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Organic Wine Club | Organic Wine Reviews by Alexander Thomson-mclean - 5d ago

Over the last 2 years I have been immersed in wine, organic wine every day, wine tasting, wine sales, people working in wine. It’s just really always wine, wine and more wine.

But with my life before this I have always had wine as part of life somehow, and you end up collecting funny and quirky stories and wine related topics. So, I thought I’d share some of them. 

Do you know why wine glasses have stems?

Back in Royalist France, the elite had a problem, how do we look different from the paupers in the fields. The ‘paupers’ were obviously tanned from the outdoor labour which is why the aristocracy painted their faces white as a status symbol of their wealth.

But all the white powder made a mess, it got into everything including the wine. So wine glasses were created with stems as something to hold onto so that the wine didn’t spoil with their make-up.

It was the ancient Romans who started the traditions of cheers!

So, for over two millennia we have been drinking wine and cheers-ing. Well kind of. In the beginning to try and reduce the levels of acidity on the wine they drank, the ancient winemakers would dunk toasted bread into the wine.

Why? Well I’ve been told far too many varying reasons, each just as ridiculous as the others.

But people have considered dunking bread into wine over the centuries since. Today we have beans on toast, but in the 14th century the peasants would eat wine-soaked bread, or sop as it was known. Sir Francis Bacon is recorded as mentioning that these sops sometimes were better quality and more potent that the wine itself.

There is also a German Carnevale tradition that I have done probably far too often that involves bread and wine, but it was late in the night. Linguosts and historians believe that this tradition has led to the word ‘Prost’, the German for cheers.

Oenophobia is a real thing

Yes, for some strange reason people have a fear of wine. I understand abstention for pretty much every reason imaginable but being afraid of wine made me curious.

Oeno is from the ancient Greek word for wine, which is coincidental, as it was the ancient Greeks who begun the trend for toasting to one’s health. Mainly this was because the host was hoping that nobody had poisoned the wine and that he was going to live! 

Seriously though, it’s real and it’s crippling for theses unfortunate souls. It’s not just the fear of wine itself, but also the fear of touching wine, spilling wine or someone else spilling white (but we’re all afraid of that) and it can manifest into some irratic and irrational behaviour, sickness and vomiting and extreme stress that can force people into bed for a few days!

For me, I think I’m more of a novinophobic!

You can't have an allergy to sulphites

Well thats strictly not true, you can be allergic, but you wouldn't be able to continue to be alive.

The chemical name for sulphites added comes in various ways, from e-numbers E220-E229, to different spellings like sulphites, sulfites and then there is SO2. Sulphur dioxide is in everything really. Its going to be present in pretty much anything fresh that you eat or drink, the cosmetics you have in your bathroom and most importantly the air that we breathe. 

The consequences of a sulphite intolerance can be severe and we all will have very different side effects. As hard as it is to admit sadly 100% sulphite free wine, or the holy grail of wine lovers, does not really exist. Every wine in the world will contain natural sulphites, which are not really better for you, but at least its natural. 

With the wines in our selection, almost all of these wines have a sulphite count thats lower than 45 mg/l. Although there is no law, it has been proven that if you have an intolerance of somewhere between general level to severe almost all wines with a combined level that reaches the 45 mg/l you should be able to drink and enjoy without the dreaded difficulties which normally include severe migraines with the pain behind your eyes, breathing difficulties through the nose when your awake or trying to sleep and skin irritations. 

If you are looking to explore, its definitely suggestible to start with wines as close to zero sulphites as possible and then work up to try and find out where your magic number is!

Women are better at wine tasting

Despite the strange reason for our gender inequalities this is something thats true, women are better distinguishing aromas and flavours of wine. Theres 2 reasons for this is because women have shorter tongues meaning that the 8000 taste buds are closer together helping to distinguish the flavours quicker and then relaying this to the brain.

Then there is the nose and again women have the edge. Oestrogen causes many imbalances through a womans life, and especially when pregnant, which plays a part. But men are the real cause for this. Evolution has shown that men sweat and smell more than women, so mens nasal glands have enhanced over time so that men cant smell themselves!  

Some other random bits & pieces, or caps & corks,

There is some many other little things, but these are just a few like

  • in Japan you can buy a wine flavoured KitKat
  • in Italy there is an actual wine fountain that runs in Rome 24 hours a day and
  • in Germany the oldest bottle wine is currently on display in Germany which dates back to 325 A.D.
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The thought of buying premium wines for me starts from with an exclusive postcode, in a stuffy old shop with the smell of cigar smoke, lined with cedar paneling with the best possible service from a wine professional extraordinaire who directs you with their own personal recommendations about what they like rather than what I do.

Well thats just my thoughts, and putting pen to paper and reading this back, seems that my mind may be closed off to the idea of buying a premium bottle of wine. I think that I have a sightly different approach than most in this industry, but it's also worth noting that I have visited and purchased from two London wine boutiques within esteemed central London postcodes. So I am relatively objectionable. 

