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Article – “It’s all over now, Baby Blue”.

January 7th, 2010

In the words of Bob Dylan, who I have quoted a number of times in the past, “It’s all over now, Baby Blue”. Well, at least for another year. The diets have started, and the perfectly good tracksuits and runners purchased 12 months ago, are replaced by the latest version on sale. Positivity abounds and we start the new decade as we mean to go on. We simply can’t look at another drink or any more chocolate. It’s lettuce and prune juice all the way to St. Patrick’s Day.

With this in mind, I’m going to suggest some ‘healthier’ wines and what makes them such. While in general, the lower alcohol wines would be technically better for you, I will concentrate on the wines classed as organic. These are better for you, or less bad, depending on your point of view, for much the same reason the organic foods are championed. There are of course differing views on how much better for you organic food is, but then again the loudest voices in any media driven debate, tends to come from those with the deepest pockets. Just as in wine, the proof is in the pudding – or the tasting of the same.
I happen to stock a lot of organic and biodynamic wines, but I didn’t go looking for wines that were specifically certified. I just went looking for wines that were not mass produced commodity wines that all tasted the same. I centered on small, independent family run vineyards, and a lot of the good ones happened to be organic. As the ad for the shampoo says, “here’s the science bit”. Organic wine involves the production of healthy grapes and wine without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and insecticides. There is only natural fertilizer used to enrich the soil. Substances extracted from plants or minerals are used to fight diseases. It is a lot more complex that this and the principles stretch from the vineyard into the cellar and onto the bottle. Getting certified organic involves a lot of record keeping and is quite a lot of work. I work with a lot of growers who prefer to keep to the principles of organic but call themselves sustainable vineyards instead. Biodynamic principles take the organic step further and really embrace the sustainability of the land. It can be seen as a little strange as Biodynamic farming works according to accepted organic standards but also incorporates metaphysical aspects and concepts into the process.
These include vitality, life force and astral forces. Was Van Morrison drinking biodynamic wine when he recorded his masterpiece, Astral Weeks? One can only guess. They assume energies and natural rhythms influence humanity as well as animals and plants and that these forces can be integrated and harnessed to achieve harmony on the farm or in the vineyard. They follow lunar calendars and the biodynamic principle is based on the writings of the Austrian social scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner. I was skeptical until I found out that Domaine de La Romanee Conti is biodynamic and as you may know from previous articles, this is my Desert Island wine. Whatever about the mysticism, the biodynamic wines I hold are among the most loved in the shop? It is a small selection of people who will try them, but they do tend to love them.

However, one should not be put off by non-organic wines as many of the really great iconic wines of the world are not organic. Look at Bordeaux. What they share with the movement is a total respect for nature and the land and the grapes. There is an old saying that you can make poor wine out of good grapes, but it is impossible to make good wine from poor grapes. What you need to avoid are the ‘winemakers’ who use certain little aides in their wines. The commodity driven wines need to look, taste and smell the same year after year. This winter should have thought us that Mother Nature is not always so accommodating. Modern technology often lends a hand.
This can be good if it respects the basic and ancient principles, and I think organic wine is a lot better now than it used to be, and a lot of this has to down to the modern cellars. One foreign body that causes a lot of debate is Sulfur Dioxide (SO2). It is necessary in minute amounts to clean and sanitize the equipment. It can also help to protect the wines themselves from spoiling, although the levels allowed vary drastically between the new and the old world. When it starts to exceed certain levels, it becomes evident on the nose and the palate, but it is probably more evident the morning after. That nasty hangover is rarely from the alcohol. It is more prevalent in white wines than in reds, as the levels allowed are different. My advice is to ask your wine merchant. Nearly all wines have some SO2 but it should be used to clean not to stabilize. Incidentally, there are traditional wines that don’t use it, even for cleaning. They use natural methods and often have large deposits of sediment. I have a few in stock if you want to try them, in particular a very nice Fleurie and Brouilly. It might not even count as breaking the resolution.

Happy New Year to everyone and good luck with the resolutions.

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“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”.