In August we reported that many high-street retailers are expanding their ranges of organic wines to meet growing customer demand. Waitrose scores well with an organic wine list of 23, but some feel that coming to the green party has more to do with a link to soaring sales of organic food. Sainsbury's, for instance, has recorded an 18 per cent rise in organic food over the year. Has organic wine arrived, or is its mainstream presence still just around the next corner?
Jem Gardner of Vinceremos ( www.vinceremos.co.uk), one of the country's leading organic and biodynamic drinks specialists, says there was a bigger shift towards organic wine in the mid-1990s, when Safeway (RIP) led the charge. "For most today, mainstream means they've only got one or two organic wines," says Gardner, who points to better-stocked smaller stores such as Pomona (020-7916 2676), Unicorn (0161-861 0010) and Organico (01539 431122). "One of the problems is that people will spend money on organic meat or carrots because they associate organic food with high quality, better taste and an immediate health benefit, but it's not necessarily the case with wine." Why not? Partly because wine is thought of as a natural product anyway, and partly because wine is at one remove from the grapes themselves.
Supporters claim that organic wine is purer than conventional plonk because organic wineries encourage sustainable viticulture in place of chemical sprays. And although organic farming is inevitably more costly because of higher labour costs and lower yields, a growing number of consumers are prepared to support smaller, usually family-run, wine businesses if there are perceived benefits. Which are? According to Lance Pigott of Vintage Roots (www.vintageroots.co.uk), another leading organic and biodynamic wine merchant, "Sulphur levels are generally lower and some people do have allergies to sulphur. There are also people who are worried about the trace elements [iron, copper, etc] that can end up in the bottle and who want to buy wines from producers who are more environmentally conscious."
But does organic wine taste better? "There may be a more vivid expression of fruit, and I would like to think it's true, but I can't say for sure," concedes Gardner candidly. What is clear is that organic wine is generally a great deal better than a few years ago. Biodynamic wines especially, made following the precepts of Rudolf Steiner, can be superb. Steiner was an Austrian philosopher who was the founder of biodynamics, a supercharged system of organic farming that involves the application of special treatments timed in conjunction with lunar and planetary movements.
Organic wine is also rapidly expanding its production base, which means that you can now buy wines not just from Europe but the New World too. Try:
2005 Pircas Negras Torrontés, £4.69, Vinceremos - fragrant, floral dry white from Argentina, bursting with grapey flavours; 2004 Côtes du Rhône, Domaine Les Aphillantes, £5.50, Dynamic Vines (020-7242 6480) - fresh and spicy, blackberryish grenache, carignan, mourvèdre blend; 2005 Albet i Noya Lignum Blanc, Penedès, £7.20, Vintage Roots - fresh Spanish dry white with vibrant white peach fruit flavours; 2005 Battle of Bosworth Shiraz Viognier, £9.99, Oddbins - seamless rich blackberry fruit and spicy oak from McLaren Vale's Bosworth family; 2003 Chianti Classico, Fontodi, around £14.45, Bennetts Fine Wines, Noel Young, Philglas & Swiggot, Valvona & Crolla - great, classic chianti; Fleury et Fils Brut NV Champagne, £22.99, Waitrose - a creamy-textured mousse of an organic champagne.Reuse content