A Beginner's Guide To Organic, Biodynamic & Vegan Wine
If you're like me, you like to eat organic produce whenever it's realistic and affordable. If you also (like me) enjoy a glass of wine on the regular, organic wine sounds like something you could get on board with.
While organic wines are becoming more widely available, the average wine novice probably still has some questions.
What's the difference between organic and biodynamic wine? Where can I find these kinds of wines? How do I pick a good bottle? And what's the deal with vegan wine?
I sorted through a bunch of resources and asked a ton of annoying questions to any wine pro I encountered to put together this quick little guide.
First, some key terms:
Organic wines are made from organically grown grapes, free of pesticides, herbicides, and synthetic fertilizers. It also means that preservatives are not used during any part of the process.
Sustainable means that the wine is made using farming practices that try to minimize the impact on the environment, while being as economical as possible in the production and growing process.
Sustainable wines are also made using organic practices.
Biodynamic wines are made using organic and sustainable practices but take it a step further. These winemakers try to create a healthy balance and harmony between the vines, soil, surrounding wildlife and even the lunar calendar.
For example, instead of killing the insects that naturally gravitate to the vines, vintners let them do their thing, then use their waste as natural fertilizer for the grapes.
These practices take a holistic approach in order to make the most of the environment while minimizing the impact on the surrounding ecosystem.
Most wine is made using "fining agents," which are meant to attract the bad molecules in developing wine, in order to remove them. They're not considered additives, because they're removed along with the undesirable substances.
Traditional fining agents are things like gelatin (meat protein), casein (milk protein), and albumin (egg whites).
Vegan wines are made without using any animal by-products in the processing. Instead, these wines are produced using things like activated charcoal as a fining agent.
Unfortunately, wine labels don't always give you the info you need. The best way to check if a wine is vegan if it's not labeled as such, is to check the winemaker's website or contact them directly and ask about their fining practices.
If wines are labeled "unfiltered and unfined," it's a good clue that they don't use any animal-based fining agents and are a natural wine.
Natural wines indicate a more old-school approach, like using hand-picked grapes in addition to organic or biodynamic practices. Minimal manipulation and additives are used throughout the process, to let the wine develop as naturally as possible.
These wines are left to self-clarify on their own (meaning no fining agents). Any yeasts must be naturally occurring and filtering is kept to a minimum, if used at all.
Natural wine lovers say that these wines reflect a better sense of the environment and soil (or terroir, in wine-speak) they come from.
So, how do I find organic and affordable wine that I like?
1. Don't be afraid to ask questions.
Find a local wine shop that has an educated and enthusiastic staff. In my experience, these tend to be smaller, privately owned shops. Some even specialize in organic and biodynamic wines and are more than happy to answer all your questions.
Remember: there are no dumb questions when it comes to wine, and the shop staffers are there to help! If you're in Brooklyn, check out The Natural Wine Co.
2. Do your research.
The Internet is filled with great resources for finding new types of wine and tips on what to look out for.
3. Don't judge a bottle by its (lack of) organic label.
Reading the labels doesn't always help, as certifications vary from country to country and can cost quite a bit of money for the winemaker.
Often wines made organically aren't labeled as such, so it's a good idea to ask shop staff or do a quick Google search on the winemaker.
4. Check the distributor.
Once you find an organic wine you like, check the label for the wine distributor and check out their website. Chances are they'll have other types of wine that you'll enjoy that might use the same practices.
5. Get out there and taste.
Seek out restaurants or wine bars that have an organic or natural section of their wine list and go try some. It's a great way to find out what you like, get an idea of what's out there, and maybe even get some good tips from a sommelier or savvy bartender.
The best thing you can do is be curious and have fun with it. Cheers!
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