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Organic wines from the new world: Vintage Roots tasting

I’m favourably disposed to the idea of organic wines. That sounds a bit of a pompous, pretentious sort of statement, so let me try to unpack it a little for you.

I admit, I’m not a signed-on-the-dotted-line believer. I don’t think organic is always better, and I’m appalled by some of the nonsense and hypocrisy spouted in favour of the organic cause. It’s possible to farm well and in an environmentally sound way in a ‘conventional’ way, making appropriate use of chemicals only when they are needed – this is called ‘integrated pest management’.

Of course, I am disgusted by the horrific neglect of environmental concerns that have typified the modern era of viticulture, but it would be wrong to tar all non-organic vignerons with the same brush. Let’s face it, even organic farmers use ‘chemicals’, just more traditional ones which they reckon are OK.

You can farm intelligently of stupidly either way. But the reason I said I’m favourably disposed to organics is that it suggests people are taking a good deal of care about how they farm, and there’s a good chance they are going to be better respecters of terroir (the notion of a sense of place in a wine) because of this, which in my book is a good thing. It vastly increases their chances of making better wine.

So far, the lists of organic specialists such as Vintage Roots and Vinceremos have been dominated by old world producers, who, with their emphasis on terroir and viticulture have taken more naturally to organics than the winemaking-obsessed new world producers.

But this may be changing. Vintage Roots have made a number of recent additions to their new world range, and it is these wines that featured in the tasting I’m writing up here. It’s a mixed bag, with some highlights but also some ordinary wines. However, it’s encouraging to see more new world producers adopt a more caring, involved approach to viticulture.

Contact details:
Vintage Roots, Bridge Farm, Arborfield, Berkshire RG2 9HT
Tel: 0118 976 1999
Website: www.vintageroots.co.uk
E-mail: info@vintageroots.co.uk

Buenos Ondas, Argentina
Bodega y Viñedos Fabril Alto Verde SA, San Juan, Mendoza

Buenos Ondas Chardonnay 2002
Quite a ripe, fruit-forward style without too much oak. Good commercial winemaking. Very good (£5.75)

Buenos Ondas Malbec 2002
Pleasant savoury, spicy edge to the deep-fruited nose. Palate is just a little musty, unfortunately. (£5.75)

Buenos Ondas Syrah 2002
Spicy edge to the berry fruit nose. A bit simple and dilute. Clean and fruity in a commercial style. Good/very good (£5.75)

Botobolar, Australia
Botobolar Estate, Mudgee

Australia’s oldest organic vineyard, established in 1971. The vineyard is full of life: lots of grass and weeds, and, when I visited a couple of years ago, scarecrows. Apparently the philosophy of proprietor Kevin Karstrom is to work with nature and not against it.

Botobolar Shiraz 2000
Rich, ripe spicy fruit on the nose. Quite intense, with a minty, menthol edge. Vivid, juicy and spicy, but the palate is a little dilute. (Bear in mind that 2000 was a disastrous rain-affected vintage in Mudgee) Very good

Robinvale, Australia
Robinvale Organic Wines P.O.Box 314, Robinvale, Victoria 3549, Australia
Phone: 035 026 3955 Fax: 035 026 1123
E-mail: demeter1@iinet.net.au
Website: www.organicwines.com.au

Robinvale was established by George Caracatsanoudis and his wife in 1976, and is now run by sons Steve and Bill and their families. They have some 30 hectares of vineyards managed biodynamically, and a modern winery built to resemble a Greek temple. The wines are quite unusual, but I was taken by the Demeter Origins Chardonnay, which is good value.

Robinvale Organic Origins Chardonnay/Chenin Blanc/Sauvignon Blanc 2002
Striking fruity nose: very grassy with a touch of herbaceousness. This herbaceousness continues to the vividly fruited palate. A bit odd. Good/very good (£6.99)

Robinvale Demeter Origins Chardonnay 1999
Quite deep coloured. Very rich, deeply fruited nose with nice herbiness and toasty oak. The palate is concentrated and intense with an attractive oaky sheen. Unusual and quite tasty. Very good+ (£5.99)

Robinvale Organic Origins Oaked Chardonnay 1998
Very sweet creamy nose with vanilla and toffee notes dominating. Rich, concentrated oaky palate with lots of persistence of flavour. Perhaps a little too oaky but still very attractive in this style. Good concentration. Very good+ (£7.99)

Robinvale Organic Origins Barrique Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon NV
Spicy berry fruit nose. Medium bodied. Ripe juicy berry fruit on the palate with a chocolatey edge. Unusual. Very good. (£7.99)

Robinvale Organic Origins Cabernets 1998
Unusual ripe, spicy and blackcurrant fruit, with a slightly caramelized toasty edge. A bit weird. Very good (£8.95)

Kawarau Estate, Central Otago, New Zealand

Kawarau Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2002
Lean, crisp grassy nose. Palate is quite restrained in a lean, grassy style. Not too showy. Very good (£8.95)

