Wine Au Naturel

It’s been a while since I have blogged, but now I’m back!  The past few months have been full of changes for me, but one of the biggest is that I have started working at Foragers Wines. Foragers is a wine shop focused on organic, biodynamic, natural, and sustainable wine, so for this first blog post of 2018, I wanted to provide a quick guide on all of this “green” terminology.

Organic Wines: Wines are often labeled as “made with organic grapes”.  This means that the grapes were grown organically, and usually implies that additives (such as yeast and fining agents) were also organic.  However, depending on the country, there may or may not have been sulfur added as a preservative.  USDA certified organic wines are not allowed to use sulfur in the winemaking process, but the rules for organic vary by country, so many organic wines have minimal amounts of sulfites.

Biodynamic Wines: Biodynamic is a method of farming that views the farm (or vineyard) as a living, interconnected system that must be kept in balance through ecological and spiritual practices, such as making your own fertilizer and scheduling planting and harvesting according to the cycles of the moon and planets.  The theories of biodynamic farming were laid out by the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s, and the current certification for biodynamic farms is the Demeter certification.

Natural:  Natural wines take things a step further.  Natural wines are organic (or biodynamic) wines that are produced with minimal intervention during the winemaking.   Currently there aren’t any official certifications, but some commonly accepted criteria for a “natural wine” are as follows:

  • grapes are grown organically/biodynamically and are hand-picked
  • use of wild yeast fermentation (aka spontaneous fermentation)
  • no additives (sugar, acid, flavors, sulfites)
  • minimal or no fining or filtering

Natural wines are not meant to be aged and extra care should be taken to ensure that the wines are stored at the appropriate temperature.  Since they do not contain any preservatives, there may be some ongoing fermentation, which can lead to a slight effervescent quality in natural wines.

Sustainable Wines:  Sustainable vineyards expand their purview beyond the grapes and place an emphasis on environmental and social responsibility.  Sustainable vineyards may follow some organic and/or biodynamic practices, but the focus is on preserving natural resources such as soil, water, and energy to ensure the sustainability of the farm and long-term viability of the environment, while producing high quality wine.  The rules are varied, but many regions are establishing certifications for sustainablilty:

  • Certified California Sustainable Vineyard and Winery (CCSW)
  • Sustainability in Practice (SIP)
  • Low Input Viticulture and Enology (LIVE)
  • Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ)
  • Certified Sustainable Wine of Chile
  • South Africa Integrity & Sustainability Certified
  • Sustainable Australia Winegrowing (SAW)
  • Bodegas de Argentina Sustainability Protocol

Overall, there are many different certifications, and the rules may vary by country, but hopefully this overview provides a better understanding of  “green wine”.


False Friends

Learning about wine is a bit like learning a new language, and when learning a new language there’s bound to be some points of confusion or “false friends“.  Here are a few wine terms that are easily mistaken.

Claret vs Clairette

  • Claret is a British term for red wine from Bordeaux, France.
  • Clairette is a white grape used in winemaking in the Rhône Valley in France

Muscat vs. Muscadet vs. Muscadelle

  • Muscat is a family of grapes that has varieties used in wine making and for eating.  In Italy, the sparking wine Moscato is made from the the Muscat grape.  In France and Spain, Muscat grapes are often used to make fortified wines.
  • Muscadet is a dry, white wine made in the Loire Valley from the grape called Melon de Bourgogne.  It is not related to the Muscat family of grapes – it is a cross between  Gouais blanc and  Pinot blanc.
  • Muscadelle is another white grape that is used for blending in the Bordeaux region in France.  It is not related to the Muscat family of grapes – it is a cross between Gouais blanc and an unidentified grape variety.

Syrah and Petit Sirah

  • Syrah is a red wine grape originating from France.  Syrah is known as Shiraz, in Australia.
  • Petit Sirah is a red wine grape that resulted from a crossing of Syrah and Peloursin Grapes.  Petit Sirah is also known as Durif.

Pouilly-Fumé  vs. Pouilly-Fuissé

  • Pouilly-Fumé is a wine region in the Loire Valley of France that is known for its Sauvignon Blanc wines.
  • Pouilly-Fuissé is a wine region in Burgundy, France that is known for its Chardonnay wines.


  • VDN stands for vins doux naturel.  VDNs are fortified wines, common in the south of France, where brandy is added to the wine to stop the fermentation.
  • VDL stands for vin de liquer.  VDLs are also fortified wines; however, the brandy is added to the unfermented grape juice.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo vs. Vino Nobile de Montepulciano

  • Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is made in the region of Abruzzo, from the Montepulciano grapes.
  • Vino Nobile de Montepulciano is made in the town of Montepulciano, from Sangiovese grapes.


4 French Wine Regions

franceFrance has been creating some of the most prestigious wine for centuries.  To maintain this high level of quality, French wine production is governed by the L’Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (INOA).  The INOA regulates the different wine regions (AOCs or appellation d’origine contrôlée) throughout the country by providing rules to define a regional style and identity (or terroir) through grape growing and wine making techniques.  Terroir is a French term used to explain how wine reflects its place of origin.  Terroir encompasses all environmental factors that affect the grape/wine, such as climate, geography, soil, weather, wine making techniques, etc.

The AOCs vary in size and can be nested within each other.  Below I will outline some of the appellations within 4  key regions: Loire Valley, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone Valley.


