You may have noticed that organic wine has recently gained a huge media attention, and also that niche categories like biodynamic and natural wines have started to become more popular and accessible to consumers.
For people working in the wine industry, it is evident a growing interest towards this kind of products but, at the same time, it is also clear that consumers are mostly confused about real values of those products.
This disorientation is mainly due to the fact that the wine industry is mostly exempt from EU food and drink labelling regulation, which means it does not have to give additional information about production methods and additives/preservatives often used to make wine. Therefore, wine labels are almost completely useless for consumers trying to understand how a specific wine has been made.
With this brief guide, we are going to navigate through the main differences between organic, biodynamic and natural wines, giving you all the tools necessary to make a more informed choice while shopping at your favourite independent wine merchant.
An organic wine is a wine made from grapes that have been grown without the use of artificial or synthetic chemicals, such as herbicides and pesticides. To keep the weeds and bugs at bay, organic farmers work with nature, rather than against it, by boosting their vineyard’s biodiversity. For example, they introduce cover crops to provide a habitat for beneficial insects that are the natural enemy of problem species, or have small sheep graze between the vine rows, eating the grass and weeds. In this way, the vineyard becomes a self-regulating, natural ecosystem, which is able to combat problems intrinsically and eliminates the need for artificial, and potentially toxic, chemicals.
However, just because a wine is organic, it does not necessarily mean that it is, by definition, a completely natural product. The environment is certainly more protected and the grapes are definitely richer in nutrients and aromas, but organic wine certification still permits the use of a limited set of additives, preservatives and mechanic processes during the winemaking. In saying that, it must be underlined that organic wine does contain almost half the maximum legal limit of sulphites (a common preservative in wine that is used to inhibit or kill unwanted yeasts and bacteria) used in standard commercial wine.
Our “must-try” selection of organic wines:
FIZZ: Padroggi La Piotta, “MilleBolle” Brut (Italy, £11.99)
WHITE: Momo, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand, £13.99)
RED: Chateau Maris, Organic Minervois (France, £14.29)
Biodynamic wines are linked to the concept of a spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture, food production and nutrition. This agricultural system differs from the similar organic protocol since it is not just a list of rules to be followed, it is a different way of thinking, involving the farm as a complex living system and also believing that there are terrestrial and cosmic forces that influence plant growth.
For this reason, the biodynamic system is currently rather controversial, especially in the scientific world. While some practices can be explained scientifically, such as the emphasis on soil health, other elements typical of this approach to agriculture seem far away from the empirical world of science.
Despite this scientific scepticism, biodynamic wines are undoubtedly being taken more and more seriously from the wine professionals. This is mainly due to the fact that some of the top producers recognised for their pursuit of excellence in many regions of the world are opting for biodynamic viticulture, and their wines have clearly improved since they began farming in this way.
In terms of human interventions, biodynamic wines are certainly a step closer to a completely natural vinification, since they must follow an even more limited list of allowed additives and processes compared to organic wine.
Our “must-try” selection of biodynamic wines:
FIZZ: Raventos i Blanc, “L’Hereu” Brut (Spain, £18.49)
WHITE: Rolly Gassmann, “Terroir de Chateaux Forts” (France, £17.49)
RED: Reyneke, Syrah (South Africa, £18.69)
In order to understand what a natural wine is, we need first to think about how the wine industry has enormously changed during the last decades. Wine has in fact become more popular, as more people are now able to afford it. As a consequence, the wine market has moved its focal point from the product to the consumer. For this reason, wine has been heavily industrialised, and it has slowly become more and more similar to an actual manufacturing product. This is the main reason why natural wine, as a possible answer to the growing demand for authentic and genuine wines, has recently been able to polarise part of the wine industry.
It is not easy to describe what exactly a natural wine is. Winemakers do not follow an absolute code of conduct, but generally they work just to make wines with the minimum human intervention possible. In other words, a natural wine is a wine made from organic/biodynamic grapes, and following a winemaking process where additions or manipulations are kept to a very minimum level. For many wine enthusiasts this is extremely important, because it gives to the different grape varieties grown in the different regions the opportunity to fully express themselves and their sense of place.
Our “must-try” selection of natural wines:
FIZZ: Davenport Vineyards, “Limney Estate” Sparkling Wine (England, £29.99)
WHITE: Vale da Capucha, Branco Blend (Portugal, £15.49)
ORANGE: Podere Pradarolo, VEJ 270 (Italy, £24.99)
RED: Fattoria La Maliosa, “Maliosa Rosso” IGT Toscana (Italy, £29.99)
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