Making sense of the labels on wine bottles
Wine marketers use a lot of terms to describe their wine. But what do those terms really mean? Let’s take a look on how to decode your wine labels.
The use of term “organic” is regulated by the US government and there are different levels of how “organic” a wine can be. To be organic, the wine must be made without the use of prohibited substances, genetic engineering of ingredients, and must be certified by the USDA. A 100% ‘organic’ wine contains no commercial fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, or added sulfites. They also may not be required to have the “Contains Sulfites” label on the bottle.
[learn more about organic rules from the USDA: Organic 101: Organic Wine]
If you see a label on your wine bottle that says “DEMETER” on it, you’ve found yourself a biodynamic wine. “What the heck is biodynamic wine?” You might ask. Well, Biodynamic viniculture is a practice of planting, growing, and harvesting of grapes that follows a biodynamic, or lunar calendar. This philosophy of wine growing takes organic to a new level. Biodynamic growers believe in not using chemicals or commercial fertilizers or yeast in the wine making process. It’s all about using natural ingredients to grow and cultivate the wine.
[learn more about Biodynamic wine from the Organic Wine Company: What makes biodynamic wine so special?]
Sorry to say, there really is no such thing as Sulfite free wine. Sulfites are created as part of the fermentation process, so all wines have them to some extent or another. This term is used by wine marketers to say that they do not ADD sulfites to their wines. These wines are also marketed as “no sulfite added” or “NSA” wine. If you have sulfite allergy or sensitivity, though, it is best to avoid or limit drinking wine, especially red wine which has a higher sulfite content than whites.
[learn more about sulfite allergy & sensitivity: Tell-tale Signs That You Might Be Allergic to Alcohol or Wine]
The Sustainable label discerns an energy conscious type of wine making that protects the Earth. Most Sustainable Wine comes from California, where resources can be scarce because of drought. Many Sustainable wine makers use alternative forms of energy or energy saving practices, and converse water through the use of drip irrigation and by saving run off water from the wine making process. The process isn’t as restrictive as organic growing and allows the use of some herbicides, but also requires certification.
[learn more about California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW): California Sustainable Winegrowing]
Some wine companies have adopted a Vegan process to wine making. This means that they have removed the use of animal products like isinglass [fish bladder protein], gelatin, casein [milk protein], and albumen [egg whites] which are sometimes used in the filtering/clarifying process of wine, known as fining. Mary Gorman-McAdams, a New York based wine educator, explained that egg whites are used to remove tannins from red wine which gives the wine a better texture. Vegan wines substitute these animal products for clay-based and charcoal fining agents, or skip the fining process altogether. Wine that has not been fined or filtered usually have a label that says ‘not fined and/or not filtered’ on the bottle.
[learn more from Mary Gorman-McAdams: Why Egg Whites Are Used to Make Wine?]