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Green Wine: Organic Certification and Labeling


  As part of our ongoing discussion on green wine, let’s take a look at the legal definitions of different kinds of organic wine, to get a more clear understanding.

  As mentioned on the Binny’s Wine Blog before, the term “organic” is often used as a general term for any green wine. It does have a specific, legal meaning. Organic wine is wine from grapes grown with no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, the goal being a healthier product, both for the consumer and for the environment in and surrounding the vineyard.


Organic Certification

  In the United States, organic produce is regulated by the National Organic Program (NOP), a branch of the USDA. The NOP maintains The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances for the production, handling and processing of organic products. It is worth pointing out that sulfites, though not recognized as a health risk for the vast majority of consumers, are not allowed to be added to organic wine, and naturally occurring sulfites must stay below 10 parts per million.

  Though the seal displayed on organic products says “USDA Organic,” the agency doesn’t do the actual certification. Instead, the NOP accredits third-party certifying agents, such as the CCOF, who are then responsible for ensuring that production and handling of organics meet the national criteria. You’ll find the third party certifying agency’s seal along with the USDA seal on the back label of many domestic organic wines.

  In order to be certified organic, a farm (or a specific field) must be free of prohibited substances for three full years before the first organic crop is harvested. This includes preventing contamination from nearby fields and farms, even if they are owned by someone other than the organic producer.


Organic Wine Labeling

  According to NOP regulations, there are five labeling options for all organic products, and wines fall into these five categories:


“100% Organic”

  If a product is made entirely from organically grown produce and made entirely with organic processing aids, it can be labelled 100% organic. I couldn’t think of a single example of this in wine, so I called a popular producer of organics and asked about it. The answer: as of right now, organically produced yeast isn’t available, so it’s virtually impossible to produce wine with this label.



  If a product is made from at least 95% organic ingredients, and produced using aids from The National List, or from a few other ingredients (with approval from the certifying agency) then it may be labeled “Organic.” It’s just a tiny bit less restrictive than 100% Organic. It makes room for yeast, but not for added sulfites: the wine must contain less than 10 parts per million of naturally occurring sulfites.

  These bottles may bear the USDA Organic seal and/or the certifier’s seal, and their labels are required to include a certification statement naming the accredited certifier. The majority of organic wines on Binny’s shelves fit into this category check out the back labels. Popular brands at Binny’s include Frey, Orleans Hill, and others.


“Made with Organic Ingredients”

  This is another very popular labeling option. For a wine to be labeled “Made with Organic Grapes,” it must be made from at least 70% certified organic grapes. This labeling option allows for the use of sulfites, so many wines that would otherwise be Organic are currently labeled “Made with Organic Grapes” for their sulfites.

  These wines may be labeled with their accredited certifier’s seal, but cannot include the USDA seal, as the finished wines are not organic. If they contain added sulfites, they must be labeled with the ominous “CONTAINS SULFITES” warning. Bonterra is a popular brand, and Binny’s carries many more.


“Made with Organic and Non-Organic Ingredients,” and “Organic Ingredients”

  As far as I can tell, these two categories are intended for other kinds of organic products besides wine. Like the “100% Organic” label, I can’t think of any examples on Binny’s shelves of these labeling options. They are used when a product contains organic ingredients mixed with non-organic ingredients, the former containing over 70% organic ingredients and the latter containing some amount of organic ingredients. A wine example would be a blend containing organically grown merlot but non-organic cabernet. A wine carrying this label would require an ingredient statement similar to a food.


  For a bewilderingly complete look at legal labeling regarding organics, check out the NOP’s guidelines here. With this (hopefully) more clear understanding of organic wine, we can go forward and ask more interesting questions questions about organic wines and their role in the health of consumers and the environment and the marketplace. Expect more soon, along with I dunno maybe a funny story about a guy I met on the bus or something.

2007 Bordeaux

Bordeaux accounts for about a quarter of the wines I have in my cellar. It’s my first love. The Union des Grand Crus 2007 Bordeaux tasting was earlier this week, and it’s always great to get to taste through the representing wineries. 2007 was a tough year for red Bordeaux. A summer hailstorm and too many storms towards the harvest season was the main cause for the reds being diluted. The whites and Sauternes in 2007, however, were textbook.

Right off the bat I started with the 2007 Pape Clement Blanc. The nose had big, ripe and exotic fruit, along with toasty oak. It was medium to full bodied, very well balanced and smooth. This was my wine of the day and was worth the trip. The other whites from Pessac-Leognan were well made as well.

2007 for Sauternes and Barsac was a great year. The winemaker of Bastor-Lamontagne explained because of all of the rain in Bordeaux, there was a lot of moisture in the ground and the air. That moisture in the environment helped evenly spread the mold, Botrytis Cinerea. The Noble Rot mold helps the wines of Sauternes gets it’s intense honey and saffron flavors.
Chateau Climens was my favorite Sauternes (Barsac.) The nose was a lot like a Tokaji from Hungary. It had a lot of ripe pineapple, honey, saffron and it was very intense. This was very well balanced. It had just enough acidity to balance out the sweetness and the creamy vanilla finish. This was a beauty.
The first red I tried was the best of the day to me. The Smith Haut-Lafitte had a nose of cappuccino, cassis and tart berries. In the mouth, this had hardly any tannins. This surprised me. I didn’t know what to think. A newly released, good name, red Bordeaux with hardly any tannins boggles my mind. 
Most of the reds I tasted were light bodied, not well structured, but fairly balanced and easy to drink. The 2007 Chateau Angelus was the biggest disappointment of the day. It was disjointed and not showing well at all. The Angelus was the best wine at the tasting the last two years. Unfortunately, not this time.  It would be nice to taste it to see how it will be in five years. 
The consensus of 2007 red Bordeaux is it’s an early drinking wine.  Most of them will be aproachable in the next year or or two. 
2008 and 2009 are looking like they are going to be much better years. Representatives compared the 2009 vintage to 2005.  Now, is a great opportunity to purchase futures for the 2007 and 2008 vintages at Binny’s. Please click here for information.