But what is it that gives these bottles the recognition of this title? Is it the brand name printed on the exterior label, the grape variety and its availability, or is it just another tag to try and justification of its price?

For many of us, myself included, the thought of paying over £10 for bottle of easy-drinking wine for everyday occasions, or Wednesday wine as its affectionately known in my store, is just plain stupid. These wines are really not for savouring over a Michelin star 10 course dinner and its probably not going to kept in the back of the cupboard under the stairs for your child's graduation or first born child. It's a wine that you personally really enjoy with your quickly prepared dinner before getting stuck into work emails or household chores after a pretty standard day at work. 

So with being objectionable, lets consider these points;

The Brand Name

We all know that value is added in many respects with a brand name on the label, but that really doesn't affect the taste or quality of the wine. I have tried and bought wines of this nature, but I would suggest that as if you added the label to the wine, or any wine for that matter, it probably wouldn't taste very nice! 

But the name and the logo does add something, it offers an element of trust that cannot be offered in the same way by many of the artisanal organic winemakers we work with. Some of these names offer age old traditions with top levels of quality and prestige. There is also the feel good factor that these labels can bring. I know that I understand this completely, just opening the doors of both double wardrobes and you will see nothing more than label after label. 

Having that trust and an element of pride in the name and the brand is all fine and well. However does that mean that they are automatically allowed to add a surplus, of any amount at their discretion, simply because they deem that worthy of this? How do you quantify this level of trust? Like many small business owners, I understand the difficulties of trying to offer the best possible price for a product, but I still have rent to pay and a dog to feed.

Consider this, ultimately there are a huge number of factors that can cause ill effects to the wine that you might end up consuming, where many of them are completely outside anyones control. I suppose when that happens you just need to hope they have a good customer service department, especially as you probably won't be able to send back an open bottle of wine.

The winemaker

With excitement reaching fever pitch levels this summer, lets consider the outstanding contributions of Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham Hotspur or Gareth Southgate's impact on the current England national football team. Winemakers have knowledge, wisdom and skills that are just as important, if not more so, dependant on your level of love of the nations favourite sport. 

Considering the variances in climates, soil types, and freak weather anomalies, the vines have to learnt how to adapt over time. Many of the worlds most esteemed winemakers have spent time in vineyards across the world in some of the most revered regions. From this they have learnt from the greatest wine universities in the world, with some of the greatest brains sharing and passing down their knowledge to the next generation.   

Like the world of football, there are notable instances when they just didn't get it right. Migration of people, clashes of personality and differences of opinion however have offered some of the greatest fails across the world. Despite this, we should encourage and accept these, as within the same global arena we have been happy to accept the greatest successes.

The grape and the winemaking process

This may seem mean, but it's true. When the sun shines and your skin absorbs the vitamin D, regardless of your skin colour, everyone will get the same health benefits, and through time human bodies have developed different skin types to cope with the extremes of heat. So what does that mean for grapes? Yes they are all different and unique, they are different colours and have different skin types, but they are all used to make wine when its possible.

So lets talk about water, well I would but I cannot think of another analogy!

Hopefully you understand where I'm going with this. The sunshine and the water that's needed will be the same generally, with a few variations depending on the grape vine and the location. These vines however are living things and regardless of this they will do whatever is needed to adapt and to survive. You obviously can buy branded water, but I cant see winemakers stretching their budgets so that they can say they watered the vineyards with Evian or Highland Spring!

So for the grape that shouldn't really need much, with sunshine and water and some love from a knowledgeable expert.

The verdict and our stance

Overall there is something within premium and top level wines that does add value. But our culture of celebrity, wealth and the over-riding desire to keep up with the Jones' is potentially stopping us experiencing and enjoying the thing that we truly love and and genuinely enjoy. In terms of wine, you should be able to proudly state what you love to drink, if thats a wine from a supermarket at £5, from an independent wine retailer at £15 or something special at £50+ then you most certainly should because your life is about you.

But when you consider the points above from branding, climates and the winemaker, how do you protect yourself and your business against all these elements? Well the straight forward answer is sulphites, flavourings and additives. Many brands that want to offer the top quality wines at an affordable price need to ensure that, regardless of the crop harvested, you always get they same great taste and flavour that you love and enjoy every week and every year that you open the familiar bottle.  

While I know and accept that many brands are working to try and reduce the level of chemicals that they add to their wines to help with the brand marketing strategy and continue to safeguard the thousands of jobs that they offer and help to maintain through third party association across the world. But how do you justify adding these chemicals to renowned and still maintain the element of trust when the contents of the wine itself is clearly not stated on the label. There is also that as an employer surely you should be able to trust your own decisions on the competency of your chosen winemaker.

At Organic Wine Club, we believe in a paying a fair price for a fair wine deemed that by the winemaker. The rarity of the grape, the ingenuity of the winemaker and the costs and overheads marrying their need for profit to simply enjoy life are all factors that we consider when judging a wine for a place on our shelves.

