Posts Tagged ‘organic’

How natural do you want it?

How natural do you want it?

It nearly time again for what now appears to be an annual celebration of unsubstantiated and unsupported claims and assertions about wine. It’s time again to denigrate 99% of the worlds wine and winemakers.

Of course, I’m talking about the coming RAW WINE FAIR, a celebration of “natural” wine taking place in London on May 19 and 20. On the cusp of this important occasion, I think it appropriate to examine some of the claims that are being made about the wines being featured at RAW that have been made by the event’s founder, Isabelle Legeron, MW. Ms. Legeron was recently interviewed in the Londonist and she took that opportunity to make a variety of claims not just about “natural” wine, but all other wines not considered “natural”.

According to Ms. Legeron:
“Once grapes are harvested and taken to the cellar, natural wine growers try to intervene as little as possible. They see their role more as guardians — guiding a process that occurs naturally — rather than as trying to force the grapes or juice into particular moulds responding to market demands or trends”

I’m wondering, do only “natural” winemakers attempt as little intervention as possible? Or are there non “natural” winemakers that take this approach? Also, isn’t the process of “guiding” anything but “natural”? Isn’t it really a case of “manipulation”?

According to Ms. Legeron:
“I like wine that is alive and unmanipulated, characteristics that are surprisingly hard to come by in modern winemaking. I don’t like wines that are worked: heavily extracted, oaky, manipulated, squeaky clean and boring.”

Just how hard to come by are wines that are “alive”? What does “Alive” mean? Do only “natural” wines qualify as being “alive”? How many of the world’s wines, particularly those produced by the thousands of small artisan producers around the globe that do not claim their wines are “natural”, have you tasted in order to declare that finding wines with “alive” and “unmanipulated” characteristics are hard to find? Or are you really just making this up and offering an unsupported assertion?

According to Ms. Legeron:
“the vast majority of natural wine I come across is not only not faulty, but is deliciously complex and shows far more interesting taste profiles than conventional wine. To be frank, this isn’t really surprising either — if, as you would do in conventional winemaking, you kill off all your native bacteria and yeasts to then add lab-bred ones that have been developed to show specific aromas, you will necessarily have less complex aromatics than if nature — with its infinitesimal variations — is involved.“

Read on …

At the roots of organic wine ...

At the roots of organic wine …

 

“Do you offer organic wine?” It’s a question I hear frequently while on the wine trail.

Wine retailers, once cautious about the idea are suddenly eager to stock organic wine. A smattering of selections has burgeoned in recent years, crowding store displays. Once on the fringe, brands featuring words like nature, earth and the prefix “eco” now edge closer to the wine mainstream as consumer interest intensifies. But the simple question remains: which wines labeled as organic are really worth a look?

Not many, it turns out. Wine brands marketed as organic are seldom worth bringing home again. It’s unusual to find a drinkable red — with Organic splashed across the front label — which begs another taste.

For supporters of organic consumption, there’s a bright side; one you’ll find useful if you support some notion of organic farming and expect well-made wine to boot.

The far more exciting end of organic viticulture is the juice made from organically farmed grapes — from France, Italy and Spain, as well as from domestic producers — where organic may be barely noticeable on labels. It’s wine sold on the merits of taste and authenticity first. Validating these wines requires reading fine print, or decoding unfamiliar symbols. Quite a few estates feature organic production without fanfare or gaudy marketing campaigns. The challenge is finding them.

In the 1980s, the fledging category began to appear in stores, with wines from California among the first examples available in mass distribution. Initially the concept raised a murmur of excitement, in part because organics were considered healthier options than conventional versions. People bought organic wine as they did food, mostly to avoid a perceived surplus of chemical herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and other additives thought to be common in conventionally made wine. From the outset, however, customers encountered unstable, highly variable bottles. Many of the wines were hard to identify from the varietals listed on the labels. Opening the early organic bottles was like spinning a roulette wheel — one bottle stinky and cloudy, another one browning, dull, others grapey but odd examples. Moreover, the wines were expensive for the times. Organic wine seemed more an experiment than a reliable new category. Consumers had every right to worry about chemical additives in winemaking, but it remained that bottles had to taste as good, or better than conventional versions.

 

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In the last decade, I have discovered that the wines I enjoy the most are often produced by organic and biodynamic wineries. This intrigues me.

I come from an era when a slogan beloved in my high school, was “Better living through chemicals.” By nature, I tend to worry less about motivation and more about outcome. In addition, I spent the last 30 years of my life with a morbid fascination of fraud, particularly wine fraud.

These three factors make me somewhat skeptical about the quasi-religious faith systems many consumers invest in their foods and eating habits. I cannot think of anybody less inclined to chase organic products than myself.

What most consumers don’t realize is how entrenched are the notions of organic viticulture. Some of the largest producers in the world are organic and more are choosing this route every year. Many of them always have been organic. As it happens, the back label of a wine bottle is a lousy place to try to explain this to consumers. Therefore, I am writing a series of columns on the various forms of viticulture and production this takes.
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No more being blond!

No more being blond!

 

Researchers serve bubbly to lab rats and see improved memory; two studies look for links between alcohol and cancer

Champagne may bubble with more than deliciousness. According to research from a team at the Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy department of the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, organic acids in the French sparkling wine actually increase brainpower.

