‘Rules’ for organic wines can be tricky

May 5, 2014

Organic wines were brought to my attention by fellow scribblers touting Earth Day. Two issues arose from the various columns I studied. Most of you folks who read here are alert to the terms biodynamic, dry farmed, naturally occurring; also you may know the requirement to use no fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides or chemical treatment. However, I was unaware of the very long list of exceptions to the “rules” the Food and Drug Administration has put forward.

National Organic Standards Board actually advises the listing. Its members, appointed by the secretary of Agriculture, are very politicized. Some notable examples of exceptions are: use of pheromones as insecticide, baking soda as leavening in food products, and vaccines in livestock named as “organic.” Naturally occurring arsenic and strychnine are banned. I’m not commenting on the scientific merits or demerits of any items, just letting you know that many exceptions occur. Those who wish to be further informed can go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture site for a full understanding here:

One issue USDA in its all-encompassing wisdom failed to address recently appeared online in Snooth. They recommended you inform your favorite producer to pack in extra light multi-layered cardboard and to eschew the use of glass bottles, foils and corks.

They also posited that all wine be bag in a box or Tetra Pak, which uses less energy to produce and is lighter to ship. In the same article, they reviewed 15 of these gems priced under $20.

Only one was from the USA, and it was rated a paltry 84 points. I did a bit of my own research.

Those I reviewed were Benziger Family Winery Sangiacomo Chard 2009, $15; Cooper Mountain Vineyards Pinot Reserve 2009, $21; Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc 2010, $18; and Sokol Blosser Vineyards Evolution 15th Edition, $15. Sokol won in a landslide. One caveat, folks: I am prejudiced toward this wine because it is “chef” made. A lovely white blended from nine wines and listed as an American wine, which normally means the grapes came from more than one state, Evolution is the color of light apple juice. It opens to a complex bouquet generally not expected from a $15 bottle. I detected apples, honey, gardenia some pineapple and apricot in the nose. On the palate it shone.

Round like well-made Riesling and replete with the diverse flavors of apples, melon, lemons, oranges, pears and tropical fruit hints. Evolution is slightly sweet, but it has plenty of acid to balance through a long lovely finish. Great food wine for the spice crowd.

Frog's Leap has been at this organics biz for quite a while. It is regarded as a U.S. pioneer. Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc was first introduced in 1981. Usually rated in the mid to high 80s by all the likely suspects, the 2012 were widely praised. Many laid on a 90-point grade. The folks who populate Cellar Tracker and Wine Searcher generally rate Froggie a couple of leaps above the writing wise men.

This anomaly is one of the criteria I use to winnow my list to review. I’d rather tout a wine that folks like us enjoy, than one whose ratings are impacted by celebrity or “good genes.” I’ve always found it odd that SB, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Marsanne, Cab Franc, etc. very rarely gain scores over 90. That is until they are “discovered,” a la Argentinean Malbec or the Italian Sangiovese blends that have gained fame by mixing in a little Cab or Merlot or Canaiolo, then renaming themselves as Super Tuscans. Sounds better than that straw-clad bottled wine that goes well with spaghetti, meatballs and two cute pups, or pizza, burgers and fava beans.

Last bits, I suggest resellers or those who look for unique to look into Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, 40th Anniversary Edition. I saw an offer for 3L-autographed bottles for $189, and the 750s were going for $60. These will be released in May. I’m guessing they will disappear and escalate in price rapidly. Although I have not sampled the wine, the Wagners have never disappointed me.

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