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The world we live in is a hectic one. As we all struggle to negotiate our way through jostling crowds to get to work, facing a day spend fighting to be heard once we are there only to do it all again on our way home, it can be easy to find yourself feeling lost, disconnected, and alone. For many, to escape is to switch off when we finally make it home- not just our electronic devices, but also our minds.

This is the exact opposite of what we should be doing.

Whether it’s staring blankly at a TV screen, numbly eating snacks without tasting anything, or somehow how finishing a bottle of wine despite only remembering drinking a glass (or, indeed, all three of these vices) we’re all guilty of wanting this escapism from our crazy, 90-mile-an-hour lives. But don’t we deserve better than this?

Even for people like me, who enjoy wine for its character, there’s a certain degree of wariness about it. It’s alcoholic, after all; something health professionals warn against, government creates statistics about, and peers pass judgment on. But if we abandoned these paralysing worries, and instead embraced the good side of wine- its rich history, its ability to bring people together, the medical studies that have shown it’s actually good for us in moderation- we might be able to understand how wine can, and very much does, have a beautiful part to play in our lives, if we just open our arms to it. 

Imagine this, for a moment. At the start of every day, you are given £86,400. No strings, no hidden requirements - that’s your money. The only condition is that at midnight, it will disappear. You can’t accrue the money from day to day, so what would you do with it?

As it happens, you are given 86,400 of something each day. Time.

There are 86,400 seconds in every day, and each one is a gift that you have to accept, but cannot keep. They shouldn’t be glued down with a cheap bottle of wine bought for the sake of drinking it.

Wine is a thing to be passionate about, and you don’t have to be a connoisseur to enjoy it. Whether it’s a £5 bottle from Tesco, or a vintage Bordeaux, a wine will always have a voice that you can listen to. Mindful drinking is about engaging the senses, being present, and turning the act of drinking into an event in itself. Take a sip. Wonder at how the wine went from grapes on a wine to the glass in your hands, and let the its smells and flavours wash over you, erasing the day’s worries like footprints on a beach. Enjoy a glass alone, or pair it with food. Notice the differences when you do. Copy the continentals, and praise wine as the social thing, the family thing, the celebratory thing that is so very much is. Ponder how Spain, Italy, France and so many other countries, consider wine an essential for every occasion, to be drunk at any time of the day- and yet, they have so fewer problems with it.   

Statistics for the UK, however, are promising. Our younger generation drink less, but spend more overall - leaving the “all or nothing” approach behind, in favour of quality over quantity. Nobody’s perfect of course - yours truly is still liable to a hard and fast approach to alcohol consumption every now and then. But when it comes to wine, at least, I’ve learnt the value of taking my time. 

These days, mindful drinking is an ever-growing trend, but it has been around for a while. Articles on the topic point towards Buddhism as a source, believe it or not. Whilst monks of old were not encouraged to drink, some modern-day members prefer to combine their journey of spiritual health with the comfortable enjoyment of a glass of vino. Which is more than okay, and we have a lot to learn from their practises.

Like the other mindfulness techniques of yoga and meditation, mindful drinking aims to help the drinker reduce stress, soothe anxieties, reflect on the day’s events and look forward to the future, whilst also fully experiencing the joy of the present. The latter is a habit that we, the jittery, dissatisfied, over-worked and over-stressed generations, need to relearn.

Perhaps, by practising things like mindfulness, we can prevent ourselves from forming unhealthy relationships with the things that that are placed in front of us every day; alcohol, food, social media and TV. Mindful drinking isn’t a substitute for an alcohol recovery problem, but it is certainly a way that most of us can engage with a- let’s be honest, very popular- fraction of social life, in a healthy way from the very start. It’s one that isn’t difficult to start, costs nothing, yet offers so much in return.

And it’s never too late to begin. The next time you sit down with a glass of wine, try it. Like I said before, you don’t need to know anything about wine to enjoy doing it; if you sit down with your partner and hark on about “bouquets” and agree that all you can actually taste is slightly sour grapes, that’s okay. What’s happening is you are staying in the present, enjoying the moment rather than shutting down like a machine after the work day is done with you. Relish the passing of those 86,400 seconds, and look forward to waking up tomorrow with a fresh start… and possibly another bottle to discover.

Happy mindful drinking, everyone!

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Champagne needs no introduction. The instantly recognised silhouette of the bottle; the signature sound of a popped cork, followed by the magical clink of champagne flutes; it all oozes sophistication and elegance, and signals that something special- a toast, a speech, or a cause for celebration- is about to follow.

But perhaps its formidable reputation is becoming its downfall. In the search for more affordable fizz, the UK has become the largest consumer of Prosecco in the world, putting away millions of pound’s worth of the Italian sparkling wine annually. Whilst it can’t boast the same depth and complexity as its more expensive French cousin, it offers us great-tasting fizz and the experience of Champagne regardless; the silhouette, the cork, the flutes, they’re all the same, and Prosecco is not the only contester creeping out of Champagne’s elite shadow. Amongst the whispers down the grapevine, two big topics are coming up again and again - France, and England.

