Like time travellers and Yogi Berra's mind-bending witticisms, organic wine seems stuck in a paradox. It keeps growing in popularity, yet most consumers are disinclined to pay more for it. In fact, in the case of highly rated wines, those that are explicitly labelled organic often fetch lower prices versus comparable-quality cuvées made via conventional means.
That apparent organic price "penalty" is a key upshot of a recent study conducted by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Researcgers tracked more than 400 premium Tuscan red wines that were produced by 50 wineries between 2000 and 2008 and sold through online retailers in the Italian and American markets. (Narrow though the data set was, the study was designed to have statistical relevance beyond just Tuscan wines.)
To rule out sticker-price differences that could be attributed to differences in hedonistic wine quality, the researchers, led by former graduate student Lane Abraben, used a complex economic model that factored in published reviews by such tastemakers as Wine Spectator magazine and in uential critics Robert Parker and Steven Tanzer.
Oddly, of the bottles produced organically but not labelled as such (a common practice in the premium-wine sector, where many producers believe the designation carries a hippie stigma), consumers were often willing to pay more than they would for standard wines. This is presumably because such wines are, in many cases, associated with higher critical scores. But when it came to bottles branded as organically certified, another picture emerged. It seems the organic boast did indeed act as a turnoff, in many cases driving down prices that wineries were able to fetch.
Published last month in the journal Food Policy, the results stand in contrast to the general grocery marketplace, where consumers typically pay more for items that have been certified organic. In Italy, for example, surveys have shown that shoppers are willing to fork out anywhere between 10 to 40 per cent more for such products, while in the United States the premium ranges as high as 60 per cent. This seems justi ed given the generally higher cost of farming without quick-fix chemicals.
The Florida findings might seem especially odd coming at a time when demand for – or at least the supply of – wines produced without resorting to artificial pesticides and fertilizers is booming. Globally, the market is projected to grow by more than 10 per cent annually between 2017 and 2021, according to a new report by London-based market-research firm Technavio.
And organic wines have vastly improved from the generally dull, oxidized plonk of the 1980s. They even tend to garner higher scores from certain critics than standard wines, according to a joint American-French study I reported on last year (though many such wines are not explicitly labelled organic).
But I guess a lot of health-conscious and environmentally sensitive people would rather spend less on organic wine in order to save cash for important items like organic frozen waffles and GMO-free cheese puffs.
The wines below are all made from organically farmed grapes. Try one if you feel so inclined. If you'd rather not, don't worry. As Yogi Berra might say, nobody's going to stop you.
Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014, France
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $89.95
The Perrin family plunged into organic farming in the pre-Silent Spring 1950s, before pesticide alarm bells began ringing around the world. This is the flagship, a big southern Rhône red that can vary significantly from vintage to vintage. Think of a strawberry, then imagine a bracing combination of Provencal herbs, cracked pepper and bright acidity. Worth cellaring for up to a decade. Available in Ontario at the above price, $85.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta.
Château Juvénal La Terre du Petit Homme 2014, France
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $27.95
Smooth and chunky, this organic grenache-syrah blend from the Rhône sure is concentrated and ripe, at 15-per-cent alcohol. Plum-blackberry fruit mixes with licorice, herbs and damp earth. Creamy and luscious. Available in Ontario at the above price, $25.95 in Quebec.
M. Chapoutier Les Meysonniers Crozes-Hermitage 2014, France
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $28.95
Chapoutier (the brand with the em- bossed Braille labels) is a big name in France's northern Rhône and mostly farms organically. Here's a fine offering from one of those pesticide-free vine- yards, a full-bodied syrah that suggests blackberry jam, licorice and black pepper set against a polished texture and ultra-fine tannins. Available in Ontario at the above price, $26.49 in British Columbia, $35.54 in Saskatchewan, $28.99 in Manitoba, $34.99 in Nova Scotia.
Momo Pinot Gris 2015, New Zealand
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $19.95
From Seresin Estate, a leading light in the organic/biodynamic wine world, this displays the opulent yet still well-priced side of fine pinot gris (the same grape of pinot grigio fame). Medium-weight, it comes across with pear-like fruit on a seductively oily texture, with a touch of spice on the finish. Fermented with wild yeast, too, and partly matured in French-oak barriques. Available in Ontario.
Tormaresca Trentangeli 2014, Italy
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $19.95
Tormaresca lies on the heel of Italy's boot, far to the south. Aglianico, one of the south's great red varieties, plays the star here, with smaller proportions of cabernet sauvignon and syrah in the organic mix. Sweet, smooth and spicy, it conveys a core of blackberry jam, prune, raspberry and baking spices. Available in Ontario at the above price, $19.49 in British Columbia (on sale for $17.49 until June 3).
Palacios Remondo La Vendimia 2015, Spain
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $16.95
This is a red Rioja, but in a lighter, fresher, fruitier style than is par for the course in Spain's best-known wine region. And the fruit is organically farmed and vinified by one of Spain's most revered modern houses (with very pretty label designs). A blend of 60-per-cent tempranillo with 40-per- cent garnacha, it's medium-full and savoury, with spiced berries and a still grapey, youthful essence. Designed for early consumption. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $17.99 in Manitoba, $17.20 in Quebec.
Angove Organic Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Australia
SCORE: 86 PRICE: $15.95
Here's a red that wears its organic designation loudly and proudly. Angove, a family winery since 1886, has plastered "organic" across the label in big, bold lettering, with "cabernet sauvignon" in relatively tiny script, almost as a footnote. I suspect such conspicuousness could turn off as many consumers as it will turn on. But this is priced presumably for the "green"-conscious shopper, not for cigar-chomping collectors. Medium-full, it leans toward the simple side, with currant jam and candy-shop fruitiness, a whiff of smoke and notes of cedar and mint. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.
Lupi Reali Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2015, Italy
SCORE: 86 PRICE: $10.95
No need to guess this wine's politics. The green capsule on the neck tells the tale in a word: "organic." Also, the name – it translates to "royal wolves" in English – is a tribute to a nature preserve devoted to restoring the endangered Italian wolf. The wine is uncomplicated, a light-medium-bod- ied quaffer with tart-berry fruit, herbs and a saline snap. Oh, and it's vegan friendly, which is to say clarified with- out the use of animal products, such as egg whites. Available in Ontario.