Organic Wine is the New Star of the Wine World (But Don’t Expect the Labels to Help You Find It)

organic wine

When you’re choosing when to buy conventional and when to splurge for organic, it’s not uncommon to stick with the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list, at least to start. But don’t stop there – one of the most important things to buy organic isn’t on the list, and it can’t even be found in the produce aisle: It’s organic wine.

A February 2013 study in wine trade journal Decanter showed that 90 percent of samples from 300 French wines contained traces of at least one pesticide or fungicide, particularly “anti-rot” fungicides.

If you want to be sure that your bottle is devoid of these harmful chemicals, you’ll definitely want to be buying organic.

Wine connoisseurs have long been suspicious of organic bottles, but tides appear to be changing, at least a bit, for the better. According to the 2014 Australian Organic Market Report, organic wine is on the rise among Australian wine lovers and accounts for 6.9 percent of that market.

In fact, after comparing professional ratings from Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Wine Advocate of more than 70,000 California wines going back 11 years, a January study showed that an eco-friendly certification from USDA or the Demeter Association gave red wines a whopping 5.6 point bump out of 100 over conventionally grown counterparts. In other words, scientifically speaking, organic wine is more delicious than conventional. This should convince even the most skeptical of wine lovers that organic wine is finally worth buying.

But that doesn’t mean you should opt for just any organic bottle. In fact, the organic wine you should be buying might not be labeled organic at all, for two distinct reasons.

The first is that wines that were deemed better in the study were not necessarily organic wines, but rather wines made with organic grapes.

“These two labels are completely different,” says Magali Delmas, an economist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and one of the authors of the January study.

True organic wines do not contain sulfites, which are used to stabilize wine and to which some people have sensitivities and allergies. While there are some winemakers doing incredible things with sulfite-free wine these days, the poor reputation of organic wines generally stems from early organic bottles without sulfites, as sulfite-free wine is very difficult to make properly. Some wines made from biodynamic and organic grapes do contain sulfites, and these bottles often don’t carry any label showing the origin of their grapes, seeing as the wine itself does not meet organic standards.

But some organic wines that do meet all organic standards — including being sulfite-free — still do not carry an organic label. According to Delmas, only one-third of wines following organic procedures actually put it on their labels, in order to avoid being associated with subpar organic wines of the past. This unfortunate vicious circle means that in order to find the best organic wines, the average consumer has a bit of research to do.

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Organic wine image via Shutterstock

Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.