Organic, biodiverse wines are starting to taste better than ever
It's not because I'm a tree-hugger (which I am); it's not because I've supported earth-friendly agriculture since the 1980s (which I have). I'm incredibly excited about organically produced wines right now because -- compared to garden-variety products -- they're beginning to taste better.
In America, our first mass exposure to earth-first wine was Bonterra, farmed organically since 1987, producing ever-more vivacious and dynamic wines each vintage and now blazing the trail of low carbon footprint packages including 250ml cans and 1.5-liter boxes. Check with your wine merchant or visit www.bonterra.com.
Now, folks are learning about a rarefied facet of organic agriculture: biodynamics. Inspired by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), biodynamics recognizes the farm as a living organism that requires biodiversity and a dynamic relationship to astronomical rhythms to maintain vitality.
"I'm no organic junkie," says Fritz Wieninger, of Weingut Weininger winery, representing the respekt-BIODYN association of winegrowers. "I followed my father, my teachers and farmed the modern way with agrochemicals and as little handwork as possible. Then came global warming. So, I tried biodynamics. Now, even though the climate is warmer and drier, my vineyards are in balance, and my wines are more interesting."
"We never thought it would work," agrees Alex Sattler of Sattlerhof Winery. He compares his previous reliance on agrochemicals to feeding a child only sugar. "But now, my vineyard is a self-sustaining, living organism that can adapt to harsh conditions. Biodynamics puts energy into the soil, and my vineyards are stable."
Besides promoting biodiversity with habitats for insects, animals and birds ("The more, the merrier!" laughs Sattler), biodynamics re-connects the soil with the ecosystem's energy. Natural (and unique) "preparations" including camomile, yarrow and manure aged in a cow horn are applied to the soil according to a specific calendar -- for instance, as the moon passes through Taurus to promote root growth. "We transmit our energy into these preparations," says Gernot Herinrich, of Weingut Heinrich winery. "Then the preparations attract energy from the earth and cosmos."
Bunk? Perhaps. But the list of fine producers continues to grow in associations such as respekt-BIODYN, Demeter and Demeter USA.
Flavor? The respekt-BIONDYN producers point to the new ease of spontaneous fermentation (using the property's indigenous yeasts) and phenolic ripeness without extended maturation on the vine resulting in multilayered wines with fine tannin, less sugar and lower alcohol levels.
Sadly, due to the current disruption of wine distribution, these wines may be hard to find. Check with your merchant for these Austrian producers, distributed by Winebow/Illinois, Schiller Park. (Prices based on suggested national averages.)
Gruner Veltliner, Weingut Loimer, 2019: Austria's signature white grape, enjoyed in quantity in Vienna's sidewalk cafes with cured meats, seafood and salads. It's a love-it or hate-it: bone dry with underripe pear flavors accented with unique white pepper and arugula-like flavors, a new pinot grigio alternative. Under $20
Naked Red, Heinrich, 2018: It's gulp-able red, with a chill or without. It's a blend of Austrian grapes: Zweigelt (for red berry flavor), Blaufrankisch (for spice) and St. Laurent (for floral aroma and refreshing acidity) with a playful pinch -- not full-on grip -- of tannin, perfect for a red wine cocktail and a complement to meaty stews (Hungarian goulash, lamb curry or chili) and rich poultry and vegetarian dishes. Under $20
Sauvignon Blanc, Sattlerhof, 2019: Vibrant and direct, refined and defined, with that blast of fruit we now associate with New Zealand wine, but none of the cloying sweetness. About $25
Weiner Gemischter Satz, Wieninger, 2019: Comparisons to Mozart are undeniable in this harmonious, complex and lilting white, with flavor notes including ripe peach, mandarin orange, wet stone, lemon peel and white pepper. "I've never tasted anything like this!" is the consistent comment when I share with friends. Me neither, but I'm happy to taste more! About $20
• Mary Ross is an Advanced Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers), a Certified Wine Educator (Society of Wine Educators) and recipient of the Wine Spectator's "Grand Award of Excellence." Write to her at email@example.com.