Earth Day Wines

Perceptions are better than they used to be, but misinformation still clouds too many consumers’ ideas of organic or otherwise environmentally respectful wine. I cannot count the number of times I’ve hosted a class or done a guest sommelier stint at a restaurant and heard a guest remark that all wines without sulfites are organic. Or that organic wines are always better. Or always worse. Or only European. Or strictly American...
You get the idea: Not only is there a lot of bad information out there, but much of it is still being taken as some sort of oenological gospel. (Click here for a solid rundown of the ins and outs of organic wines.) The bottom line is this: I find that, in general--and of course there are exceptions--wines that have been produced with at least a modicum of respect for the environment tend to taste better, or at least are more evocative of their place of origin, than wines that have not been. It only makes sense: Vines that have been allowed to carry on a proverbial conversation with the land into which their roots are sunk, and which nourishes them, without an interfering screen of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, will tend to be more expressive of that land. And wines that have been produced in wineries that minimize chemical inputs follow suit.
Last year, I consulted on the wine list for Talula’s Garden restaurant in Philadelphia, and it was a difficult process, as every item on there is environmentally conscientious--sustainably farmed at the very least and certified biodynamic at the most. Assembling a list like this, especially in a monopoly state like Pennsylvania, was challenging. But the rewards were more than worth it: The wine selection is not only respectful of the environment, but it also allowed us to find bottles that, like the ingredients on the menu itself, are uniquely expressive of their place of origin. These are wines as good for the soul as they are for the palate.
Last weekend, then, in honor of Earth Day, I tasted two excellent wines that fit this criteria. My tasting notes are below:
Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Syrah Las Kuras Vineyard 2009, Cachapoal Valley, Chile
This beautifully glass-staining wine--like an opaque black-purple bruise--boasts classic aromas of deep, rich plum and plum pudding, blackberries, warm venison, sacher torte, and peppercorns. These turn to flavors of blackberry, black and deep-red plum, black cherry, mineral, and a touch of bacon and balsamic, all carried on a frame that’s well-structured and built for a bit of cellaring. I’d either decant this now and serve it with game--venison, wild boar, etc.--or cellar it for 3 - 4 years, and then drink over the next 8+. Sappy, chewy, and very well-crafted. Produced from organic grapes. (Click here for information on Lapostolle's commitment to the environment.)
Cecchi Chianti “Natio” 2009
Right off the bat, this is a wine that smells as if it only could have come from Italy: Leather and tobacco and bright cherries are immediately apparent, as well as slight hints of dried oregano: Classic. On the palate, flavors of cherry are straightforward and fresh, with a touch of something almost hinting at citrus. With air, it gains a bit of heft, and darker flavors and aromas, like plum and a whiff of dried flowers. The finish is lightly tannic, and shows a touch of beef carpaccio around the cherry. Mouthwatering and nicely structured, this is a very good value. Organic. (Click here for information on Cecchi's commitment to the environment.)