Crémant

Crémant d’Alsace is France’s best-kept secret, but the UK is starting to notice. The region makes French sparkling wines using the méthode traditionnelle- the same method as Champagne- but with a more diverse range of grapes to choose from; resulting in beautifully varied wines, and a lower price tag.

Try our Domaine Klur for £24.00, and see for yourself why this is an absolute essential this summer. Still a rare occurrence in France, winemakers have used biodynamic practises and wild yeast for fermentation; it’s this care and attention to detail that makes this a truly special bottle. A beautiful blend of fruit and brioche, a glass of this looks perfectly at home at a summer picnic, and will take Sunday brunch from average, to exceptional.

 English Sparkling Wines

In the pursuit of happiness, you might find it closer to home this year. As climate change causes the South of England to warm up to temperatures rivalling the Champagne region, many are looking to the English sparkling vineyards with increasing intrigue.

Davenport Vineyard’s first sparkling wine blends the 3 traditional Champagne grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier) with Auxerrois, a lesser known but ardently beautiful French grape. The result is a stunning wine that has a personality much like Champagne - yeasty, biscuity, with a melt in the mouth mousse - refined with the sweet hints of peach and grape.

Based in East Sussex, the winemakers have been making wines since 1991, and are committed to making every action they do environmentally friendly and sustainable. The ethos of the company is local; every wine is organic, using natural yeast, and made without any animal products. The 2010 was their first sparkling wine, which makes the fact that it won Bronze in the 2017 UK Wine Awards even more impressive. As sophisticated as it is refreshing, it certainly deserves a place in your cellar or ice bucket this summer.

In fact, the only thing it is lacking in is a hefty price- and doesn’t £29.00 a bottle taste so much sweeter? Pick up a bottle here, and don’t wait for a special occasion to crack it open. 

Red Sparkling Wines

Yep, you read that correctly- red sparkling wine exists, and it’s delicious. For a long time, the lesser-known member of the sparkling wine family has been considered overly sweet, cheap, and generally, a bit underwhelming. That’s changing, however.

The Australians saw the potential here a while ago, and have been reaching for the sparkling Syrah (Shiraz) in place of still red wines whenever there’s a meaty dish, or something decadently chocolatey to be enjoyed. The combination is heavenly, and it’s such a versatile style that it slips seamlessly into every occasion, especially summer barbecues.

Likewise, Italy shouldn’t just be associated with Prosecco - they also produce Lambrusco, a red sparkling wine.

Magically effervescent, with a velvety smoothness that comes from ruby red fruits and spicy herbs, it often packs a punch even at its characteristic 11% ABV. This semi-sweet, lightly tannic style flourishes when paired with the classic Italian choices; pasta and antipasti. Emilia Romagna, the land of Lambrusco, also specialises in balsamic vinegar and parmigiano- sipped alongside the rich, strong flavours, this lighter, slightly sweet, wine blossoms.

Curious? Our Venturini Baldini, Monoblocco Lambrusco a fine expression of the style. Try it once, and you might find yourself a convert!

Champagne still has a place in our hearts, but there’s a whole world of sparkling wines out there that are begging to be experienced. Have a browse through the Club’s selection; whether your heart tells you to keep it classic with Prosecco and traditional-style Cava, or jumps at the thought of trying the Xarel-lo (link) grape, or a sparkling red wine for the very first time, now you can.

All it takes is a few clicks.

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As a vegan, one of the biggest obstacles I face when it comes to wine - aside from the difficulty of actually working out whether a wine is vegan-friendly or not - is pairing it with food. Traditionally, wine has always been paired with rich, animal-based foods, and all the classic pairings - Malbec and steak, Sauvignon Blanc with seafood, port and cheese- are out of the question. Looking in supermarkets, or scouting out a wine merchant, you’d be hard-pressed to find many plant-based suggestions to pair with the wines. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, though!

If you know where to look, there’s actually plenty of opportunities to pair wines with plant-based dishes, and it isn’t just vegans that should be keen to explore the big, virtually limitless world of vegetable pairings. As we all become more concerned about eating healthily, and more of us start practising Meat Free Mondays, it’s high time the wine world caught up.  

Here are a few things every plant-based (or plant-curious) wine enthusiast should bear in mind when trying to pair their wines with food.

Raw vegetables need crisp whites

Raw or light, fresh vegetables tend to work well with crisp white wines with a nice level of acidity - try pairing carrots, spinach, celery, cucumber, peas, green beans, or steamed tender stem broccoli with varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Cabernet France, or even fresh, citrus-led sparkling wines. Vegetables like asparagus are notoriously difficult to match, so stick with someone thing like a Sancerre, which has a lot of minerality and vegetal notes.

However, for things like rocket leaves, which has a strong, peppery taste, it should be a bolder, more substantial wine, like a Chardonnay. And stay away from reds, because the spiciness will make the wine taste bitter.

Sweetcorn, because of the sweet, creamy nature, pairs astonishingly well with Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc!  

