You’ve probably heard things about organic wine, about sustainable production, wine’s impact on the environment etc. This article aims to cover these topics to inform and entertain you. Wine is fun, so I’ll try not to make it overly dry (excuse the pun).
Organic Wine Classifications
The United States Department of Agriculture has a National Organic Program, this defines four categories of organic wine and their labelling. The idea is to help us the consumer best choose the wine that meets our pocket (price) and our organic ideals!
1. 100 Percent Organic Wine
This is the real deal. This is the pinicale, the ultimate designation for organic wine.
It is indicated with a USDA seal on the bottle showing the wines contain 100 percent organic certified grapes. It also means sulfites, nitrates and other non-organic ingredients have not been used in the production process of the wine.
Qualifying wines may claim the 100% Organic Wine status and follow a bunch of labelling criteria (that’s far too dull to go into).
Something worth considering when you are looking to buy an organic wine is this: sulfites are a naturally occurring ingredient in wine, they infiltrate via the grape’s skin and they help the wine maintain stability during storage. It can be difficult to make wines with consistent flavor when no added sulfites are used.
2. Organic, Made with Organic Grapes
Here’s the criteria, basically it’s close but no cigar.
- At least 95 percent of the wine must be from organic grapes
- The other five percent can include non-organic material, like yeast, that is not available in organic form.
- There can be no added sulfites in this wine.
This category still qualifies for a USDA seal and the winemaker can put an organic label on the bottle.
3. Made with Organic Ingredients
Why would you go for something that is made with Organic ingredients, but which isn’t classified as truly Organic? Do these wines have a more consistent flavour?
- At least 70 percent of the grapes used must be organic
- The remaining 30 percent being non-organic material.
- Sulfites may be added but should be indicated as an ingredient with the wine containing no more than 100 ppm.
- The ingredients must be listed
The certifying agency and address can be listed as well as their seal but without the USDA seal.
4. Some Organic Ingredients
Finally, in our last category, we may have some organic grapes! However, this will be less than 70 percent.
More than 30 percent non-organic agriculturally produced ingredients are allowed.
Sulfites: The good, the bad and the Ugly
What do we think about sulfites? Give you a bad hang-over? Are added to wine and aren’t good for you?
Given that there’s a limit on the maximum concenration of sulfites in 100% organic wine, then you would think sulfites must be bad.
Well, sulfites are nothing new.
Benefits: They have been used as a food preservative for decades, often with fruit and vegetables. Winemakers may add small amounts to prevent oxidation and spoilage, which is particularly helpful for aging wines.
Cons: Some people are sensitive to sulfites and they may experience side effects for consuming them, these may include allergic reactions such as headaches and dizziness.
Is It Worth It?
With the tight regulation on the amount of sulfites that can be included in Organic wine, producers have struggled to create wines that have rich and profound personalities. Thankfully, with time and experimentation, techniques have been found that have now enabled many wine producers to overcome these difficulties producing refined and falvourful wines without the need for the addition of sulfites. Phew!!
Similar to other organic products, the supply and demand for organic wine is growing worldwide.
The largest percentage of organic wine in the United States comes from California. Around the world, organic wine is taking hold in France, Spain, Italy, Argentina, Chile, Australia, and New Zealand. Unless something dramatic happens, one would expect this trend to continue into the future.
Are Organic Wines Are Gentle on the Environment?
Selecting Organic wine is an environmentally responsible choice since it encourages, or should I say, demands, environmentally sustainable practices.
When growers use organic farming methods to grow their grapes, the entire eco-system benefits. Choosing organic products, whether wine or food, is good for your health as well as the earth.
Paring wine and food is as easy as it is fun. Start with this simple, but important tip.
Get a wine you love, prepare something you enjoy eating, or pick a favourite restaurant, and most importantly, find a good friend or partner to share the wine, meal and night with.
That is about as good a pairing with food gets!
However, if you want to delve deeper into wine and food pairing, we have the 10 best tips for matching wine with food for you on this page.
Some people make food and wine pairing look like a science project, that doesn’t sound like much fun to most of us!? Wine is fun! So make pairing wine and food fun too. There are a few guidelines that help steer you in the right direction, but, generally speaking, if you like it how it tastes, it a good match.
Sounding like a science project already? I hope not. Just that you want to ensure that you wine is going to give it’s best! After all, when the wine producers have lavished their time and effort to make such good wines, we don’t want to fall at the final hurdle.
So, a little planning is required! Make sure you take your wine from your cupboard, cellar etc and place it in your wine chiller for a while before you plan to enjoy it. With a red wine, you should be fine to put it in the chiller as you start to prepare your meal. If you’re heading to a restaurant, you can check with the wine waiter, make sure they know you would like your red wine just slightly chilled.
