Andreas Späth

This organic wine is eco-friendly, but is it any good?

2016-09-19 07:07

Andreas Wilson-Späth

Products that are made in a way that’s less damaging to the environment, from organic vegetables to hemp t-shirts, have become very popular in the last decade or two. Organic wines are among these and a number of South African wineries now offer them to their customers.

But there’s a problem. I think there is a fairly widespread popular perception that these ‘green’ wines are not as good as their conventionally produced counterparts. The idea is, I guess, that consumers who are concerned about the ecological impact of the wines they drink grudgingly sacrifice quality for the peace of mind of not having contributed to things like pollution, biodiversity loss, habitat destruction and climate change with every glass of Sauvignon Blanc they guzzle.

In short: eco-friendly wine is better for the planet, but tastes crap.

This view is so prevalent that many wine makers actually don’t label their organic wines as such for fear of turning away potential customers. In California, for example, two-thirds of wineries that use ecologically sensitive farming and production methods don’t put the certification label on their bottles even though they are perfectly entitled to do so.

So how true is the belief that environmentally friendly wine doesn’t taste as good as ‘normal’ wine really?

Before I go on, I should mention that I’m not a big wine drinker myself. I enjoy a glass or several on occasion, but I’m certainly not a connoisseur. When it comes to judging wines by their quality as far as taste is concerned, I frankly don’t know what I’m talking about.

And that’s part of the problem. Rating wine on a scale from ‘utter plonk’ to ‘divine’ is, at least in part, a matter of subjectivity.

No need to panic, though. A paper entitled ‘Does Organic Wine Taste Better? An Analysis of Experts' Ratings’ which was recently published in the Journal of Wine Economics addresses this very issue in the most objective manner possible.

The authors used data from wine reviews published in three leading magazines in the field (Wine AdvocateWine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator). In total these reviews rated 74,148 wines produced by 3842 wineries in California between 1998 and 2009.

All of the reviews considered were based on blind tastings. This means that the experts evaluating the wines didn’t know anything about them when they were doing the taste test. In each case, they were simply presented with an unlabelled glass of wine and asked to assess it. The ratings are based on a 100-point scale, on which 90 and above typically earns a wine descriptions such as ‘outstanding’, ‘excellent’, ‘superb’ and ‘extraordinary’, while anything below 60 is generally considered to be low in quality.

The results will come as a bit of a surprise to those who turn their noses up at the mere mention of wines that come with an organic or biodynamic certification label.

A statistical analysis of the data shows “that ecocertification is associated with a statistically significant increase in wine quality rating. Being ecocertified increases the scaled score of the wine by 4.1 points on average”. According to expert wine critics, then, your average eco-friendly wine actually tastes a little bit better than its conventionally made counterpart.

According to lead author and environmental economist Magali Delmas, “the bottom line is that however we look at it, we find that organic and biodynamic farming has these small but significant positive effects on wine quality”.

Tell that to your wine-snob friends the next time they refuse to even look at the organic Chardonnay you proffer them at dinner.

- Andreas is a freelance writer with a PhD in geochemistry. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.



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