 Savoury vegetables prefer earthy reds, and rich whites  

For richer whites like Chardonnay, white Pinot Noir and wines with oak, try mushrooms, lentils, sweet potatoes and other vegetables with earthy notes. These will also pair nicely with sweeter, lighter reds - Beaujolais wines, and Gamay or Pinot Noir grapes - and rosés. Richer whites also have enough substance, balanced with acidity, to cut through fattier things like avocado, cashew cream sauces, or even tempura vegetables.

“Woody” vegetables - mushrooms, parsnips, celeriac, chestnuts- would work well with the earthier Burgundies, given that most of these are high quality Pinot Noir, and high-quality Pinot Noir has a lot of mushroom, vegetal and earthy animal flavours. May sound a little off-putting, but trust me; high-end Pinot Noirs are some of the most incredible wines around.

Roasted vegetables need big reds  

Many vegetables take on a wildly different personality when they are cooked compared to when they are raw - mushrooms, for example, become ‘meatier’; onions and peppers become sweeter; celery and garlic gain milder, more palatable flavours. Roasting, grilling, and braising vegetables have the potential to stand up to bigger, bolder red varieties without being overpowered. Much Italian red wine is designed to be consumed with hearty food, but consider how much they value pasta dishes, seafood, and Mediterranean vegetables. Many dishes feature cheese, but it’s a light garnish in real Italian cuisine, and you’ll find many dishes don’t need it- and by that theory, you’re wine shouldn’t either.

Opt for bolder reds, that have medium tannins and a fruity character, but with complexity; Zinfandel (USA Malbec!), Shiraz-Cabernet blends, older Pinot Noir, or Grenache. Stronger flavours, like black beans, butternut squash, garlic and bell peppers, can go up against a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Herbs and Spices need spicy, well balanced wines  

Vegetables have beautiful flavours all on their own, but they really unlock with herbs and spices. The scope here is HUGE. Moroccan dishes feature warm spices (cinnamon, nutmeg) and dried fruits (apricot and sultana)- pair falafel, or tagine, with something like Viognier to enjoy the fruit, Riesling to provide sweetness with crisp acidity, or a lighter red, like a Pinot Noir.  

Indian cuisine can vary from warm cumin to fresh coriander, which is equally good with Riesling, Chardonnay, Rioja and other fruit, spicy reds, like those from Portugal and Spain.

French and Italian food values basil, oregano, black pepper and garlic; these big flavours call for the bigger reds. And what about sage, thyme, and rosemary, the classic herbs that come to mind when we think about pork sausages, roasted chicken, and lamb? There’s no law stopping you from garnishing vegetables with these. Think about rosemary roasted potatoes, vegan-friendly stuffing or hearty, comforting sage and apple lentil burgers. Mmmm.

Bring out the umami  

Umami is a well-known wine term for those in the know; it refers to “meaty flavours’. Mushrooms, beans and dried tomatoes are all high in glutamic acids, which is what makes meat, and other foods, taste savoury and intense. The best way to pair vegetables with big reds is to add more of this umami component to them; season with savoury herbs, or add seasoning elements like soy sauce (vegan or vegetarian-friendly, of course), nutritional yeast flakes (a must for the vegan!), smoked paprika or liquid smoke, or plum vinegar.

 

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I LOVE THIS WINE! Titouan has been one of my absolute favourites wines that we have been fortunate enough to carry since we launched Organic Wine Club! I will never forget the first time I tried Barbera, at a staff wine training session in a hotel where I was a restaurant supervisor. Back then the purpose of those sessions like those was for, well a session! But amongst all of them I discovered a wine that I actually sort of liked, and I fell in love with Barbera back then in 2009.

Fast forward to today, and after what seems like a lifetime ago I get to spend today exploring, sharing and gushing over this exceptional Italian grape and a truly exquisite organic wine. I’m sure that you may have read or listened to me drag on previously about this wine, but I promise I will try not to sound like a broken record!

The Vineyard's History

This organic Barbera is from the vineyard Castello Di Tassarolo, which is owned by the Spinola family. The Spinola’s seem to be an interesting family with a long and prosperous history that dates back to the 14th century. They’re based in Tassarolo Castle, with the current owner Massimiliana Spinola, which was built in around 250 A.D. around a Roman fort. After gaining a vast wealth and influence, they have been connected to some of the greatest names in history, including Christopher Columbus as they funded half of his trip to discover America. They even have a portrait hanging in the castle of Brigida Spinola that was painted by Rubens! Having also been connected to the Papacy, the Austrian-Hungarian empire and Doges of numerous Italian states before its unification. Considering this substantial ancestory, the only person I can think to compare this too is Cosmo Di Medici.

But we’re not here for a history lesson, let talk about the wine!

A Biodynamic Belief

Currently the wines that are made here are certified organic, biodynamic, vegan friendly and made with as little sulphites as possible. They are made with as much respect for nature and life by Henry Finzi-Constantine, a London boy and Massimiliana's partner, who as a student studied anthropology and the works of Austrian Rudolf Steiner who’s philosophy of biodynamic farming came to life in 1924. The estate has been working following these methods since 2006 when Massamiliana took over the estate.

