Red, White and Green: The Best Fairtrade and Organic Wines


Wines come in a subtle spectrum of color and tints, as well as flavors – but that spectrum isn’t simply book-ended by dark rich reds and honey yellows. There’s another dimension to the color of wine these days, one related to its environmental credentials. Green wines have swollen to become a major force in the wine trade, as consumers filter their purchasing through a growing eco-awareness. But what exactly constitutes a green wine?

Well, just as wine connoisseurs will argue over whether a Cabernet Sauvignon shows hints of chocolate or tobacco, the definition of a green wine is very much in the palette of the taster. For many, ‘green’ is synonymous with the great issue of the day – global warming. That means reducing greenhouse gas emissions is paramount – and in the case of wines, such emissions mainly come from transport, especially if bottled. So the greenest wines are those that are most local to where you live – or those that come in packaged in boxes.

But there are other issues that may be just as important from an environmental perspective. After all, the environment isn’t just something ‘out there’ in the atmosphere. It’s the whole package of interactions we have between each other and the planet. So there are organic and biodynamic production methods to consider, for example. These ensure that wines are free from any possible pesticide and herbicide residues, as well as knocking sulfites on the head. Keeping it ‘organic’ also helps to keep the soil fertile for future generations. Then you have FairTrade wines, which are an essential part of the re-balancing of wealth and opportunity – important in a shared global village that is still riven with inequality.

So what wines are firmly flying the FairTrade and organic flags, that you should consider having on your list of tipples for this year? Well, when it comes to organic wines, zero sulfites are one of the first things to look out for. This is one of their main selling points, with the sulfite content for conventional wines often masking and impairing flavor.

One great low-sulfite, and home-grown, wine is the Zinfadel from the Sonoma-based Coturi brothers. They have been delivering a perfect peppery and spicy Zinfadel, which has been produced using zero-sulfite techniques, for over 4 decades. Another great Californian winery can be found in Mendocino County, where Freys Vineyard have been bottling biodynamic wine for 30 years. Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese are all on the wine list for this reputed wine house, which are also very reasonably priced.

On the FairTrade front, there are three main regions who have developed their wine offerings to a level where they compete with conventional wine. Argentina’s La Riojana region is one – a relatively undeveloped area, previously suffering from a lack of running water, and inadequate social facilities – but excellent wine growing potential. The 500 wine-growers produce many appellations, but the signature wine is the white Torrontés. This heady and aromatic white has a very distinctive flavor, that some see as a possible new Pinot Grigio. And sales of it have helped bring potable water, and schools, to this deprived area.

Then there are the Chilean FairTrade wines, drawing from the fertile valley of the Curico area. An excellent Merlot Rosé is supplied by the Los Robles Co-operative. It has a red berry freshness, coupled to a soft acidity, a coupling that has many wine luminaries paying complements. Finally there is the South African Cape, which has long been held in high repute for its whites. A fine contender amongst the many Sémillon’s of the region, is the Isabello. It has a green fruit tang, with its citrus balancing nicely against an underlying creaminess. And each glass of this wine helps in the process of empowerment of poor black workers – important in a country where structural prejudices will take decades to dissolve.

So if you want to take something more than just an ephemeral pleasure from your wine-drinking, go for a greener shade of wine. You’ll get that satisfaction of knowing that each glass is helping turn the world towards a more equable and secure future. And there can be few more enjoyable ways of doing your bit for the planet.

[This is a guest post written by Edward Khoo, a blogger who believes being green doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive.]

Image: tarotastic at Flickr

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