Green wines: stand up to non-organic counterparts and great for wine newbies


Then there's Bonterra Vineyards in Mendocino County, California. Bonterra fills cow horns with manure and buries them to let them ripen through the winter. Then the horns are dug up in the spring, and the manure is spread around the roots and soil. They also fill up horns with silica, bury them, and bring them out in the summer to spray on leaves in order to concentrate the sun's light.

On Earth Day, I got to sample 12 organic and biodynamic wines at a free tasting held at the ABC Fine Wine & Spirits on Gandy Boulevard. The only other organic wines I had really tasted before were from Lolonis Winery, so I was glad to expand my horizons. (The handsome young man pouring the wines was also extremely helpful and educated on the topic.)

First up on the tasting table were the Naked Riesling and Naked Chardonnay, from the Snoqualmie Vineyards in Washington state's Columbia Valley. The riesling was made in an off-dry style, with more mineral notes than you might expect if you're used to guzzling Schmidt Sohne or Pacific Rim. The chard was more reminiscent of the French style, with no buttery flavor, containing some mineral notes, and most importantly unoaked -- that means fermented in stainless steel tanks.

Then there was the Natura line from the aforementioned Emiliana Vineyards. I got to taste the Valle Casablanca chardonnay, the Valle Colchagua carmenere, and the Valle Central cabernet sauvignon. The chard had some oak notes once it hit the back of my throat, but otherwise it had a light mineral taste. Once I put the carmenere to my lips, I got a whiff of meat -- the scent of a raw slab of steak -- and that helped put this medium-bodied wine on the top of my list for the tasting. For the rest of the night, I referred to it as the "meat wine." The cab was pretty smooth with some floral notes, but the carmenere really won me over.


True Earth from the Three Thieves California label was vaguely disappointing for me. The Mendocino chard tasted like almost nothing -- it reminded me of that awkward feeling you get in your mouth when you have a lightly flavored vitamin water with that strange flavor the bottle insists is "berry." As a general fan of chardonnays, I was sad. The other Mendocino offering I tasted, the cab/merlot/petite syrah blend, was nothing to scream about -- not too dry but with a fairly weak backbone.

From Bonterra, there was a chardonnay made from Mendocino grapes and a sauvignon blanc made with 63% Lake County grapes and 37% Mendocino grapes. The chardonnay was made much more closely to the traditional California chard style, with some butter in the mouth and some oaky notes in the nose. That tends to be the type of chard I go for, so I was pleased. When it comes to sauv blancs, I can't get past the overwhelming flavor of grass clippings that seems to a popular thing in the varietal as of late.

The merlot was, well, a merlot. My take on merlots is that they're generally pretty inoffensive, and that's the only thing going for them. Your mileage may vary. The zinfandel was my favorite wine from the tasting. Usually zinfandels are so spicy and full-bodied that I feel like they're kicking me in the teeth, clubbing me over the head, and dragging me back to their caves. The Bonterra zin had spice on the nose and in the mouth, but it was at a softer, more pleasing level. The cab had a pepper note in the back of my throat that threw me off a little.

And the end, the solid winners in my book were the Bonterra chardonnay, Bonterra Zinfandel and Natura Carmenere. My friend and I purchased the Carmenere and the Zin, respectively. We promptly met up with two other friends and downed the bottles. All in the name of Earth Day, of course.

I may not have loved all of the organic wines presented to me that day, but I do have to say that I think organic wines might be a more approachable first step for wine newbies. They tend to be softer and less robust than their non-organic counterparts, so it'll give rookies a chance to gingerly dip a toe into that vast, alcoholic pool of bliss.

What organic wines have you had that you think others should try?

Disclaimer: I am not a wine aficionado — I can be pretty picky, and I might have a bias against some styles. Don't completely take my word for it here — get out there, try your own organic wines, and find your new favorites!

Being green doesn't mean you have to give up your vices. Organic wines are growing in popularity, and that means there's more variety for you to enjoy your sweet, sweet vino without feeling any green guilt.

The requirements for earning the title of "organic" differ from country to country, but here in the United States, it essentially means that no fertilizers or pesticides are used on the farmlands, and no sulfites have been added to preserve what's inside the bottles.

The real fun is in wines produced through biodynamic farming. Based on the principles of the late Austrian scientist Rudolf Steiner, biodynamics use animals for pest control and fertilizer, just like with organic farming. But here, planting and harvesting are based around the moon cycles, as well. The Emiliana wine family took its three best vineyards and converted them to organic and biodynamic farming, and Emiliana Organico in Chile's Valle Colchagua is a prime example of a biodynamic farm. Chickens eat bugs and crap out natural fertilizer. Ladybugs fly around to also control insect pests. Llamas and ducks even plod around the vineyard, chewing up weeds and providing yet more fertilizer.

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