Night of Wine and Poses: Cool crowd turns out to sip organic vintages

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by Worldchanging NYC ally Margaret Burke:

Last night's "Shades of Green" wine tasting at Union Square Wines & Spirits drew the kind of with-it New York crowd you'd expect at the opening of a hot new Williamsburg nightclub. Pretty girls wearing the latest outfit from Intermix flirted with even prettier guys garbed in Armani Exchange, all in the service of celebrating biodynamic and sustainably farmed wines.  Yes, indeedy: Organic has become Fabulous.

So fabulous, in fact, that I had a difficult time buttonholing our hosts from Organic Wine Journal, surrounded as they were by young glitterati sipping 2006 vintages of Weingut Hofer Grüner Veltliner and Babich Savignon Blanc. When I finally cornered Adam Morganstern, the Journal's Editor in Chief, he explained why wine lovers should get on the organic haywagon: the flavor of a wine comes down to "terrior," French for "of the land," and according to Morganstern, organic wines have this terrior in spades.

"A grape should have the taste of the land it was grown on, the years should taste different" said Morganstern. "Wines made from those grapes should be individuals. But the big producers are going for consistency in product so they employ tricks -- packaged yeast and other additives -- to make vintages taste more like an ideal product. Tony Coturri [a 'natural' wine vintner in California] calls them Frankenwines."

Johathan Russo, the Organic Wine Journal's dynamic 56-year-old founder, told me that the past few years have seen a 35 percent growth in the popularity of organic wines, as compared to 3 percent for wine overall. "People don't want to be poisoned," he said. "People don't want to be ingesting pesticides, herbicides, fungicides. People don't want poisoned workers." 

Yes, yes, I understand. No poisons. No liberal guilt. No Dr. Frankenwine. But I'm still not clear how a wine gets to be labeled "organic."

And it seems the industry isn't clear either. According to Organic Wine Journal's website:

When a label says "organic," it means the wine has met certain standards that are set by a government agency. Different nations have their own certification criteria, so what's organic in one country may not be so in another.

And to make matters even more confusing:

Many wineries that are technically organic still choose not to be certified. There are many reasons for this. Some do not want the added costs and bureaucracy of registering. Others may disagree with their government's standards. It can also be a marketing decision. Whatever the case, they are not allowed to use "organic" on their labels.

OK, so the whole organic certification thing is still in its infancy. Organic Wine Journal, which Russo founded around two or three years ago, is grabbing the wave. 

I grabbed a glass of Babich, a 2006 "sustainably farmed" Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, and did my best impression of Paul Giamatti in Sideways.  The nose? Ummm, Granny Smith apple with a hint of gooseberry. Legs? The 2006 doesn't seem to have legs. Maybe whites don't; what do I know?  Taste?  Zippy Granny Smith -- now with a hint of raspberry. It dances on the sides of the tongue and tingles when it hits your uvula.  There's some definite terrior here, and it's fabulous.

Image: Coturri Winery web slide show

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