The term ‘organic’ has always been a contentious one, inciting opinions that range from, “it’s just green marketing nonsense” to “#eatclean #wholefoods #organiclivingismylife”. There is also the muddy middle where most of us remain, not fully concerned with how much pesticides are pumped into our produce as long as it tastes good. It is a relatively comfortable position to be in, but in an age of hyperawareness, it is becoming tougher to ignore the fact that the organic umbrella does you good, whether you subscribe to it or not. If not for what you eat, then perhaps for what you drink.
Biodynamic and organic wines have been on the rise in Australia and the US, providing an alternative market that intends to complement the thriving economy for its non-organic counterpart. With this class of wines, it’s really not about obliterating the fact that drinking isn’t the best for your body.
One prominent sales pitch for such wines is the lack of a hangover because it is chemical-free. Right off, that’s untrue. Imbibing large quantities of alcohol will make you feel out of sorts, but you probably won’t feel as bad. With organic wines, it’s more about drinking better.
Organic wines are gaining ground in Singapore, sparking a number of questions from those of us less initiated into the category. There are few people more qualified to answer than Manuela Toniolo, restaurant manager of Cheek By Jowl. Toniolo is one-half of the one Michelin-starred mod-Australian haven, and is responsible for its curated wine list. The governing factor of the list is, naturally, biodynamic and organic wines.
We spoke to Toniolo about the subject and have come up with a cheat sheet for what you need to know about this novel development in winemaking.
Organic wines are qualified by the following: The use of organically grown grapes to make the wine, a lack or absence of sulfites, as well as chemical additives in the wine. As Toniolo explains, “Biodynamic wines are essentially organic wines, but they also follow a planting calendar that depends on astronomical configurations. It is very strict. These methods extract the natural flavours from the fruits while leaving minimal carbon footprint.”
“The farming, harvesting and wine production processes do not use any machines. Everything is done by hand. When it comes to the farming and harvesting, the vineyards follow a biodynamic calendar. Fruit Days are the best days for harvesting grapes; Root Days are ideal days for pruning; Leaf Days are ideal for watering the plants, and Flower Days are when the vineyard is left alone,” said Toniolo.
“Regular wines carry chemicals, which are either ingested or washed out and affect the wildlife and vegetation. In terms of flavour, biodynamic wines taste the same as regular wines if they are made well. I find that these natural wines have a softer and more delicate mouthfeel,” said Toniolo. “The colour and clarity are noticeably different. Some organic winemakers have opted out of using a filtering process, which causes the wines to naturally be cloudy. In such red wines, there may be a funky smell, but that is just from natural yeast known as brettanomyces.”
As Toniolo explains, organic and biodynamic winemaking is not a modern movement. “I feel it is about going back to how wine was enjoyed in the old days. People are also starting to question what’s in their food or drink. Some have started to realise that we have to be more environmentally friendly and contribute to making sure the earth is more sustainable. They want to support these farmers or corporations that are aware, and who are doing their part to improve the current environmental situation.”
Toniolo’s personal recommendations cover a variety of regions and wine types. Some of her go-to labels include Arnot-Roberts from California, Jauma from South Australia (which she finds makes very expressive wines), Gravner — the godfather of orange wines from Italy — and Sato, from New Zealand, which produces intriguing and high quality natural wines.
There are a few markers to tell whether a wine is organic or not, and certification plays a huge role. Most countries have strict regulations defining what constitutes an all-natural wine, and these certifications can be found on the back of the wine label. Toniolo also mentions that organic wineries often have creative, bold or eye-catching labels, usually featuring nature-related illustrations.