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Some thoughts on organic wines

Organic wines, a phenomenon that is buzzing in the wine bars and shops in London. What I often hear around me, from participants at my wine tasting workshops, is the perception that by drinking these wines you have a better tasting experience, you keep your body healthier, and you have no more day-after headaches. Sounds ideal, but is it true? Let’s have a look at what organic wines actually are, whether they taste differently than non-organic wines, and why they could be better for your health.

Producing organic wines has to do with the treatment of the vineyards. Winemakers who are organically certified commit to not using any chemical treatments, which can be pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers or others, on their vines. Hence, the grapes are farmed organically: you can compare this to eating an organically farmed apple. Organic certification does not tell you anything about the winemaking process. Winemakers can still use additives, such as sulphite. The topic of sulphite is an interesting one and many people have an opinion on it. I’ll save it for another blog post to elaborate on this.

When looking at the potential health benefits of organic wines, the organic apple comparison might help in understanding that drinking wine that comes from grapes that have not been treated with any kind of chemical product is better for you. Those chemical vineyard treatments are not helping the health aspect of drinking wine, so if you can avoid it, why not I would say. So yes, go ahead with certified organic wines if you wish to drink an alternative that is a bit better for you than standard, non-organic, wine. Do keep in mind though that organic wines do not necessarily contain less alcohol than non-organic wines, so be careful with your wine consumption.

Regarding the taste, the answer is less clear. The taste of a wine is positively influenced by, amongst others, the quality of its grapes. Are all organic grapes necessarily of a higher quality than non-organic grapes? I don’t think so. A winemaker who engages in organic farming is probably someone who cares about the quality of what he or she is producing, why would he or she otherwise go through the hassle of complying with the rules for organic certification. However, the potential for organic farming is closely linked to the climate of the wine region. In a hot and dry climate it is easier to produce organic wines than in a colder and wet climate, because the vineyards there are les prone to diseases. So high quality wine producers in a cold or wet wine climate can be obliged to use some chemical treatments in their vineyards in order to save their harvest. Multiple studies have been conducted regarding the quality and the taste of organic wines. Some argue in favour of organic wines, others against. I tend to agree with the inconclusiveness on this matter. For me, the most important factor that influencing the taste of a wine, next to the quality of the grapes, is the expertise and skills of the winemaker. This is not necessarily linked to organic grape farming, so let’s not rule out a non-organic wine for a quality taste experience.

And what about the no headache myth? Sorry to ruin the party, but drinking organic wine is not going to stop you from having a headache if you drink too much. The headache can come from the combination of sugar and alcohol that is naturally present in wine, from sensitivity to tannings or from histamines in the wine. All these factors do not differ between non-organic or organic wines, so organic wine is not necessarily going to make you feel better the next day. The best way to feel as fresh as a daisy the next morning, is to limit your alcohol consumption and drink some glasses of water with your wine (sorry, not the most sexy advice, but definitely the most efficient!).

To sum up, even though organic wines do not necessarily taste better than non-organic wines and they won’t stop you from getting a headache if you drink too much, they are better for your health thanks to the better treatment of the grapes. Don’t hesitate to try some at your local wine merchant or come and join Winecdote’s Green Goodness workshop to taste our selection of organic wines!