Loire Valley
Climate: Maritime to Continental
Geography: Loire River
Soil: Chalky
Grapes: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet, Cabernet Franc

  • Pays Nantais (Muscadet)
    • Sèvre-et-Maine AOC
  • Anjou-Saumur
    • Savennières AOC (Chenin Blanc)
    • Quarts de Chaume AOC (Sweet, botrytized Chenin Blanc)
  • Touraine
    • Chinon AOC (Cabernet Franc)
    • Vouvray AOC (Chenin Blanc)
  • Central Vineyards
    • Sancerre AOC (Sauvignon Blanc)
    • Pouilly Fumé AOC (Sauvignon Blanc)


Burgundy (Bourgogne AOC)
Climate: Cool-Moderate, Continental
Soil: Limestone and Marl in the North; Granite in the South
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gamay

  • Chablis (Chardonnay)
  • Cote d’Or
    • Cote de Nuits (famous for Pinot Noir)
    • Cotes de Beaune (famous for Chardonnay)
  • Cote Chalonnais (mostly Chardonnay)
  • Maconnais (mostly Chardonnay)
  • Beaujolais (Gamay)


Bordeaux (Bordeaux AOC)
Climate: Moderate, Maritime
Geography: Garonne and Dordogne Rivers, and the Gironde estuary
Soil: Gravel over limestone
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Carmenère; Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Muscadelle

  • Left Bank (Cabernet Sauvignon dominated red blends)
    • Haut Médoc AOC, which contains four famous wine communes:
      • St. Estèphe
      • Pauillac
      • St. Julien
      • Margaux
    • Graves AOC
      • Pessac-Léognan AOC
      • Sauternes AOC (Sweet, botrytized white wines_
  • Right Bank( Merlot dominated red blends)
    • Pomerol AOC
    • St. Emilion AOC
  • Entre deux Mers (Dry, white wine)


Rhône Valley (Côtes du Rhône AOC)
Climate: Moderate, Continental to Warm, Mediterrannean
Geography: Rhone Rivers
Soil: Granite and clay in the North; Stoney (pudding stones, aka les galets) in the South
Grapes: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Viognier

  • Northern Rhone (Syrah dominated wines)
    • Côte-Rôtie AOC
    • Condrieu AOC (white only from Viognier)
    • St-Joseph AOC
    • Hermitage AOC and Crozes-Hermitage AOC
    • Cornas AOC
  • Southern Rhone (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre blends)
    • Châteauneuf du Pape AOC
    • Gigondas AOC
    • Tavel AOC (rosé only)


Taking it up a notch

The more I learn about wine, the more that I want to know.  Thus, I have decided to take mStudy Materialsy wine education up a notch, and I have enrolled in the Intensive Sommelier Training Program at the International Culinary Center in NYC.  This is a 17 week program that prepares students to take the Certified Sommelier Examination, administered by the Court of Master Sommeliers.  This is the second of four examinations that are required to become a Master Sommelier.  There are only 236 Master Sommeliers in the world, and all are highly regarded as wine and service experts.  There is an excellent documentary called Somm that presents the extreme dedication and rigorous study that is required of four men aspiring to achieve the level of Master.  At this point, I will be more than thrilled to pass the Certified Examination in the fall, but I have lots of studying to do between now and then.  I hope to continue blogging as time permits and to share some of my newfound wine knowledge, so stay tuned!

Rosé, a summer fling


Rosé wine, with is fruity flavors and romantic color, is the perfect summer fling.  Not that you can’t drink rosé all year round, but it seems to surge in  popularity every summer.  Rosé wines are made from the same grapes as red wine, but the skins are removed before fermentation.  The shade of pink depends on the length of time that the skins are in contact with the juice.  This is called maceration, and this part of the wine making process allows the grape skins to impart both color and tannins to the grape juice.

Since rosé can be made from many different types of grapes, the flavors and styles vary greatly.  Wine folly has put together a nice guide to the different styles of rosé.  Rosé wine is made in many different wine regions, but Provence, France is one of the few regions that focuses mainly on the production of rosé.  The most common grapes used for rosé from Provence are Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre.  These rosés are using made in a dry style, with a fair amount of acidity and some minerality.  Some common flavors are strawberry, melon, roses, and herbs.  Cheers to summer!



Tasting Notes – Zweigelt Barrique

Zweigelt ValentineName: Zweigelt Barrique
Producer: Enjingi Estate Vintner
Region: Vetovo, Croatia
Grape Varieties: Zweigelt
Overall Rating:  4.5 
Pairing: Valentine M+M cookies!  This wine is light-bodied and (dried) fruity, with a hint of sweetness.  I would be happy to drink it on its own, but the cookies were a nice addition.

Red: Red/Brick

Brightness: Dull/Hazy

Intensity: Low/Moderate
Age: Aged
Scent: Earth and berries

Dry/Sweet: Dry/Off-dry
Body: Light
Acidity: Smooth
Tannin: Low
Flavors: Definitely fruity, but it tasted more like dried fruit to me – cherries and prunes.
Finish: Short(<3 sec)

Tasting Notes – Frontera Merlot

Frontera Merlot Beef Stew

Name: Frontera Merlot
Producer: Concha y Toro
Region: Central Valley, Chile
Grape Varieties: Grape
Overall Rating:  ☆☆
Pairing: This was on sale, and merlot is the wine of the month, and I needed some wine for my beef stew.  Thus, it was a wine of convenience, but it didn’t deliver much else.  Overall, it was pretty bland, but it worked well in the stew and was fine to sip on while cooking.

Color: Purplish and inky

Intensity: Low
Age: Youthful
Scent: undetectable

Dry/Sweet: Dry
Body: Light
Acidity: Smooth
Tannin: Low
Flavors:  Cherry (a little syrupy) and not much else.