Can it be true?

Organic wines come from grapes like normal wines, yet unlike many normal wines they have to be made using only grapes grown without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or chemical fertilizer. This keeps them free from man-made toxins that find their way into the food chain. Organic wines also have consistently lower sulphur levels which help reduce allergic reactions and a certain ‘morning after’ feeling for many people. (note: no promises are made as different people react differently to wine consumption)

Biodymics goes further than organics, is more complex and takes much longer for the advantageous results to come through in the wine. Its emphasis is very much based on enhancing the life in the soil and health of the vine. This is achieved by using specially activated composts and sprays, which are made from farm derived manure to which minerals and plant extracts (for example nettle, chamomile, dandelion, valerian, silica) are added. It may sound a bit whacky but ultimately, it’s about respect for the environment and working with nature’s own rhythms in order to produce top quality wines which are authentic, individual, interesting and delicious.

In wine making, the part where fermented wine is cleared of its sediment is called fining or clarification, which is often not suitable for vegetarians or vegans. If nature is allowed to take its course, any sediment particles will settle naturally over time at the bottom of the storage tanks, after which the clear wine can be racked off. Waiting for many months is sometimes not an option, so the winemaker may need to use one of a variety of fining products to trop through the wine to clarify it. However, some fining agents contain animal gelatin or fish-based products (isinglass is made from fish air bladders), making unsuitable for vegetarians or vegans. When egg white or a similar milk-based product is used, the wine is fine for vegetarians. If the winemaker uses an inert clay called bentonite or allows nature to take its course, the wine is suitable for vegans.

Sulphur dioxide is the most widely used additive in winemaking. It’s used as an antiseptic to kill off unwanted moulds, bacteria and yeasts, and as an antioxidant to inhibit oxygen spoiling the wine. Sulphur derivatives or sulphites occur in almost all wines in varying amounts, however, wine labels now have to contain advice on how many parts per million is found in the wine. Up to 10 parts it’s produced naturally as a by-product of the fermentation process. With better hygiene and new techniques spurred on by increasing demand, it is possible to make great wines with ‘no-added sulphur’. This is still rare as it takes skill and courage to do so, but a totally unsullied, living wine can be a revelation.


Food pairings with organic wine

Meinklang Pinot Noir Frizzante Prosa

Austrian Pinot Noir is among the best in the world. The Meinklang vineyards are located in eastern Austria close to the Hungarian border. There, the long summer days allow for the best physiological ripeness, while cool evenings give the grapes ‘resting’ time. Vineyards planted close to lakes have high atmospheric humidity combined with warm air, the ideal conditions for Austria’s world-famous sweet wines such as Eiswein, or ice wine. With its clear flavour and well-balanced acidity, it is made from grapes picked when temperatures plummet below freezing. (£12.50)

Serve with: Pan-seared or roasted duck

Gamier meats like duck go well with Pinot Noir Frizzante Prosa because they don’t overpower the flavour of the wine. The heavier fat content in duck complements the bitter and acidic components Pinot Noir subtly encompasses.


Hoopoe Pinot Grigio Catarratto

Hoopoe Pinot Grigio is made from organic, sundrenched grapes from the vineyards of Sicily. The Catarratto 2014 Vintage is a classic Pinot Grigio with a luscious twist. Here the 25% of indigenous Catarratto adds to the apple, peach and pear flavours making for a particularly refreshing wine that’s all too easy to drink.

Serve with: Grilled halibut with orange remoulade or sushi

Seafood takes on more flavour when matched with delicate and crisp white wines such as Hoopoe Pinot Grigio Catarratto. Light-bodied and fruitful, this will complement fresh fish perfectly.


Walnut block ‘Collectables’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Walnut Block is the vision of two brothers – Clyde and Nigel Sowman. The Sowman family first planted the vineyard in 1996 in Marlborough’s premium Rapaura sub region. Combining their experience in viticulture and the wine industry with their passion and appreciation for fine wine, they have created their own unique range of superbly crafted Marlborough wines. The Marlborough’s oldest walnut tree, stands in the middle of the Sauvignon Blanc vines. Over 100 years old, the tree provides a special historical focal point for the vineyard and of course adds biodiversity too. Harvested in the cool of the night the grapes are slowly fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel, helping to maintain vivid flavours and balancing crisp acidity. (£10.75)

Serve with: Goat’s cheese

The creaminess of goat’s cheese is often served as a classic option to serve with Sauvignon Blanc wines. And there’s no wonder why when Crottin de Chavignol (the most famous goat cheese of the many varieties produced in the Loire Valley) was made two miles away from original Sauvignon Blanc wines. Serving or infusing goat’s cheese with herbs such as rosemary, basil, parsley or mint will bring out the herbaceous flavors found in Walnut block Collectables Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.


Wild Thing Merlot

This Merlot is sourced from the arid La Mancha region in Spain and Veneto in Italy. A donation from every bottle sold is made to wildlife charity, The Born Free Foundation. The Merlot is ripe, plummy and bursting with fruitiness. (£7.85)

Serve with: Prosciutto and stuffed mushrooms

With its fruitful and crisp flavour, Wild ThingMerlot can accompany many foods.Mushroom dishes (especially chestnut mushrooms) will bring out the fresh fruit and sweetness while the saltiness of the prosciutto will accompany the citrus commodities.


Waverley Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (S. Africa)

All grapes and olives used for Waverley Hills’ products are cultivated on the estate, situated between Tulbagh and Ceres 150km from Cape Town, on well-drained soils that are irrigated by pure mountain spring water. The area is renowned for its diverse fynbos (indigenous flora) which help give the wines their unique herbaceous character. Carefully hand-picked and destemmed, the absence of sulphur raises the fruity, red berry and flower aromas, keeps the colour intensity and enriches and balances the palate. Best drunk young and fresh. (£9.75)

Serve with: Slow braised lamb or beef infused with sherry vinegar and vegetables

Since this particular wine is recommended to be enjoyed whilst young and fresh then the sweeter, saltier, or fatty the food, the better. Red meat will pull out the deep red berry and herb aromas, while sherry vinegar will accompany the fruit and tannins of Waverley Hills Cabernet Sauvignon perfectly. Vegetables with a bitter taste (think broccoli or Brussels sprouts) flavoured with herbs like thyme, rosemary or basil will bring the floral elements out.


Where to buy

There are plenty of outlets that now cater for organic, biodynamic and low sulphur wine lovers, including a number of online suppliers.You can find all of the above wines fromVintage Roots, online purveyors with a good selection oforganic, biodynamic and low-sulphur wines.