How green is your wine?
- Credit: Caliterra.
The greenest word in wine these days isn't organic or biodynamic - it's sustainable.
Often, growing without chemicals is part of the deal, but there's a broader, highly complex aspect to it, everything from protection of vineyard biodiversity and water use in the cellar, to packaging and the miles wine travels to its destination.
Who can argue with the principle? But the practice is trickier. Is it better to use permitted organic sprays quite frequently or to treat chemically less often? Should genetically modified/edited grape varieties be welcomed, because they have greater disease resistance? What of choosing wine from Australasia or South America when there's plenty on offer from Europe, even the UK? And how much is words, how much action?
Questions such as these present dilemmas for many wine lovers, myself included. I'm fortunate in having access to much relevant information. Wherever possible, my own wine choices are from organic growers who I know and respect, from companies whose sustainability practices are transparent, from regions with a green focus – and I'm ready to pay enough (it needn't be a lot) to give them a sensible return for their efforts. The wines are worth it.
Time to share some of that information. Leaving wine miles out of the equation, I've had two happy recent green tasting experiences. Already just about every producer in New Zealand is certified under the national sustainability programme, established in 1995, and now organic and biodynamic growing is burgeoning – up 33 per cent in four years.
For a country whose wines generally shine with purity, organic examples have an extra lustre – Felton Road, Millton, Pyramid Bay and Te Whare Ra are among producers readily available here: try wine-searcher.com for stockists.
Chile's sustainability code is newer (2011), and a pioneering influence was Calterra, in the Colchagua Valley, whose green practices include bio-corridors to interrupt vine monoculture, grazing by wild horses to prevent wild fires, and birds of prey recruited to reduce rodent pests. As with many of Chile's most impressive wineries, Caliterra's mid-range and top bottles have moved in recent years to become lighter, fresher, more reflective of place. Try thedrinkshop.com, tauruswines.co.uk, cellarselected.com, winedirect.co.uk.
Nearer home, some personal favourites. At organic – and beautiful – La Noblaie, in the Loire valley, Jêrome Billard makes fine, fairly priced Chinon reds and whites (visit London merchant hhandc.co.uk). In Spain, Torres produces a variety of excellent value and widely available wines, from everyday to special occasion, with serious, sustained environmental commitment.
Continuing the green theme, there's a new battle looming – over the post-Brexit rules on importing organic wines to the UK from next January. For the full story, go to harpers.co.uk, search "unsustainable future" and campaign for change.
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Bodegas Pirineos Moristel Principio 2020 (£12, independent merchants including claptoncraft.co.uk which has shops in Kentish Town and Finsbury Park) is a flexible red that can also pair with white-wine food. Moristel grapes grow only in Spain's Pyrenean foothills and are rarely bottled as a single variety, but this organic wine has great appeal, aromatic, fresh and perfect with lamb – especially tagine – as well as meaty fish.
Keeping with a sustainable theme, consider the producer-friendly attitude of wine importers. Growers who sell to The Wine Society speak of their respect for those they deal with there – fair prices, a decent relationship. So here are some temptations among the huge choice at thewinesociety.com (lifetime membership £40, with £20 off your first order). First, two great-value wines from Italy. Vallone Salice Salentino Riserva 2018 (£9), from old negroamaro bush vines in Puglia, is scented, crunchy, unusual. Moving north, The Society's Exhibition Langhe Nebbiolo 2018 (£14) is a joyous, generous, thoroughly approachable introduction to a classic grape that too many drinkers find intimidating. Italian grape varieties are being planted in Australia to increasingly good effect, and Pizzini Pietra Rossa King Valley Sangiovese 2018 (£18) is very smart, complex and made with understated skill. The Society's Greek selection is deservedly winning more and more plaudits.
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Xinomavro is the next big thing in fine wine, argues buyer Matthew Horsley – the proof is in Rapsani Terra Petra 2018 (£22), spice, sweet savouriness, an almost burgundian character. Austria, too, is a place for increasingly impressive bottles: Pittnauer Pittnauski 2015 (£17), blends merlot and indigenous varieties to serious spicy-fruited effect, elegant and still fresh.
Finally, to France and a widely-available wine, Guigal Gigondas 2018 (£20 in mix-six, Majestic), a regular southern Rhône blend of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre, grown sustainably. There's splendid fragrance, purity and juicy length. A perfect autumn glass.