Are organic wines worth the hype? Here are four worth trying

Categories: Booze

You're a wine lover. You love our planet. So how many bottles of organic wine did you drink on Earth Day? Oh, yeah, that's right -- zero. And if our guess is correct, it's not because you didn't want to; it's because you had no idea how to drink organic wine.

Getting to the straight-up truth about what qualifies as an organic (never mind biodynamic) wine is about a million times more complicated than buying certified organic food. Let's not forget a little matter called taste, which may or may not be a given when it comes to drinking organic. So how's an earth-loving oenophile supposed to know what's what? Below, the dirt on why drinking organic makes a difference for our planet, plus four organic wines worth digging up.

Wines made from certified organically grown grapes are worth seeking out because it means that almost nothing touched the vines aside from sun and rain; no pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers. That's cool, right? But in order for a wine to be certified organic, it takes more than just the aforementioned organically grown grapes. The winemaker must also refrain from adding too many sulfites (a fancy wine term for a kind of preservative) to the wines. This is not to say that certified organic wines are "sulfite-free"; sulfites are a naturally occurring part of winemaking's fermentation process, therefore there's really no such thing as a "sulfite-free" wine.

Biodynamic -- or, as the French would say, "bee-oh-da-nah-meek" -- wines have an even tougher row to hoe than wines which are simply certified organic. That's because the fate of biodynamic wines is left entirely up to exactly that...fate (or whatever name you care to place on that mysterious entity that just makes shit happen). In short, biodynamic winemaking truly lets nature take its course, even when that course includes copious amounts of rain, fungus, pests or any other winemaking hazards. What ends up in the bottle, and ultimately in your gullet, is the product of nothing less than the winemaker's talent in coaxing the very best result from the grapes and the soil they came from.

Whether you choose to purchase and drink organic and biodynamic wines is, of course, completely up to you. But should you accept this mission, rest assured that there is plenty of delicious, earth-friendly wine to guzzle. Pick up any of the four bottles below and judge for yourself.

Illahe Pinot Gris 2009 (Organic, $15): Pinot gris is right up with there on our list of perfect spring wines (link to 4/19 swirlgirl blog), what with all of its ripe peach and juicy nectarine flavors that seem to burst from the glass. Oregon-produced Illahe's take on this classic varietal tasted fresh and clean and was a wee bit less voluptuous than other domestically made pinot gris. No matter. We loved the perky citrus notes and fragrant verbena aromas, which all but begged to be paired with an order of grilled mahi-mahi tacos topped with mango salsa.

Girasole Vineyard Sangiovese 2008 (California Certified Organic Farmers, $14): Made with certified organic grapes, the garnet-red color was a dead giveaway for the mouthfuls of cheerful, harmonious berry fruit flavors that showed up in the glass. Bright dried cranberry and cherry with a gentle herbaceous quality, enticing end notes of cinnamon stick gave the wine a little extra depth and complexity. An ideal candidate for a Thursday night dinner of roasted game hens with rosemary-roasted potatoes.

Ilahe Pinot Noir 2008 (Organic, $23): In a word, scrumptious. Full of classic Willamette dried cherry fruit flavors, but with enough acid to simultaneously add balance and intensity. Definitely possessed of some serious old-world stylings, there was in this wine a kind of romantic elegance not found in many new-world pinots. You could pair this up with anything from a cheese board to pizza, but we doubt there'll be any left by the time you actually sit down to eat.

Château La Grolet Bordeaux Côtes de Bourg 2009 (Biodynamic, $19): You know as well as we do that it's nearly impossible to find Bordeaux worth drinking for less than $30. But this biodynamically-produced wine proves that good things really do come in small packages (in this case, we mean the tiny number of cases put out by this chateau). Right Bank Bordeaux-grown grapes mean that the wine is made predominantly of merlot; it also means the wine is chock-full of old world acidity and, given its youth, some pretty intense tannins. Although you could definitely drink it now with something rich and a little fatty (a prime-rib sandwich smeared with horseradish comes to mind), after a couple more years in the bottle, It'll drink like a dream all on its own.

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Swirl Girl,

I think it’s great that you are promoting organically grown and biodynamic wines. Not only are these types of wines better for the environment but they provide a better sense of place in terms of flavors.

Unfortunately, your information is incorrect. Illahe is neither an organically grown or a Biodynamically farmed vineyard. The only certification they possess is Oregon’s LIVE certification (which is categorized as sustainable practices). It’s important that people know the importance of being certified organically grown or Biodynamically grown. These certifications prove that the wineries are following strict rules and use no herbicides or pesticides.

Illahe is making in-roads towards organic practices but still uses chemicals for weed control.

If you are looking for certified organic and Biodynamic vineyards from Oregon, I recommend looking at Resonance Vineyard, Maysara (Momtazi Vineyard) Winery, Le Puits Sec Vineyard, and Cooper Mountain.





Thanks for clarifying the organic wine issue. Yes, Illahe is Low Impact Viticulture and Enology (LIVE) certified through the state of Oregon ( This designation is not overseen by the USDA National Organic Program. However, winemakers who participate in LIVE work to insure proper proctection of the environment through natural and sustainable wine making methods.

As we consumers all know, the term 'organic' is often a blanket term used to describe food products that are farmed using non-conventional methods and zero, or very low, agricultural inputs. To make things even more difficult for consumers, a plethora of organizations across many states are charged with overseeing the production of organic and sustainably-farmed products. Luckily, prominent and visible labels such as the LIVE logo help us consumers wade through the bureaucratic and often confusing world of organic labelling.

Consumers in Colorado are also very fortunate to have so many wine importers and distributors who focus on organic and sustainably-farmed wines, such as Unity Selections, along with a handful of others.

Perhaps the blog should have mentioned the difference between 'organic' and 'sustainable,' but luckily you cleared that up for us.


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