Forum Thread: Give Organic Wines a Sip

With the fast growing trend of consumers searching for organic and all-natural food products, one would think the same thing would be happening for wine enthusiasts.

Not necessarily.

According to a report released last year by the Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute, only about 16 percent of American consumers are specifically searching for organic wine while 41 percent are buying organic food.

Listing "sustainable" on the label only was important to 10 percent of the consumers and "biodynamic" to just 6 percent.

The reason, however, appears to be based more on consumers not fully understanding what organic wines are. Some are under the impression that like diet soda, an organic wine may be missing something. Others assume all wines are organic and don't really know the reasoning for the term.

According to the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), there are four categories that organic wines can claim: "100 percent organic," "organic," "made with organic ingredients," and "some organic ingredients."

For a wine to be labeled "organic" and bear the USDA organic seal, it must be made from organically grown grapes and give information about who the certifying agency is, the OCA notes. A wine in this category can't have any added sulfites, which are used as a preservative. It may have naturally occurring sulfites, but the total sulfite level must be less than 20 parts per million.

The OCA's advice: According to the law, all organic claims must be stated on the label so you have to read labels carefully to know what is in the bottle. Also, be careful of the way that stores advertise and shelf the various wines. It may not be the same as what the bottle labels state.

The big question is, of course, how do organic wines taste? Are they better than non-organic wines? It comes down to individual preferences and there's no clear-cut answer but for most people, the differences will likely be subtle. Some say organic wines have a tendency to taste more rustic or have less technical or clean characteristics.

One national wine columnist/blogger and wine judge, Jamie Goode, tasted 30 matched pairs of wines – organic and non-organic – and preferred the organic wine 16 times, pretty close to 50-50.

Here's a suggestion: The next time you're at the wine store, pick out two bottles of your favorite varietal – one organic and one not – and have your own blind taste test. Have a friend or a spouse pour a sample of both and see if you can tell the difference. It could be an enlightening experience – or at the very least, an excuse to try a new wine.

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