Too Many SVs?

  Early last week I had the chance to taste among many other wines a flight of three single-vineyard 2008 pinot noir offerings from cult pinot producer Ken Wright. Each vintage sees a release of a slew of single-vineyard releases from Ken Wright; Binny’s picked up ten unique bottlings in the 2008 vintage alone.

  So I was smirking before I so much as sniffed any of these three wines. I quietly announced to the guy sitting next to me that I’d be blogging about the Ken Wrights, about the overabundance of similar single-vineyard pinots (honestly, I’ve been sitting on this topic for a while). He passed it on to the guy next to him, and that guy gave me a dirty look and said, sarcastically, “Yeah, Greg, it’s always a good plan to make up your mind before you’ve even tried the wine.”

  So, with my tail between my legs, I tried the wine.

  The three Ken Wright single-vineyard offerings I tasted are all totally awesome. And each is distinctive and unique.

  The 2008 McCrone Vineyard is the lightest of the three, with a nose of tight berries and cinnamon and other baking spices leading to a broad, heavy palate extracted raspberry and herbal qualities, and great lift. Next was the 2008 Carter Vineyard, which shows a lot more caramel on the nose, and has more of a dusty, elegant quality. It is darker on the palate, with more weight and a little tannic power. Last was the 2008 Nysa Vineyard, which is by far the most modern and plush of the three, with notes of chocolate covered cherries, milk chocolate, raspberry and blackberry preserves and a sort of briary brush herbaceousness. If I were tasting blind, I would not have guessed any of the three were pinot noir; they’re much bigger and darker than I expect from the delicate grape. Aside from that complaint, these three wines are outstanding.

  So I mulled it over in my mind for a few days. And then Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman wrote this blog about the same issue focusing on the wide range of single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc offerings from Saint Clair in New Zealand (I’ve had a couple; they’re very good). Steiman is frustrated that a winery would make limited bottlings more expensive while sacrificing the quality of the regional blends they would otherwise be part of, especially if they show no additional level of charm or complexity. He writes “The whole idea strikes me as anti-consumer.”

  I guess so, but consumers can decide on their own if these bottlings are worth the extra money, and consumers can decide if there really need to be so many different single-vineyard offerings. Producers who underdeliver on their value-oriented wines will surely feel the pinch as unhappy customers look elsewhere.

  Personally, I prefer a more complex, less expensive wine, and am less inclined to throw extra money at the idea of exclusivity. But at the same time, I certainly do recommend trying Ken Wright’s 2008 lineup. It’s not a good idea to make up your mind until after you’ve tried the wine.

Food Pairing: Dinner at Indian Buffet/BYO (and also) An Appeal for Using the Appropriate Stemware

  A friend and I dined recently at a local Indian restaurant, excellent for their dinner buffet and also their BYO policy. An endless buffet of delicious food plus no corkage fee? Sounds like a no-brainer.

  We had eaten at this buffet before it’s a great place to take a small group for a fun and cheap wine dinner, where everybody can get at least a taste of everybody else’s wine. The only problem is that every time I go, I eat way too much.

  So what to take? I like beer with Indian food, but that wouldn’t work this time because it would just be the two of us, and we’re both wine nerds anyway. I avoid expensive wines with Indian complexity and austerity can conflict with the food’s spiciness (plus, we were just grabbing a bite, right?). Common wine pairings with Indian include white wine with a little sugar to compliment the food’s spiciness, and white wine with good acidity to cut through the ghee and other cooking oils. My friend brought an inexpensive Vouvray he had been holding for a while. It was a great choice the sugar in this chenin blanc was present but not overwhelming, and it complimented the food well.

  But I was craving red wine. I combed my wine fridge for that perfect bottle soft and fruity and classy but not too refined; carelessly inexpensive without being cheap. I came across a forgotten bottle of 2006 Ponzi Willamette Pinot Noir. I had purchased a few bottles of this on the cheap when they were on sale months earlier, and had opened one bottle since. I remembered it showing plenty of strawberry and cherry fruit and little more, which seemed perfect for the occasion. Nothing special, no big deal.

  When I told my friend I was taking the pinot, and he made a point to bring along two Riedel Vinum Burgundy glasses, specifically designed for pinot noir. This seemed like excess, especially as I kept downplaying the wine, until the wine was in the glass. It sang. The fruit I remembered from before was there, but pulled back in the mix, with anise and brush complexities and more, stuff I hadn’t realized was there when I tasted the wine at home.

  Suddenly, the wine seemed young and ageworthy instead of something simple to drink right away.

  I’m pretty sure the difference was in the glass. At home, I drink most reds out of the Riedel Vinum Bordeaux, a good glass, one that is designed to highlight a wine’s fruit and push its austerities back. While good for a cabernet, it can hide the complexities in a more delicate wine, like this pinot noir.

  I know this little story isn’t conclusive proof; it’s just an anecdote about how the same wine from two different bottles tasted differently months apart in different settings and possibly at different temperatures. I’d love to put it to a scientific test, tasting from the two glasses side-by-side. I am now planning to buy a pair of the Vinum Burgundy glasses for my own use at home, so it might be in my future.

  All in all, the dinner was great, as usual. The wines went well with the food. The Vouvray was wonderful, and the pinot was a nice surprise, even if it wasn’t a perfect match. Like I’ve said before, I don’t think any food has one and only one single, magic bullet, perfectly paired wine. And, like every time I go to an Indian buffet, I ate way too much.

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