Expert advice on biodynamic, organic and sustainable summer wines to make a toast to summer
There’s nothing like unwinding with a chilled glass of wine after sun-filled days of barbecues, beaches and adventure during the summer months. But with so many new releases each season—and so many accompanying buzzwords (think “natural,” “sustainable” and more)—choosing that glass can be a complicated task. Here, some of the country’s top wine experts share their favorite summer sips and explain what all those labels really mean.
If you like Sauvignon Blanc, Sommelier Tami Wong, of Juniper & Ivy in San Diego, recommends the elegant and floral Mays Canyon Chardonnay from Littorai, a winery heralded for its sustainable practices in production, including natural night air cooling and gravity flow movement, which gets rid of the use for pumps.
If you like Cabernet, but want that same full-bodied taste in a white wine, Dan Pernice, beverage director at Osteria Mattone in Roswell, GA, suggests a white burgundy. The wines are often fermented in oak, which rounds out their acidity. And don’t overlook some California Chardonnays like Copain Brosseau Chardonnay. “They have a richer, rounder appeal,” he says. “It’s not that buttery or oaky taste we always assume from American Chardonnays.”
If you like Pinot Grigio, try the 2013 Rose Wine by Quivira Vineyards and Winery. “It’s the perfect sipping wine for summer,” says Elizabeth Candelario, co-director of the Demeter Association, the certifying body for biodynamic products in the U.S. With its aromas of watermelon and strawberry, this rose recalls the fruity profile of the popular white wine.
If you like Rosé, check out the Commanderie de Peyrassol from Côtes de Provence. “Violet, lavender, lean and crisp, this is an annual go-to for the perfect long summer nights,” says Sommelier Shelley Lindgren of A16,
A16 Rockridge and SPQR in San Francisco.
If you like Shiraz, Syrah, but want to get that same smoky, bold taste in a Rosé, Lindgren also suggests Idlewild’s 2013 Grenache Gris, which mixes notes of blood orange, spicy herbs and pink peppercorns.
Eco-Wines to Enjoy
Here are some of our staff favorites.
AmByth Estate 2012 Rosé Amphora, $38. Paso Robles’ first and only biodynamic winery. ambythestate.com
Dreaming Trees 2013 Chardonnay, $15. The bottles are made with clean burning natural gas while labels are made with 100 percent recycled paper. dreamingtreewines.com
HALL 2012 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, $22. Certified organic, HALL Vineyards uses only natural products for weed and pest control. hallwines.com
Cowhorn 2011 Syrah Grenache, $30. The biodynamic winery focuses on using only natural yeasts so wines offer a unique taste of the farms and fields from which they come. cowhornwine.com
Frey 2012 Organic Pinot Noir, $18. A sulfite-free wine made from organic grapes. freywine.com
You may be surprised at some of these tips from our wine experts.
1. Many wines are organic, label or not.
“Wine labels rarely will say organic on the label even if the wine is organic because the laws are so prohibitive and expensive to certify,” says Lindgren. And while some wineries will pay for the official certification, Lindgren says you may be missing out on great organic wines if you shop by label alone. She recommends doing independent research into smaller vineyards that use green practices. “Using pesticides and herbicides are not along the philosophy of wines I want to drink,” she says. “Those are essentially poisons.”
2. Biodynamic is all about the agriculture, not the label.
In the U.S., a winery or vineyard can only call itself “biodynamic” if it has achieved certification through Demeter (demeter-usa.org). The organization’s standards are based on several strict requirements, including water conservation and the prohibition of chemical pesticides, fertilizers and other ingredients. But at their core, Candelario says biodynamic wines are innately connected to the agriculture that stands behind them. “It’s really about the highest form of ecological farming,” she explains. “We’re seeing wineries adopt these green practices and turning their monoculture farms into polyculture farms, where they’re growing sheep, chicken or even produce in addition to wine grapes.”
3. It’s natural to be confused about “natural.”
What makes a wine “natural” as opposed to organic? The answer isn’t always clear. “We have definitions for organic and certifications for biodynamic, but when we talk about natural wines, it’s more ambiguous,” Pernice says. “It could mean a synonym for ‘organic’ or natural in the sense that no pesticides or sulfur were used in production.”
4. Labels mean nothing if you don’t love the wine.
With so many buzzwords—”organic,” “sustainable” and “biodynamic” among them—it can be easy to forget the most important thing to look for when choosing a wine: taste. “People often forget that you have to try the wine—and the wine has to stand up for itself on taste alone,” says Candelario. “If you happen to have a fabulous wine and it’s biodynamic, that’s great, because it was grown in a way that’s good for the planet. But you still have to love drinking it.”
5. Yes, you’ll still get a hangover—even from organic wines.
While organic, sustainable and biodynamic wines typically contain fewer sulfites than their counterparts, they can only lessen your hangover, not prevent it altogether, as many people think. “If you drink a large amount of any alcohol, you’ll pay for it the next day,” Pernice says. “There’s a difference between hangovers from low-sulfite wines for sure, though. They’re less vigorous.”