Guide to Eco-Friendly Wines

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The USDA certified organic seal makes it easy to identify organic wines. Photo: Flickr/deege@fermentarium.com

Whether you’re a self-professed oenophile or just enjoy an occasional glass of red table wine with dinner, navigating the labels of wines that purport to be eco-friendly can be confusing: “100-percent organic,” “made with organic ingredients,” “natural” or “vegan-friendly.” But before you give up on finding a greener glass of wine, check out Earth911’s guide to wines that aim to please your palate and seek to reduce their impact on the planet.

Organic Wine

A bottle of conventionally produced wine may contain up to 250 different types of chemicals, according to EcoVine Wine, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based wine club specializing in organic and vegan wines.

But now you can choose from a wide selection of wines – all regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program – that come from vineyards that avoid using synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.

As its name suggests, 100-percent organic wines must contain 100-percent organically produced ingredients and have been processed using only organically produced aids, not counting added water and salt. In addition, winemakers cannot introduce added sulfites to 100-percent organic wines, as the USDA considers sulfites to be a synthetic food additive.

Does that mean that 100-percent organic wines are sulfite free? Naturally occurring sulfites are found on grapes, onions, garlic and many other plants; they are nature’s way of protecting plants from harmful microbes. During the winemaking process, natural sulfites are also produced when the grapes are fermented.

In a 100-percent organic wine with no added sulfites, there are likely to be naturally occurring sulfates present in amounts ranging from six to 40 parts per million, according to EcoVine Wine. Compare this amount to conventional non-organic wines, which may contain sulfite levels up to 350 parts per million, EcoVine Wine says.

When used properly, sulfites are not inherently toxic to humans or the environment, EcoVine Wine says. Only about 0.4 percent of the population is highly allergic to sulfites, while others with a low tolerance for sulfites may be considered sulfite-sensitive.

Winemakers have used added sulfites for centuries to prevent spoilage and bacteria growth, as well as to preserve the wine’s natural flavor.

To find a 100-percent organic wine, look for a statement declaring the wine to be 100 percent organic, as well as the name of the agency that certified the wine; the bottle may also bear the USDA organic seal.

But “100-percent organic” isn’t the only label you may find on a wine bottle listing organic ingredients.

Wines marked as simply “organic” must be made from at least 95-percent organically produced ingredients, not counting added water and salt, and cannot have added sulfites. Like 100-percent organic wine, organic wines must list their certification agency and may carry the USDA organic seal.

You may also see wines that boast that they are made with organic grapes. Wines labeled as “made from organic ingredients” are required to contain at least 70-percent organically produced ingredients, not counting added water and salt. These wines will not display the USDA seal and are allowed to contain added sulfites – up to 100 parts per million, according to EcoVine Wine.

Homepage image: Shutterstock

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