GRAPEVINE

KATHRYN McWHIRTER ON ORGANIC WINES
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The Independent Culture
EVERY scrap of inedible kitchen vegetation goes into our compost bin and our garden is religiously organic. But my zeal doesn't extend to the vege-tables and fruit I buy, and certainly not to wines. I like to be promiscuous in my wine-drinking - a different one every night - and the organic wine world simply couldn't keep me going.

And I wouldn't drink organic unless it tasted as scrumptious as its conventional competitors. There's every reason why it might. Organic vines will undoubtedly have lapped up lashings of loving care to make up for the lack of chemicals, and yields will probably be low, which usually makes for good, concentrated flavours. But grapes are delicate fruits, prone to disease and tempting to insects, and even the most dedicated of growers must find it difficult to keep them healthy and rot-free without chemical sprays. In the winery, too, the organic winemaker has far fewer resources to ensure that everything runs smoothly. Artificial aids might, in some cases, make a non- organic wine taste cleaner and fresher.

Organic wines are not totally chemical-free. The various official organic organisations around the world tend to allow naturally occurring chemicals to be sprayed on to vines or added to the bubbling vats. One such is copper sulphate, a blue dusting of which has been protecting vineyards against fungal diseases for many generations. Sulphur dioxide is also allowed as an antiseptic and preservative. But even in the other, non-organic camp, there should be no more than minute traces left in wine of any synthetic chemicals used in vineyard or winery - no more than might be analysed in your non-organic apple or orange juice.

The widest variety of organic wines can be obtained through two mail- order companies, Vintage Roots and Vinceremos. Here is my selection from their lists, all wines that compete for quality with their non-organic neighbours. Many of them compete for price, too, though you often, inevitably, pay a slight premium for all that loving care.

It's much easier to be organic in hotter, drier climates, where moulds and other fungal diseases are held at bay by the heat. The Rhne is one such region, and organic vineyards are fairly thick on the ground there. One really delicious result, from a beautiful, isolated vineyard near the village of Valras, is the firm, intensely raspberry-fruity 1993 Valras Domaine de la Grande Bellane, Ctes-du-Rhne-Villages (£6.45 Vinceremos). The 1992 Gigondas, Clos du Joncuas (£8.75 Vintage Roots) is also lovely, rich, ripe and firm. Another favourite comes from the hills outside Aix- en-Provence: 1992 Domaine Richeaume Cabernet Sauvignon (£7.99 Vince-remos and Safeway). More cheaply from the south of France, try the 1991 Corbires, Chteau Pech Latt, Vieilles Vignes (£4.99 Vintage Roots), a rich, soft red; and 1991 Vin de Pays de l'Aude Domaine Mestre Grotti (£3.80 Vintage Roots) with its ripe, cherry fruit and a whiff of smoke.

Good value whites are the concentrated, perfumed 1994 Chteau Rait, Bordeaux Blanc Sec (£4.15 Vintage Roots); the gently grassy, soft and full 1993 Chteau la Blanquerie, Entre Deux Mers, Marcel Rougier (£4.65 Vinceremos); the tropical and gooseberry-fruity 1994 Domaine Bassac, Vin de Pays des Ctes de Thongue, Sauvignon Blanc (£4.35 Vintage Roots); and fresh, full, slightly musky 1992 Mauzac, Vin de Pays de l'Aude, Jacques Frelin (£4.15 Vinceremos).

Organic winemakers are very rare in the 'New World' - countable by the handful as opposed to a couple of hundred in France, and a hundred or so each in Italy and Germany. New Zealand sports only one registered organic vineyard. Their best value wine is probably the cheapest: 1994 The Milton Vineyard Semillon-Chardonnay (£4.99 Vinceremos). 1993 Chenin Blanc Dry, Barrel Fermented, The Milton Vineyard (£5.99 Vinceremos) is yummier still, also very fruity and attractively oaky. From Australia, the 1991 Botobolar Mudgee Shiraz (£6.99 Vintage Roots) is quite a complex red for the price.

Within Europe, the Iberians are also almost oblivious to organic production. One exception, south of Barcelona, is the little family company of Albet y Noya. Their full, crisp, honeyed 1994 Peneds Can Vendrell, Albet i Noya (£3.99 Vintage Roots, £4.20 Vinceremos) is excellent value, and their 1992 Peneds Chardonnay Col.leccio, Albet i Noya (£8.75 Vintage Roots) especially wonderful. A good value organic red from Spain is 1993 Valencia Tinto, Dominio los Pinos (£4.75 Vintage Roots).

All these wines are available by mail order: from Vintage Roots, Sheep- lands Farm, Wargrove, Berkshire, RG10 8DT (01734 401222); or from Vinceremos: 65 Raglan Road, Leeds, LS2 9DZ (0113 2431691). Vinceremos wines are all also available from Ryton Organic Gardens' HGRA Organic Wine Club, Ryton- on-Dunsmore, Coventry, CV8 3LG (01203 303517).

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