In their report, published in the journal Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, the authors explain that research showing certain chemicals in foods can improve memory is extensive, but there is a lack of data on phenolic acids. The team served Champagne (equivalent to a glass per day for people) to lab rats for six weeks and found the rodents showed an improvement in spatial working memory, thanks to improved cell-cycle regulation in the cortex and hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls learning and memory.

Lead researcher Dr. Giulia Corona said the tests show promise for humans as well. “Daily supplementation with a low-to-moderate doses of Champagne for six weeks led to an improvement in memory,” Corona told Wine Spectator, “indicating phenolic compounds in Champagne may interact directly with nerve cells, improve the communication between cells and encourage nerves that carry electrical signals in the brain to regenerate.”

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Natural wine has much to learn...

Natural wine has much to learn from…

 

I can’t look a chicken in the eye anymore unless I ask it first if it’s free range. My family eats organic, right down to the kale. Yes, the natural food movement has changed the way we eat. We consider where our food came from, who grew or produced it, and how far it traveled to get to our plate.

Certainly — to throw some reality-check deionized spring water on the previous paragraph – the vast majority of American eaters are slugging down sugary drinks and sucking down deep-fried McSomething every day, but what was once the fringe domain of a few tofu freaks is now mainstream. You can buy stock in Whole Foods, which took in nearly $12 billion last year, and you can buy organic at Walmart and Costco.

Authors like Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman champion intelligent eating that will help us all live longer. I wonder, though, when those guys sit down to a meal with wine, do they drink organic? I’d like to think so. Laura Klein, publisher of Organic Authority, told me that people who eat organically would also be likely to drink organic, natural or sustainably-produced wine.

“It is a natural extension of their lifestyle,” she wrote me in an email. “Grapes can be one of the most heavily sprayed crops with pesticides, and those who want to limit their exposure to pesticides will probably want to choose wine made with grapes that are grown organically the way mother nature intended: without the use of chemical pesticides that damage the soil, environment and health of the workers that pick those grapes. In fact growers who use pesticides have to pay higher health insurance rates for their workers because of exposure.”

Although you can get organic wines in Whole Foods and Trader Joes, how can you find out more about them, and who are the champions for drinking the good (organic) stuff?
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I'll have some wine, but only if ....

I’ll have some wine, but only if ….

 

The word “hipster” paired with “wine” is not exactly commonplace here in San Diego. The most fashionable kids these days are drinking beer. Some prefer the blue-collar authenticity and price of PBR while others seek out the rare and highly-in-demand “micro” and “nano” brews by one of the new local ale crafters like Societe, Monkey Paw and Hess.

Let me first say that I am an aging hipster from the ’90s Bay Area scene. I played bass in a band and worked a day job as a cabinetmaker using reclaimed wood, drove a 1966 Ford pickup and lived in a warehouse on the railroad tracks in West Berkeley. I have no shame admitting my social identity at the time. Let’s face it, hipsters are into really cool stuff.

Recently, I’ve been watching the young hipsters become increasingly sophisticated when it comes to their drinks, whether it be enjoying one of the Automatic masterpieces at Blind Lady or having a lovingly crafted classic cocktail by Sarah Ellis here at Jaynes. Unfortunately I see very few young people developing this same intrigue with wine. The wine selection at most of the popular beer bars and cocktail joints are at best an afterthought, with wines being left open well past their prime. This is most definitely not the case in the hipster incubators of the Bay Area, New York or the Northwest, so it’s probably only a matter of time before the thirsty San Diego hipsters get over what everyone else is doing and take an interest in the grape.

What is a “hipster wine”? This term is just breaking through, a recent Wall Street Journal article being the most high-profile reference, but it may have some of the following characteristics:
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Why organic food tastes worse to some
“The halo effect hinges on the values of the perceiver”

 

organic-white

Labeling food as “organic” may not always lead to a positive impression in the minds of consumers, according to a recent Cornell University study.
The research flips the notion of a “halo” effect for ethical food labels. A halo effect refers to a phenomenon where a label leads consumers to have a positive opinion – and in the case of an organic label, a healthful impression – of those foods.
The Cornell research finds that such positive impressions are partly based on the personal values of a consumer. The two-part study found that some conditions can produce a negative impression of organic labels among consumers, due to the consumer’s values.
In the first part, Jonathon Schuldt, Cornell assistant professor of communication, and Mary Hannahan, a student at the University of Michigan, asked 215 students whether they thought organic food was healthier and tastier than conventional food. While most agreed that organics were a healthy choice compared with conventional food, fewer expected organic food to taste good by comparison. This latter finding was especially true for… read on

A new study has found that darker and heavier bottles can protect the quality of white wine.

 

The research conducted at the National Wine and Grape Industry Centre (NWGIC) at Charles Sturt University (CSU), in collaboration with Dr Daniel Dias at The University of Melbourne, examined the impact of light on the quality of white wine, with the ultimate aim to improve its shelf life.

Lead researcher, Dr Andrew Clark said, “A series of experiments dating back to 2008 have attempted to better understand the impact of light on several white wine components that have previously not been investigated. The components were tartaric acid, which is a major organic acid in wine, and iron, a metal ion found at low concentrations in all wines.

“Although not well understood in wine, these same agents were in fact used as photographic emulsions by the pioneers of photography in the mid-1800s.

“We have shown that a chemical process, known as iron (III) tartrate photochemistry, can adversely affect white wine as it may… read on