Organic wines for our times

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      And they keep on coming—organic wines from all corners. In the back of the monthly B.C. Liquor Stores Product Guide, right between the section on sparkling wines (expanding) and the one on coolers (diminishing, and who’s sorry about that?), is a section headed “Think Green—Shop Organic”. It’s expanded to two full pages from just one, and there are now 50 wines on the list, as well as nine organic beers and ciders (including the one below), two sakes, three vodkas, one gin, and one “T.O. Bevy Blacur Organic Juice Beverage”, whatever that is. And while the world still can’t reach any sort of consensus on what constitutes an organic wine, the demand must be rising, because the selection is.

      Here’s a quick taste through seven. Four of them are on the list; the other three may be on their way, or you can find them in private liquor stores.

      Organic One is a new Australian label whose slogan is “divine by nature”. They’ve sent us a 2007 Chardonnay ($16.47, available at Signature specialty stores) and a 2007 Shiraz (priced at “under $20” and available as a Speculative Listing in select private beer and wine stores). The Shiraz beats the Chard every which way. A sharp nose makes way for ripe and tangy cherry flavours; the finish is short, but fresh and clean. It’s much lighter than what we’re used to from Australia in the Shiraz department, not big and fat and chewy. In fact, if you close your eyes, you might think it’s a jolly little Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay is big and overblown, and while the stuff about biodynamics is all very well, it doesn’t do it for me. Stick with the Shiraz this time out, and we’ll see what future vintages look like.

      There are at least four Argentine Malbecs in the current mix, but this one tastes best: Casa de Campo ECO Organic Malbec 2007 ($15.99). Not the cheapest, not the costliest; nicely in the middle, and very good value. A slightly sweet edge and a round, full finish make it a treat with osso buco with lots of gremolata on top and a side of mushroom polenta and butter-sweated Hungarian peppers with a little pancetta and garlic. More proof—as if any were needed—that Argentina has the hammerlock on good-buy Malbec right now and for the foreseeable future.

      From Chile comes Viña Tarapacá Natura Plus Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc 2007 ($17.99). Soft but peppery and with a nice bit of spice, it mellows with—as the neck label, hand-tied with binder twine, states—“just a touch of Carméní¨re and Syrah” after eight months in French and American oak. The same label also points out that this is the first wine produced from organic grapes in the Maipo Valley of Chile. It sure tastes fine with some of that cave-aged Gruyí¨re and any of those fancy-priced cheese biscuits out there. I still find good old Stoned Wheat Thins high on my list of favourites. Creamy cheese too—Brie or Coulommiers or real Roquefort.

      In the Portuguese section, there’s an organic port (discussed here some months ago) and a single organic table wine: CARM Douro Superior 2006 ($20). It’s edging up there in price, but also in terms of taste satisfaction. Bracing, bright, and fresh, with a rich and spicy flavour and a mellow finish. Just the thing for classy pasta sauces or lamb shanks in parchment with three-hot-pepper purée. The blend is made from the Portuguese standards: Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, and Touriga Franca, which basically nobody outside of Portugal really knows, or uses. The wine is a mouthful of satisfaction, but there’s a lot of stuff on the back label that means diddlysquat, as is often the case with back labels.

      You won’t find this one in the government stores, but it’s worth sleuthing for—a South African blockbuster, Lazanou Organic Syrah 2007, from a new boutique winery near Cape Town. It’ll set you back $29.99, but you’ll be amply rewarded by a solid and ultraripe 100-percent Syrah that’s lived a year in its little French-oak abode. It’s big, bold, and inky, with surprisingly soft and subtle cherry-ripe flavours; sweet, spicy, and stunning, it’s meant for big and bold food flavours. A heady, gorgeous wine. It does, however, cost 30 bucks. At $13.99, it would fly off the shelves by the wheelbarrow load. Ah, in a perfect world”¦

      African Terroir Winds of Change Organic Chardonnay 2007 ($14.99) has been in our market for a few years now, and is certainly the best value on our table today. A rich, slurping-style of Chardonnay, it presents hints of almonds in the aroma profile and some pleasant, if not readily identifiable, fruit; it’s not like a lot of Chardonnays you’re tasting these days at this price point. All of which makes it ideal for spritzing with ice and maybe adding a slice of nectarine. One for the deck when the sun reaches full strength. There’s also a Pinotage-Shiraz blend that we didn’t find nearly so tasty.

      The three-star selection

      Best Taste: Lazanou, with CARM very close behind
      Best Buy: African Terroir
      First to Empty: Casa de Campo