Kawarau Estate Pinot Noir Reserve 2000
Slightly vegetal note to the nose which shows some berry fruit. There’s an odd vegetal edge to the fruity palate. Poor (£14.95)

Richmond Plains, Nelson, New Zealand

Holmes Sauvignon Blanc 2002 Marlborough
Ripe aromatic grassy nose. Very appealing herby, grassy palate with a touch of herbaceousness. Very good (£7.85)

Richmond Plains Sauvignon Blanc 2002 Nelson
Citrussy lift to the grassy nose. Appealing, nicely weighted fruity, grassy palate with good acidity. Not too showy. Very good+ (£8.70)

Richmond Plains Chardonnay 1999 Nelson
Crisp, savoury nose with a touch of nuttiness. Quite lean, balanced palate with fruit dominating. Good acidity. Very good+ (£7.99)

Richmond Plains Pinot Noir 2001 Nelson
Vivid, cherryish fruit on the nose. Varietally true. Midweight high acid palate with lovely balance and some savouriness balancing the juicy fruit. Delicious fruit driven style. Very good+ (£8.95)

Richmond Plains Pinot Noir Reserva 2001 Nelson
Lovely spicy, herby complexity on the berry fruit nose: very appealing. Juicy fruit backed up with some savoury, spicy oak on the palate, which shows good acidity. Nice stuff with lots of character and good typicity. Very good+ (£10.50)

Sonop Wine Farm, Paarl, South Africa

Sonop Sauvignon Blanc 2002
Brightly fruited with a bit of boiled sweets character. Quite youthful and tanky – a commercial style. Good (£4.85)

Sonop Chardonnay 2002
A crisp fruity style without any oak overlay. Quite simple and fruity. Good (£5.50)

Sonop Pinotage 2002
Cheesy, paint stripper edge to the confected berry fruit. Poor (£6.75)

Sonop Shiraz 2002
Ripe, forward sweet berry fruit nose. The palate shows brambly berry fruit with a blackcurrant edge. Tasty, but sweet and a little bit confected. Good/very good (£6.85)

Stellar Organics, South Africa
31° South Organic Cellar, Western Cape

Stellar Muscat d’Alexandrie 2002
Very pretty, sweetly perfumed nose, with rose petal and floral notes. The palate is fresh and fruity with a dry finish. A little short, but a striking wine if you like the style. Very good

Stellar Colombard 2002
Bright fruity nose with a citrussy twist. The palate is fruity with a bright, fresh character. Lively fresh white. Good/very good (£4.95)

Stellar Wooded White 2002
Appealing forward fruity nose: crisp with a touch of nuttiness, and the oak very much in the background. Nice savoury edge to the palate with a touch of structure from the oak. Very good (£4.95)

Stellar Merlot 2002
Clean and correct with brambly berry fruit. Tasty commercial style. Good/very good (£6.50)

Stellar Pinotage 2002
Appealing ripe berry fruit with some cheesy complexity. Full flavoured and ripe. Nice commercial winemaking. Good/very good (£6.50)

Stellar Shiraz 2002
Spicy edge to the berry fruit. Clean and quite approachable. Good/very good (£6.50)

Barra Vineyards, Mendocino, California

Barra Pinot Noir 2001
Simple berry and cherry fruit with a savoury twist. A bit dull, really. Good/very good (£6.50)

Barra Zinfandel 2001
Rather simple berry fruit. Ripe but boring, in a commercial style. Good (£6.50)

Vinos Organicos Emiliano (VOE), Chile 

Vinos Organicos Emiliano (VOE) Novas Carmenere/Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 Colchagua
This is a blend of 63% Carmenere, 34% Cabernet, 2% Syrah and 1% Mourvedre, with roughly two thirds aged in French and American oak barrels. Very deep coloured. A bit shy on the nose initially, but on the palate it is a powerful, richly fruited wine, with a spicy edge to the full textured palate. It is very ripe with lots of blackcurrant and berry fruit, but there’s more to it than just pure fruit with some nice structure. Very good+ (£5.95)

VOE Novas Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 Maipo
A blend of 97% Cabernet Sauvignon with 3% Syrah, mostly aged in French and American oak barrels. Ripe blackcurrant fruit on the nose with some chocolatey richness. The palate shows vivid fruit with some good acidity. Not too rich and sweet, with firm spicy tannins on the finish. Interesting and quite structured. Very good (£5.95)

VOE Coyam 2000 Colchagua
A blend of 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 22% Carmenere, 12% Syrah and 2% Mourvedre, aged for 12 months in mostly French oak barrels. Yields are 4 tons/hectare. Sweet silky berry fruit on the nose with some distinctively Chilean green herbal and chocolate notes. The palate still displays that distinctly Chilean primary blackcurrant fruit, but this is amply backed up with tannic structure and subtle spicy oak. Good concentration here: structure matters in a wine and this has it. Very good/excellent (£8.95)  

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