If you’re going to be decanting your wine, please don’t forget to do this ahead of time! It’s just too easy to overlook the little things that can make your wine that extra bit special.
Who is the star of the show?
Once the wine selection is out of the way, what is the right wine and food pairing for you? Keep things easy and remember what we said about there being only one star at the table, the wine, or the food. I cannot tell you how many wine dinners I’ve attended where the aromas and flavors of the food completely overwhelmed the wine experience. The natural tendency is to bring your best bottle, or purchase the best wine when you are out for an evening at one of the restaurants. I’m not sure that truly accomplishes your goal because either the food, or the wine is going to earn the spotlight.
The problem with too many wine dinners is that chef’s claim, and truly desire to create menus and perfect wine and food pairings. However, what really happens far too often is, they do not understand there are times when the wine should be the star of the show.
Often, they will prepare overly complicated, rich, spicy or exotic creations that can be stunning works of art. But that detracts from the wine. There is only room for one star at the table. Is it the wine, or the food? You need to decide and allow that to happen.
10 Wine and Food Pairing Tips!
- Pour wines you like with food you like. It’s no good ordering a dish you have only moderate interest in, and pair it with a wine you aren’t so keen on, simply because you’ve heard that it was a perfect wine and food match.
- When in doubt, refer to #1.
- Decide which is the most important part of the experience for the night, the wine, or the food. Serve complicated dishes with simple wines. Open simple wines with complicated food. Both you, the wine and dish will be happier.
- Serve simple dishes with your best wines. Cabernet Sauvignon based blend takes on beautiful aromatics with truffle, tobacco, smoke, earth, cherries and spice. That aromatic display will be lost in an overly complicated menu.
- If you prefer Merlot wines, they pair with the same foods as those from the Medoc. It all goes back to serving what you like.
- Younger wines are more tannic. They are richer in flavor. They can stand up to heavier dishes and more powerful flavors than older wines, which can be stepped on, with more aggressive cooking. This is where lamb, aged beef and stews are really going to shine.
- While red wine with red meats is an easy way to look at things, it’s all about the preparation. Fish with lemon for example might not be my choice for red wine, but use mushrooms, tomato, veal stock or red wine reductions with the fish and you have a perfect wine and food pairing.
- Wine with cheese. Yum yum. Wine with cheese is a perfect combination. For many wines and cheeses, white wine often makes a better pairing, due to its higher levels of acidity found in white wine. But if you prefer red wine, or red wine with cheese like I do, open a red wine and enjoy your cheese. If you’re a fan of sweet, white wine and cheese, you’re in luck, because the high sugar levels pair perfectly with the natural salty flavors of the cheese. Wine and food pairing is all about matching the wines you like with the foods you enjoy. The bottom line to pairing wine with cheese is, eat the cheese you love with the wines you enjoy. That will always create the perfect wine and cheese pairing for you, each and every time.
- Dry, white wine is quite versatile. White Bordeaux, due to its freshness and flavor profile pairs with almost any white food: shell fish, fish of all types, oysters, clams, mussels, sushi, veal, chicken, pork etc. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blends are fresh, refreshing and quite citrusy.
- Finally, it’s worth considering texture. Thick foods (stodgy) and rich wines work well together. Delicate foods make a better wine and food pairing with lighter, elegant wines.
Question: How did the continent of Australia, which is not even home to native wine grapes, become one of the most popular wine capitals of the world?
If you read on, you’ll see that it turns out, that the history of wine in Australia is pretty fascinating. Australia has a lot more to offer us than just Shiraz.
Please enjoy this overview of the development of the wine industry that has become an important part of Australia’s economy.
Enjoy our overview of today’s Australian wine industry, which continues to boom.
The Australian wine industry today
If you aren’t very familiar with the Australian wine industry, maybe these interesting statistics will help set the scene and provide a little background before we look in more depth.
- Australia is approximately the same size of the United States. It is the seventh largest producer of wine in the world. (Ahead of it are France, Italy, China, USA, Spain and Argentina)
- All of Australia’s states have wine production, but due the the cooler climate, the majority is produced in the southern states.
- Over seventy varieties of wine grapes are grown in Australia, the main ones being the very propular: Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Semillon, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Australian wine production: Where did it all start?
It all started a long, long time ago, back in 1788. Grape vines aren’t native to Australia and so they had to be brought here. Grape vine cuttings were brought to Australia by ship from the Cape if Good Hope and were subsequently planted at a place called Farm Cove in Sydney. These first attempts at cultivating vines failed due to the intense heat and very high humidity which led to the vines rotting. It’s true that these vines didn’t result in any direct wine production, but they did mark that first time grape vines hit Australian soil and hence marked the beginning of wine making in the territory.
