What makes a wine organic?

In the world of wine, if one were to read much of the hype-driven press, it would seem that the idea of organic wine was some sort of trend, destined to fizzle out. Nothing is farther from the truth.

We haven't got records to prove it, but my assumption would be that the very first wine produced by the Phoenicians was organic by any standard. Organic methods in the production of wine have been practiced by generations and, to this day, are the foundation on which some of the grand wines of the world are produced.

The modern definition of organic varies greatly depending on where the wine is grown. Standards differ from country to country, and even region to region. But for the sake of stroking with a broad brush, organic means "an integrated farming system that strives for sustainability, the enhancement of soil fertility and biological diversity whilst, with rare exceptions, prohibiting synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, and growth hormones." For the wine industry, the term organic refers to the farming methods in the field. Beyond that, how the juice is vinified and bottled is not a factor in the determination of whether or not a wine can be labeled or classified as organic.

Some things to remember:

- The term `sustainable' does not identify a wine as organic.

- 'Bio-dynamic' is another level beyond and including organic farming methods.

- A wine with `no sulfites added,' is just that, and not necessarily organic.

But don't get us started on the sulfite myths. Sulfites are a natural by-product of the fermentation process that work as a natural preservative against certain yeast and bacteria, which will quickly destroy a wine if they start to multiply. Simply put, no sulfites, no stable wine — it will spoil quickly. Most good winemakers keep the natural sulfites to the minimum amount needed to preserve the wine.

Wines labeled as organic have had to go through the process of certification, which can be arduous at best, and very costly. However, we are finding that some of the best organic wineries out there don't want to bother with certification and do not need a label to make great wine organically. World-renowned Chateau Beaucastel, the undisputed heavy-weight of the Rhone Valley has been farming organically for no other reason than it makes great wine. No hype. No bureaucratic red tape, and nothing on the label. Just great wine.

At Spirited, the category of organic wine is so wide and varied that we don't even attempt to dedicate a section of the store, and no wine is on our shelves just because it's organic. We love selling these types of wines because they taste great and they tend to go very well with food. For most people, the choice to drink an organic wine usually comes down to taste. As with most organic produce, be it beef, eggs, apples, or dare I say it, kale, the flavors are inherent, complex, pure and delicious.

Organic food nourishes you in a way that no conventionally grown food can, and the same can be said of organic wine.

Grab a glass

Here are some of our favorite organic, delicious wine gems:

Arca Nova Vinho Verde, Portugal $11

Vinho Verde is the name of the region and the wine. This wine is crisp, dry, slightly effervescent and youthful with great floral, citrus aromas, reminiscent of freshly cut grass. Perfect as an aperitif wine.

Antonelli Montefalco Grechetto, Italy $13

We absolutely love this wine! Pleasantly fruity with honeysuckle and peach flavors. It is a dry, crisp wine and a perfect accompaniment to seafood appetizers, poultry dishes, soups salads and simple fish dishes.

Domaine Montmartel Cotes du Rhone Blanc, France $12

A blend of Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Clairette. This fresh and vibrant white has light spice-notes and is so well balanced. The whites in the Rhone Valley are under-appreciated gems, and this C te du Rhone Blanc is superb!

Sybille Kuntz Mosel Riesling Trocken, Germany $16

The Sybille Kuntz Mosel-Riesling wines are eco-certified since 2013 and certified biodynamic since 2016. This wine is nothing short of dry, tasty, pure Riesling and is our choice for the perfect Halloween quaffer. Pairs well with pumpkin-spiced anything and with very low alcohol, a second glass on Tuesday won't make for any Wednesday regrets.

Judith Beck Ink Red Blend, Austria $16

Judith Beck Ink is a very lively, fresh red wine from Burgenland in Austria. It is a biodynamic beauty with a blast of dark fruits, spices and fresh, springy juiciness that leaps from the glass and hits the palate like a mouthful of summer berries.

Abad Dom Bueno Mencia, Spain $17

Bierzo is located in northwest Spain, near the northeast corner of Portugal. The local legend is that Mencia, the indigenous varietal from Bierzo, was Cabernet Franc about 700 years ago. This wine is rich and lush with blackberry jam and vanilla aromas, refined blackberry flavor and a long silky-smooth finish.

Nittardi Chianti Classico Vigna Doghessa, Tuscany, Italy $20

In this throwback of a wine, reminiscent of Sangiovese before new world intervention, you'll find aromas of ripe dark-skinned fruit, espresso, brown spice and sun-baked earth. It shows off all of the characteristics of great Tuscan wine. Anything off the grill will happily pair with this Chianti Classico.

Phillipe Tessier Cheverny Rouge, Loire Valley, France $20

An assemblage of estate grown Pinot Noir and Gamay. Full of bright earthy red fruits and wonderful balance. Philippe Tessier strives to make honest wines that respect the natural balance of his vines. His overriding goal is for his wines to reflect not the hand of the winemaker, but rather the original character of the vine, soil and vintage. Mission accomplished, in spades!

Jim Nejaime is the owner, importer and wine buyer at SPIRITED Wines in Lenox, who is a passionate wine merchant traveling the world to find great wines since 1979.


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