Should You Insist On Organic Wine?

The term “organic” when applied to wines is quite confusing. Oddly, there seems to be little confusion about what constitutes organic produce at the market, for example with apples, oranges, and lettuce. The consumer expects these foods to be grown naturally and without the use of commercial pesticides and herbicides. Why are grapes (which are also considered produce) so different? The answer lies in one simple additive: sulfites. In order for wine grapes to be classified as organic by the USDA, a winemaker can not add any sulfites, and this in many situations, will result in an unstable and inconsistent end product. It is important to note, that sulfites occur naturally and are found in a variety of produce including garlic, onions, and grapes. In fact, there is no such thing as a “sulfite-free wine” because of these naturally occurring compounds. It is also significant that we are talking about parts per million (ppm) with sulfites and that less than one percent of the population is highly allergic to this ubiquitous substance. Because most winemakers understandably want to prevent spoilage and bacteria growth, they have added tiny amounts of sulfites for centuries to protect their vinous products.

What does this mean for wines we offer our guests at Greens? I believe that the wine program is an extension of our food program at the restaurant, so I endeavor to source wines with the same care that our chef’s source vegetables and produce. I go to great lengths to purchase wines from smaller winemakers that do not use commercial pesticides or herbicides, produce their wines in a responsible and ethical manner, and use minimal levels of sulfites to achieve their desired results. So even if a winemaker uses organically grown grapes, but engages in unethical labor practices or environmental degradation, I will not serve their wines, no matter how good or interesting they are. Our goal is always to serve delicious and food-friendly wines made in an ethical manner and in harmony with the environment. Many of our producers are so small that they can’t afford official certification (which is time consuming and expensive) but often times we know them personally and their practices are consistent with our standards and values. Of course this represents a challenge, but like all things driven by more than pure profit, the extra effort, we believe, results in a wine program that we can be proud of and excited to share with our valued and health-conscious guests.

Three Wine Picks From The Greens List (for Every Budget)

–with Mark Cartland, Wine Director, Greens Restaurant

I am often asked to select two or three different wines from different price categories so a guest has an opportunity to choose a wine that fits both their palate and budget.  Because I only select wines for Greens’ list that I believe are a perfect fit for our cuisine, guest preferences, and company principles, choosing three is always a tall order, but choose I must!  

Under $40
Kruger-Rumpf ‘Estate Dry Riesling’ 2014, Nahe, Germany $36 –  Before you rule out all Rieslings as “too sweet”, you should know that Germany now produces more dry Rieslings than sweet ones!  And when I say dry, I mean really DRY. In fact, this delicious and affordable gem on our list tastes more like an exotic Sauvignon Blanc than its sweeter cousins. And because it has Riesling in its DNA, it is tremendously friendly with a wide range of spices, sauces, and flavor profiles.  

Under $60
Do Ferreiro Albariño 2014 Rias Baixas, Spain  $54 –  This is a classic dry, white wine from Galicia, the beautiful and lush “Emerald Coast” of Northwest Spain. Albariño is the star grape of the region and in the hands of the best producers, makes a rich, savory, and citrusy wine that pairs with a wide range of cuisine. Do Ferreiro is the benchmark producer of the region, and in my opinion, no one makes a better Albariño. I think of it as everything a Sauvignon Blanc wants to be and a little bit more!

Under $100
Scherrer Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Alexander Valley, California  $81 –  I love to support local winemakers, particularly when their wine is as good as Fred Scherrer’s iconic Cabernet Sauvignon. Grapes have been in Fred’s family for over a hundred years; in fact his first wine was made from Zinfandel grapes planted by his grandfather in 1912! The 2013 Scherrer Cabernet embodies the finest qualities of Sonoma: softer, rounder tannins, a beguiling mix of dark and red fruits, and a hint of tobacco and earth to round out the finish. There were only 130 cases made of this wine so drink up while you can!  

Finding Great Wines During the Holidays

It’s no secret that the holidays are expensive and that’s why we all shop for “holiday deals”. Not surprisingly, at this time of the year, I am often asked: Are there any deals in fine wine, and if so, how do I find them? Thankfully, the answer is Yes! But like all good deals, you need to look beyond the obvious. 

1.  Avoid the Crowds: If you generally purchase wines that just received 96 points by the “hottest” wine critics, you will always pay full price and then some. If you want to find a deal, look for a wine that isn’t on the critics’ radar, but recommended by someone you trust.

2.  Explore the World: If you always buy wines in your comfort zone, you will never really experience what the wine world has to offer. Many of the most affordable and delicious wines come from producers and places you might not have considered. And I am not talking about Cabernet Gernischt from Ningxia, China; there are fantastic values to be found in places like the Loire Valley or Alsace in France. For example, a Crémant de Loire or Alsace (sparkling wines from these regions) are made in exactly the same manner as their better-known neighbor in Champagne, but at fraction of the price, and they are delicious!

3.  Consider Ingredients: Wine, like any crafted food item, is made from ingredients of varying costs. Grapes are obviously the primary ingredient, but oak barrels – particularly new oak barrels – can add considerable expense to a bottle of wine. Why is this? New oak barrels can cost between $400 and $1200 each, and if only used once, add tremendous expense to the wine inside the barrel. To find wines with “lower oak profiles” ask a knowledgable sales associate at a wine shop. They will understand, and you might even find that you enjoy the “purity of fruit” and “taste of terrior” not unduly influenced by the flavor of new oak.  

— Mark Cartland, Wine Director, Greens Restaurant

Valentine’s Day at Greens

Valentine’s Day at Greens will be a fabulous Prixe-Fixe 4-course meal for $130 per person and additional $48 for the optional wine pairing. Pjay Smik Smak will be back to play sultry jazz while people enjoy dinner. Click here for the complete menu!

Click here for Reservations