First commercial vineyard and winery
John Macarthur was one of Australia’s pioneering wine makers. John planted vines on his Camden Park property, about 50km southwest of Sydney, in the early in the 1800s and is widely credited with cultivating Australia’s first commercial vineyard and winery.
He mainly planted:
- Pinot Gris
- Cabernet Sauvignon
His ability to produce wines and to sell them for profit, punctuated the start of the commercial wine production in Australia.
By the 1820s, the wine industry was well established and flourishing.
Major influences on early wine production
One of the major influences on the development of wine production was when James Busby brought back cuttings from France and Spain in 1833, thus introducing varietals from these regions. One of these varieties was Shiraz, which everyone will recognise as being one of the dominant players in the not only the Australian, but indeed the world markets. Pretty much every wine variety has now had success on Australian soil, just look at the popularity of Australian Chardonnay, Merlot and Grenache for example.
Whilst the wine industry was making strong growth in Australia the arrival of European settlers had a significant influence on the direction of that growth. The settlers, or rather, immigrants, were mainly from the United Kingdom and in particular, from England. The arrived on the shores of Australia, not with new growing techniques, nor new wine processing systems, but much more importantly, with their highly developed palates! The settlers were adept in drinking the European varietals that had recently been introduced to the continent. These immigrants strove to improve the quality of wines in Australia and markedly refined the quality of wine in their new country.
Establishing a worldwide reputation
A century after wine grapes were introduced to Australia, the Australian wine industry began to gain a respect and it’s reputation was becoming established. Further more vineyards began to win some accolades.
During a blind taste taste at the 1873 Vienna Exhibition, French judges praised wines from Victoria; however, they withdrew their laudatory remarks when they discovered that the wine was Australian and not French. The judges protested on the grounds that “wines of that quality must clearly be French.”
Nevertheless, the industry remained unfazed and continued to win wine awards and receive global praise.
In 1878, a delightful Shiraz from Victoria, competing in the Paris Exhibition, was likened to the French Chateau Margaux and was described as a “trinity of perfection”.
One Australian wine won a gold medal at the 1882 Bordeaux International Exhibition and another received a gold medal at the 1889 Paris International Exhibition.
The impact of phylloxera in Australia
In 1877, which was around the time that Australia began receiving worldwide acclaim for their wines Australia was hit by Phylloxera. This epidemic first appeared in Australia at Geelong. From there it spread north, being detected in New South Wales in 1884 and Queensland in 1910, destroying vineyards and devastating the industry.
It is hard to believe that a tiny yellow aphid-like insect could impart so much damage on an industry. Working underground, the pest ate away at the vines–unbeknownst to anyone above the soil surface–until the damage had been done. European and American vintners watched as their vines became yellow, shriveled and died. Sadly, vines that survived produced grapes that made weak, watery wines. Although numerous remedies were attempted, it seemed as if there was no stopping this destructive little bug. For some, it looked as if the wine world was coming to an end.
Eventually, (but not before thousands of hectares of vines were ravaged) a “cure” was discovered. Vintners realised that grape vines native to the Americas were resistant to phylloxera and its subsequent disease, while European vines, which are genetically different, were still at high risk. Vintners ingeniously decided to plant American plants and then graft European grapevines to the American plant, making a “Franken-vine” of American roots and European vines and grapes. The result was a plant which produced European grapes but was resistant to the virus thanks to its American roots.
It took almost a hundred years for the Australian wine industry to once again regain its reputation for the production of high quality wines. After phylloxera, Australia primarily produced sweet, fortified wines, hardly any of which received acclaim. Thanks in part to a booming economy, a renewed social interest in wines, and new wine technology, in the 1960s a shift occurred in Australian wine making and the focus turned from fortified wines to the table wine which we all associate with the country.
The move back to table wine production was very successful. Australia went from 1 million cases of table wine in 1960 to 85 million in 1999.
Overproduction, which has led to an overabundance of grapes and wines in the marketplace, is seeming to become a trend in Australian wines. In the late 1980s, the government sponsored growers to pull out their vines to overcome a glut of wine grapes.
Low grape prices in 2005 and 2006 led to calls for another sponsored vine pull, and we saw this again during the 2010 and 2011 vintages.
In 2010, Australia experienced a massive drop in wine sales, which left some to believe that market needs an overhaul of some sort.
Only time will tell what is in store for Australia’s wine industry.