Biodynamic practice has a few different elements to it, but overall, it’s about bringing harmony to life by working with nature. At the Tassarolo vineyard they have replaced tractors and machinery with heavy horses. These horses help with pest control, fertilisation and, lets be honest, are much more interesting to be around than a tractor! To any animal lover out there, the most incredible dedication comes from knowing that the wine is named after the first horse to arrive, Titouan. 

Finally, The Wine!

This biodynamic red wine is awesome! It’s made as naturally as possible with no sulphites or additives added at any point. After the organic Barbera grapes are hand harvested from very select plots in the Municipality of Tassarolo in Piedmont, they head into the winery, where again everything is done by hand. The wine is vinified in stainless steel to help ensure that the grapes are treated with as much respect as possible following the completely natural ethos of the vineyard. The stainless-steel means that the wine will only have the flavours its meant to as nothing can be imparted or altered unlike wines that are matured in oak barrels.

With no sulphites, additives, yeast or sugar added to the wine, Titouan is 100% Barbera and as natural as it possible can be with only 20,000 bottles produced every year. When you open this bottle and pour, it’s an intense purple/red colour and just screams out luxurious and velvet! Despite this luscious looking texture, the wine is exceptionally refined and elegant. The bouquet will only offer you the typical Barbera characteristic of dark cherries and dark berries.

But when you taste this organic wine, it will surprise you. It’s soft and warming with very rounded and sophisticated flavours of what can sometimes feel like a stewed cherry bakewell tart. Its gentle nature when your supping away, offers something that’s different in comparison to wines usually made from this grape. The dark cherries and sour vanilla flavours of this Italian grape make it something that is better enjoyed when it’s chilled, but not this wine!

The finish in this wine lingers and continues to surprise you. After the contradiction between the wines appearance and its taste, the finish offers a velvety feeling that’s warm and comforting. There is so many different ways to enjoy this wine, white meats from the barbecue, game, tomato breads with fine pates or over a selection of mature hard cheeses.

But honestly in my opinion, if you want to really enjoy and get the absolute most out of this wine, open it and serve with fresh spring lamb cutlets with a very simple dark sauce. I did, and I don’t even like lamb!

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So we've all been there at some point, that dreaded part of being an adult and forced to deal with the age verification process, or as it's more commonly known, being ID'd! It's not a nice thing, trust me I know! Staff are trained to to make to seem like a compliment that you look so young.

But why is this necessary? Well there is a few reasons for this, mainly that its the law, but also that as a retailer of alcohol, we really should feel a certain level of responsibility when it comes to who we are selling our wares too. I may not have made any secret of my past, but when I consider what I used to get up too, it's a frightening prospect. Looking at the apps and filters you can add to phones, tablets and computers, life should be relatively easier for parents.

The process of age verification is easy for us in Worcester Park in our retail store. If you are fortunate enough to look under 25 years old, I will ask you for proof of your age. But what happens when we send a unmarked box of wines to an address with a national courier. Does the burden of proof of age then fall with the drivers delivering that box, or should it? Verifying this shouldn't stop at the threshold of our store, it should be taken with exceptional and paramount importance for every purchase regardless of your location. 

So, from Monday 21st May 2018, Organic Wine Club will take this to a different level as we will begin asking for you to verify your age for online purchases. This will come in the form of credit card information, drivers licence or passport information in extreme cases. After fully checking data feeds, storage information and hackability, I am fully confident that the AgeCheck system is safe, full proof and will not do anything with any data submitted. Well actually thats not true, they will not store, sell or use your information in any way, ever!

Personally age has blessed me as I have aged, I think, but even I know what kind of a pain this can be! But as a responsible retailer, Organic Wine Club wants to lead the way in assisting with this social issue and do what really should be done by anyone in a position similar to ours.

How does it work, well you will only be asked once and once you have been verified it should be no problem. You may be asked for an additional piece of information when you are at the check-out page, but thats it. If this is something that you cannot do for whatever reason, we can assist you directly. If you have any concerns, we are also happy to listen and address those. Whilst we accept that this decision may turn some customers away, we ant to stand by our social values and make sure that Organic Wine Club is responsible 100% of the time. 

Thank you, and our contact information if you need it:

alexander@organicwineclub.co.uk

020 8337 3427 / 07931 560612

40 Central Road, Worcester Park, London, KT4 8HY

https://www.facebook.com/organicwineclub

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So it would seem that natural wine has varying standards of natural-ness and some wines can be more natural than others. But how can this be, nature does what it does? We are all aware if the difficulties that come from global warming, the rising global temperatures, the extreme freak weather anomalies etc, But, if we have learnt anything from Mother Nature, you get what you give, with the increasing number of organic and biodynamic producers, we are starting to experience life without chemicals.

