Healthy wines for January: low alcohol, biodynamics, organic, natural, or vegan wines by Kerstin Rodgers

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girl with adhesive tape over mouth looking at a glass of wine
Dry January? This is ridiculous, to suffer, shivering in the gloom, throughout January. It is really not the month to detox, far better to wait until March or Spring when hope, light and longer days are on the horizon. Why make the SAD season sadder?
Wine is not only good for you, it has the added bonus of thoroughly cheering up a soul. In this column I’m going to talk about healthy options other than forsaking the booze altogether.
For a start, regular but modest consumption of wine is beneficial not bad. Red wine, more specifically the skins of red grapes, contains a plant compound called reservatrol, helpful to the heart. Wine in general counteracts the olive oil within the Mediterranean diet and red wine is slightly alkaline rather than acid. Many Hollywood stars are fans of the alkaline diet.
However there are types of wine you may have heard of – and possibly felt confused by – that are even healthier options than standard wines. Here is a primer and a few examples that are currently sold on the WineTrust site.
Low alcohol:
The simplest thing to do is drink lower alcohol wine. Percentages have been going up over the last few decades. During the 70s, an average French table wine was between 8 and 12%. In subsequent years, with New World wines that grow in warmer climates raising alcohol percentages, and increasing sophistication in wine making techniques, it is not uncommon to have wines of 14%.
WineTrust has the following low-alcohol wines at only 5.5 percent of alcohol:
2013 G.D. Vajra Moscato D’asti 5.5% £14. Lightly effervescent Italian wine, delicate, good with cake.
Another Moscato grape wine is 2012 Pink Moscato, Innocent Bystander (half bottle) from Australia. 5.5% £6
Try also 2010 Von Hovel at only 8% £22, a Reisling from Germany, which is nicely matched with Thai or Malaysian food.
Biodynamic farming uses certain techniques to get the best from the soil, which is considered to be an important organism or a life force in itself. It takes notice of the phases of the moon, when it’s best to plant, compost, trim, gather in crops. This system was the creation of Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s (you may have heard of Steiner schools which emphasise nature in their teaching). Biodynamic and organic farming and wine production are very similar, but the timing of agricultural procedures is more essential within biodynamic farming.
Biodynamic, organic and natural wines are often more expensive than normal commercial wines; biodynamic vineyards have to use special fertilisers, emphasising the health of the soil and require a more intensive hands on approach. But experts insist this is worth the trouble; the wines taste better and as a wine drinker, you can be assured that there are no nasty chemicals.
The guru for biodynamic viticulture is a Frenchman called Nicolas Joly who is not a hippy but a former banker. He runs the family vineyard in the Loire and was inspired by the Steiner approach to agriculture along with disciplines such as homeopathy and astrology. The ‘dynamism’ in biodynamic is created by spraying ground up quartz housed in a cow horn, in a certain direction, creating a vortex. (I have a friend who drinks all of her drinks through a metal spiral, she says it adds energy. She’s in her late 50s but looks 30 so don’t knock it.) Ok this sounds a little crazy, but blind tastings prove that this works. Open your mind dear reader. The planets move around the sun in orbital fashion, the universe is created from galaxies, is it too much of a stretch to apply these principles to promoting healthy growth on planet earth?
Within the biodynamic system you will have a calendar which divides days into ‘root’, ‘leaf’, ’flower’ or ‘fruit’ days. It also works with rhythms generally influenced by moon phases. Everything in life is timing, so why not wine? It is well known that if you cut your hair when the moon is waning means you will not have to cut it so frequently.
WineTrust stocks a fantastic classic claret 2009 Durfort-Vivens Margaux 13% £35 from the Durfort-Vivens chateau, which is converting to biodynamic farming, the process will be complete by 2016. This is one of only three biodynamic chateaux in the Bordeaux region. This is one that can be kept for a decade or more, great with red meat. Oh but you’ve given that up for ‘veganuary’ haven’t you?
Another biodynamic red but this time from Chile is the 2012 Adove Carmenère, which is also organic at only £8. It packs a punch at 14%, is aged in oak barrels and goes brilliantly with pasta and pizza.
A sweet dessert wine 2010 Muscat de Rivesaltes is also biodynamic – 15% £12 for a half bottle. If you are really taking this January detox seriously, perhaps avoid dessert, but this wine goes well with a plate of fruit for afters.
Organic is basically biodynamic but without the mysticism or the moon phases, they don’t use any synthetic chemicals, weed killers, or add anything artificial to the wines. This is not only good for humans drinking the wine but also for local wildlife. You can get a certificate for producing organic wines, this is an arduous and expensive process. Some wines are organic but cannot be bothered to jump through the administrative hoops to get the certification. Organic wines being sold through WineTrust include:
2011 Domaine Moreau-Naudet Chablis 12.5% £15 organic Chardonnay, complex and rich, great with sushi and fish.
2013 Pouilly Fumé Domaine Jonathan Pabiot 12.5%, £18 organic Sauvignon Blanc, minerals, great with fish.
An organic red from France, 2011 Bergerac Rouge, Clos des Verdots is worth trying at a reasonable £11. This is a good claret with an alcohol percentage of 14%, goes well with meat.
Natural wines are still rather controversial in the wine world but many of the top restaurants are converting their lists to all natural. Just before Christmas I recommended Master of Wine Isabelle Legeron’s book on natural wine, she’s been one of the driving forces behind the natural revolution. Natural wines can be a mixed bag, some of them rather rougher in taste. They remind me of the kind of wines you would get driving through France in the 1970s: they taste real rather than being the result of some marketing focus group.
The great thing about natural wines is that they contain no or very little sulphites, the element that gives you a hangover. Some people who may for instance be allergic to red wine, can drink natural red wine. Natural winegrowers employ many of the same techniques as biodynamic and organic viticulteurs, but in addition they don’t add anything to the wine. They don’t add sugar or yeast, allowing the wine to ferment using the natural yeasts in the air. Think of them as the wine equivalent to sourdough bread.
I visited Georgia a few years ago in the company of Isabelle Legeron, which not only has the oldest wines in the world (they consider themselves as the cradle of winemaking civilisation) but has a huge natural wine making community. Many of their wines are fermented naturally in huge clay amphora known as ‘kvevri’. Some are buried in the ground and others are three stories high. When Georgia was colonised by the Russians, the amphora were covered in concrete which reduced their natural fermentation capacities. Work is going on in Georgia to chip off the concrete and recreate the natural wine industry. I visited many natural winemakers, some of the wines were terrific. The aforementioned Nicolas Joly talks about these as having a natural form like eggs.
Nick Adams MW who selects many of the wines for WineTrust along with John Valentine, is looking at selecting a natural wine for the list in 2015.
Vegan and vegetarian wines:
Lastly there are vegan and vegetarian wines to consider. “Wines aren’t vegetarian?” I hear you say… No they aren’t necessarily. Many wines use egg whites, bone marrow, milk proteins, blood, gelatine, fish oil, shellfish, fish bladders and fish scales for clarification. Do you remember a wine that used to be called Bull’s Blood? This wasn’t just a name; but bull’s blood as an ingredient was banned in the EU after the BSE crisis. Strict veggies and vegans will prefer wines that are labelled vegan. Natural wines will be vegan.
I wish all readers a happy new year and cheerful but healthy drinking! Bottoms up!
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