Organic wine labels tell it like it is

There’s good news for those who, while touting their winery’s “green” cred to visitors, so often say, “We try to be as organic as possible,” usually accompanied by much wringing of hands, shrugging of shoulders and a meekly solicitous smile, as if to say, “What more can we do?” The possibility exists to go all in for organic, and be certified as such.

Whether you’re shopping for a wine that’s organically farmed or one that additionally contains no added sulfites, look to the label: when an organic statement appears on a wine label, it means something.

Frey 2016 Mendocino Pinot Noir ($18) This wine bears the circular, USDA organic seal on the front label, in combination with the words “Organic Wine.” Both vineyard and winery have been certified by third-party agents, and only use substances allowed by the National Organic Program. Notably, the addition of sulfites is prohibited in the wine itself, which may contain up to 10 parts per million (ppm) of naturally occurring sulfites.

While a teensy hint of volatile acidity lurking in the background gave this organic wine away for me in a single-blind tasting, it’s not without charm, suggesting wild strawberries dusted with talc. Dropping out in the middle of the palate (this longtime organic stalwart, which depends on wide distribution in natural foods markers, does fine the wine with vegan-friendly clay as a hedge against spoilage), the wine recovers on the firm finish. Rating (out of 5): ★★

Benziger 2016 Reserve Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($45) This bears the designation, “Made with organically grown grapes,” in combination with the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) logo on the back label—note, the USDA seal is not allowed. The grapes are farmed organically, and the winery must be certified to process them, but the wine is allowed to contain sulfites up to 100 ppm (the conventional wine limit is 300 ppm). An alluring aroma of strawberries drizzled with raspberry sauce reminds me of cheesecake topping, tempered by a whiff of shale. Tangy, pomegranate flavors gain more appeal with time in the glass.★★★½

Yangarra 2016 ‘PF’ McLaren Vale Shiraz ($25) The “PF” is for “preservative free,” and, far from oxidized, this burly Shiraz, coming to us from Down Under by way of Jackson Family Wines, shows signs of “reduction,” which is basically the opposite of oxidized. Just a touch of reduction, however, accents the savor of liquefied dried plum with gamey, chocolatey notes. Not fined or filtered, it leaves a chunky residue of organic material in the bottom of the last glass—and a pretty favorable memory of the category, as well. ★★★★


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