Did you know that the term ‘Natural Wine’ has a very open-ended definition? To define Organic Wine, you simply have to make wine that’s made from grapes harvested from a vineyard that’s free from any synthetic herbicides, pesticides fungicides and fertilisers. This is followed by a maximum level of sulphites in the wine, with 100 mg/l for red organic wines and 120 mg/l for white organic wines. Then Biodynamic wines which is similar, but goes a step further to include a self-sustainable eco-system and no extra yeasts or intervention to reduce acidity etc.

Then that leaves Natural wines, well its definition is organically produced grapes that are made with minimal intervention from the winemaker. But what exactly does minimal intervention really mean? Let’s be honest, depending on your harvest and the commercial viability of your business, that can be stretched pretty far! Vin Naturel is an organisation based in Europe that offers some kind of controls, with the minimal intervention being a maximum of 30 and 40 mg/l for red and white organic wines respectively. But now we have Les Vins Sans Aucun Intrant Ni Sulfites, or S.A.I.N.S for short.

S.A.I.N.S. and other organisations came into existence due to a rather somewhat slapstick political satire from Italy. Enoteca Bulzoni, is a wine shop in Rome that has been selling natural wines since it opened in 1929. In 2012 they were subject to an investigation by the Italian Ministry for Agriculture who forced a fine upon them because they were selling a wine under a certification that did not exist, natural wine. Whilst technically correct and incorrect at the time, the family paid and continued doing what they were doing.

So, after all this, winemakers realised that they had to do something. We all understand the need for governments to try and save money, claw back funds and make ends meet and there is difference vantage points as to how. But fining every natural winemaker due to the lack of certification really shouldn’t be allowed. After all, the only thing that they have done is care about the wine, the earth and the end consumer! 

S.A.I.N.S was started with only 11 winemakers, 10 from France and 1 from Italy and they are based on mutual trust and respect for each other as well as the earth. Entry is based on a unanimous decision without inspection to verify the claims the winemakers make. Some might say that this again can be abused, but should you have your vineyard inspected by the various government agencies you should then be able to prove this.

At Organic Wine Club, we are priviledged to now have stock of the wine from Italy from Terre Di Gnirega! This declassified Valpolicella has a beautiful aroma dark fruits and violets with an earthy and mixed berry fruit flavours and a surprising mineral finish!

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Considering the potential damage that can be done with sulphites, which is becoming more apparent, people are asking more questions, and gluten free wine has been asked about much more frequently. Yeast is a natural and essential part of fermentation to make wine, but until now nobody seems to be asking ‘is this wine gluten free?’

I’m almost certain that everyone knows someone who suffers from Coeliac Disease, and also someone else who lives a gluten free or low carb lifestyle. Whilst I am working furiously to learn more about wine, organic wine, but after getting to grips with sulphites in wine, sugar in wine and now gluten, it makes me realise just how little consumers know about the contents of a bottle of wine through no fault of their own.

Is there extra yeasts in wine?

Honestly, sometimes yes. Yeasts were not really added to wines until the second half of the 20th century. They were first sold in the US in 1974 and then into the Europe in 1977. But as grapes contain a natural, or indigenous, yeast that is more than capable of creating wines, the question is why is it needed, especially as there is a growing number of natural wines available? Then the same question arises, why is it not mentioned anywhere on the label. 

Just as sulphites are added as a stabilising agent and preservative, additional yeasts are added to aid and control fermentation, to enhance the flavour or simply that the wine can come into contact with gluten through external sources during the winemaking process. This really is needed sometimes, I mean when you consider that ‘wine factories’ or big brands will do anything to make enough wine for the world’s population, and keep it tasting the same every single time you open a bottle.

For Fermentation

In order to make wine you need yeast and as much as possible! It is essential and without it fermentation would not happen. In grapes there are multiple types and strains of yeasts that will start their sugar conversion at several different stages of the wines life before its consumed. It may occur immediately or potentially many years after the wine has been bottled. For conventional winemakers trying to sell the same guaranteed level of ‘perfection’ this is obviously a serious problem. So, the indigenous yeast can be removed and replaced with other non-indigenous yeasts as this is the best way to guarantee the end product, at any time.

Then there is the extras which are added as a necessity due purely to poor quality grapes which may not have the natural yeast levels required. There is a lot to be said for poor quality, but I wont! 

For Flavouring 

As only one example, Brettanomyces is a natural, but not indigenous, non-spore forming genus which can spoil wine. It can be countered by the addition of sulphur dioxide depending on the grape variety. Not something you will read every day, but its possibly a legitimate excuse for the use of sulphites in winemaking! But Brett can also be added to wines of certain grape varieties on purpose, mostly for red wines, but also international white varieties like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Due to the higher level of polyphenols in red grapes, they have a higher pH level and so makes them a more hospitable environment. As Brett will play with the pH level, its function when added during winemaking will help to add depth and complexity. But do we really need a dark and smouldering Pinot Noir when we get that naturally from some grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon?

The End Result

Due to the lack of transparity with wine labelling, you may never know. But this has occurred for a reason, which I think is similar to wine which is filtered and then not vegan friendly. The common joke of 'will I find fish bones in my wine' is exactly the same as 'will I find breadcrumbs!'

Could this do any damage to your health, that really depends on the wine and your gluten intolerance level as the yeasts will at some point become alcohol and not do you any damage in that sense. I have been wondering though, is there really much need to even state gluten on the label or even write this article and again really depends on your dietary requirements.

The overall probability is that wine may well be gluten free, but again, you may never know. Organic Wine Club believes in complete transparity and our collection of wines that are Gluten Free are all made with nothing added or manipulated and have not come into contact at any stage with any potential gluten products. So why the reason for this article, well its really to do whatever we can help the wine lover make the most informed choice. Why not have a look at our range of gluten free wines and expertly created cases of organic and gluten free wines.

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Over the last 2 years, learning all about wine has been pretty much all I’ve been able to get up too. Not only that, but also studying up on organic wine practices and certification. At the same time, I was also trying to understand a whole load of extra stuff about customer service in the retail environment. 

To be honest, that was mostly rubbish. Trying to open a shop would be much easier if you didn’t spend your time listening to these ‘guru’s’ about enhancing your sales techniques and understanding their body language and quirks. Honestly, just be honest and have a chat with them if they want too!

With all of this chatting, there was one thing that seemed to come up quite often. The world is falling in love with wines from Chile. Personally, I don’t think I’ve tried a Chilean wine that I have not enjoyed, immensely. In many ways, organic wines are not really that different from conventional wines, except the added sulphites, chemicals, additives, flavourings and colourings that is. The winemaking process generally follows the same route, with a few amendments depending on the winemaker and his own interpretation.

So, what is it about wines from Chile that we seem to love? Or are we just getting sick of boring old French Merlot and Italian Sangiovese? If this really is an up and coming international wine region of mega proportion’s, maybe I should start paying a bit more attention.

Chile’s Terrain

Well if David Attenborough has taught us anything, Chile is full of extremes. When you consider the vast harshness of Patagonia, it’s hard to imagine anything there being alive except the creepy crawlies. But it is generally believed that so many of the worlds grape varieties can potentially be grown somewhere in Chile. They say that’s true, but I have not tried a Chilean Catarratto yet! 

As a land mass, only around 20% of Chile lies flat, with rugged mountains peaks and the world’s highest volcano reaching a high of 22,614 feet (6,893 meters if you prefer metric). With all these highs and lows in terroir, microclimates start to appear. Which can mean some pretty awesome things can happen to the vines in the strangest of places. Look at Languedoc in France and Priorat in Spain, they have some extraordinary wines. Now, you really can tell I’m starting to become a bit of a wine geek, because I’m getting excited about the microclimates!

Chile’s Climate

That’s really one extreme to another! Whilst Chile can have exceptional heatwaves that’s adversely dry in the north, there are other parts of which suffer from freak anomalies with the weather. When you consider full length of Chile from top to bottom is 2,700 miles (4,300 km), matched equally with the extreme highs and lows of the terrain, is it any wonder that it’s a little random. As a British individual who like to complain about the weather, I’m starting to realise I should maybe fine something else to moan about when I’m in the queue at the Post Office!

What's also relatively unique about Chiles climate, is that according to the Koppen System, Chile has more than 7 different climatic subtypes including desert, alpine tundra, glaciers, subtropical and Mediterranean. So that means the weather of ever season, multiple times per day in varying locations. I just really hope that the weather presenters are well paid! 

What about the wine?

Well I know there’s a few big brands that we can all think of, but at Organic Wine Club, we have had a few that people seem to love. Ventopuro, because we all know the banana wine story by now, Armador and Orzada, our biodynamic selection from Odfjell and of course Yumbel Estacion and Estero. Generally being bold and flavoursome or clean and flavourful, Chilean wines really should have something to offer everyone.

These are all exceptional quality organic wines, made from international varieties and from grapes that you would now normally associate with Chile. Similarly, to Malbec in Argentina, Carmenere and Carignan can offer a difference in body and texture. Also just like Malbec, these were both imported from France yet are clearly very comfortable growing in the Chilean soil, as is Syrah, a genetic cousin of Shiraz.

With international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, these again will offer a different mouthfeel and flavours depending on where in the country they’re grown. You can argue that how they are made and matured plays a big part. That may be true, but when the wines are natural and made with as little intervention as possible, if any, then that shouldn’t matter. It’s the wine that’s supposed to sing, not the flavours from oak barrel!

It's pretty obvious that Chile has a way to go before it gets to the same level and volumes of France. But on a different note, the Sauvignon Gris from Estero, offers a different side to Chile’s winemaking efforts. With this the first, and still currently the only, vineyard that’s owned by a woman. With the grape almost extinct and only a few tiny pockets of vines spread far and wide across the globe. Not only is there a resurrection here, it’s also by a talented and award-winning individual. So perhaps there are other ways that Chile can look to progress?

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