Explaining new wine categories – what is biodynamic wine?


Over recent years, there has been an increase of natural, organic and biodynamic wines onto the market. But if you’re not sure quite what these labels mean, you’re not alone. They can be difficult to understand at first glance, so here’s a breakdown of these new types of wine.

While enjoying a glass of wine is a simple pleasure for many people, the labeling and categorisation of the much-loved beverage is complex. And when you’re searching for the perfect wine, working out which country, region and quality to choose can be overwhelming.


Natural, organic and biodynamic wine categories

Wine labeling also varies from brand to brand. For example, you could find an Australian chardonnay with both the country and the grape clearly marked on the label. However, if you pick up a typical Chablis, the label generally won’t tell you that it’s also made with chardonnay grapes.

This is partly what makes wine such a fascinating industry. It’s also why there are so many collectors and wine aficionados who take pleasure in learning all about the endless varieties on offer. It’s also important to many people to understand exactly what is in the wine they’re drinking, particularly in these health-conscious times.

All of which has set the stage for a growth of natural and organic wines. Natural wine can be found everywhere now, with varieties easily available from wine merchants, in supermarkets and in bars. Others focus on many different types of artisanal wines, including biodynamic and organic. But what does biodynamic wine mean? And how does it differ from organic?


What is organic wine?



This relatively new category of wine is among the simplest, particularly as consumers are familiar with organic food. Just as organic food is grown and cultivated with no herbicides, fungicides or artificial pesticides, organic wine is too. Vineyards use natural products to fight disease and encourage their vines to grow. The rules for organic wine also mean that certain additives cannot be used to make the wine. Organic wine is popular with people looking for a certain level of quality and who take sustainability seriously.


What is biodynamic wine?


Biodynamic wine follows a specific ideology that states for a vineyard to be the best it can be, it must be harmonious and balanced. Organic vineyards aren’t enough to fulfill the specificity of biodynamic wine.

Winemakers use crop rotation, for example. By resting and alternating crops, the soil is given the chance to replenish its nutrients. They also spray the soil with natural pesticides and substances, including manure, minerals and various flowers. Some prune and maintain the vineyard according to the phases of the moon, and others take it even further by playing music to their plants.

Whether the more spiritual aspects of biodynamic wine truly work, the makers are producing popular wines. After all, the ancient Romans and Greeks also grew and harvested their crops in the same way, so there must be something in it.


What is natural wine?


This is a trickier category to quantify. With organic and biodynamic wines, there are clear rules to follow and accreditations to earn. However, natural wine has no specific body overseeing it. This means that there are no widely accepted rules as to what constitutes a natural wine.

However, the basic idea is that the grape’s growing process is interrupted as little as possible. As well as avoiding all chemicals, growers of natural wine grapes also don’t use filtration. This process removes all of the particles that result in a cloudy wine. In addition, they only use naturally occurring yeasts and add a tiny amount of sulphur. With no enzymes or sugar added, natural wines follow a very different path of production that regular wines.


Research says red wine is good for your health – here’s why

Researchers from King’s College London say their new research shows red wine is good for your health. The findings suggest that red wine increases the number of different good bacteria in your gut, which improve general health.

The research team say that the benefits from red wine comes from the polyphenols present. These compounds are still present in cider, beer and white wine, but in much smaller quantities. They’re also found in many vegetables and fruit, which is why they’re so good for you.

Wine is good for your health, but how much should you drink?

Just one glass of red wine every two weeks is enough to make a positive difference to your gut health. The researchers say that it’s about limited quantities of the high levels of polyphenols.

Polyphenols are present in lots of plant foods. The micronutrients are full of antioxidants, which is why they offer health benefits. Current scientific thinking suggests that polyphenols can help improve digestive issues, help to manage weight, control diabetes and improve the prognosis for people suffering from cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative disease.

The polyphenols present in red wine include resveratrol, which comes from the skin of the grapes. They are thought to act as fuel for the useful bacteria and microbes that live in the bowel.

Gut bacteria is essential for good health

Human guts are crammed with trillions of micro-organisms and bacteria. It’s these so-called ‘friendly’ bacteria that work to keep us healthy. A growing raft of research shows that tiny alterations to the microbiota in our gut can make us much more susceptible to illnesses. The common problems associated with this include irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, heart disease and mental health.

If we eat poor diets, have sedentary lifestyles or even take certain types of medication, it’s possible that the fine balance of our gut health can be destroyed. And that’s what leads to illnesses.

The King’s College London study on the possible health benefits of red wine was published in medical journal Gastroenterology. It studied thousands of people and their eating and drinking habits from all around the world. Participants from the Netherlands, the US and the UK, are all twins. During the study they reported on their diet, what they eat, what they drink and what type of alcohol they regularly ingest.

Red wine drinkers show diversity in gut bacteria

Red wine drinkers from the study showed much more diverse gut bacteria than those who drink other alcoholic drinks, or none at all. And the more red wine you drink, the more the good bugs multiply. However, the researchers say that none of the people studied are heavy drinkers.

Just one glass a week or a fortnight, depending on your gut makeup, is enough to reap the microbe advantages of red wine. Needless to say, heavy drinking is not encouraged by the research team. They warn that drinking too much red wine will have a poor effect not only on gut bacteria, but the overall health of the person.

As this is what’s called an ‘observational’ study, it does not prove red wine is good for the gut. However, it can be surmised that if you want to drink something, red wine is probably better for you and your health than other alcoholic drinks.

Researcher Dr Le Roy says that she wants to do further study on people drinking red wine or red grape juice without alcohol. She tells BBC.com: “Gut bacteria is complex, and we need more research. But we know that the more diversity there is, the better it appears to be for our health.”

What is fortified wine, and should you try it?

If you’re a wine lover, you may stick to tried and tested favourites, or you might be willing to try pretty much anything. But have you tried fortified wine? And what exactly is it?

Fortified wine is differentiated from regular wine as it contains a distilled spirit. This can be brandy, whisky or others, and gives the wine a unique flavour. It’s also higher in alcohol and has more sugar than normal wine.

Why was fortified wine first made?

The idea behind fortified wine was originally to prevent it spoiling by upping its alcohol. Before modern refrigeration it was much more difficult to stop all kinds of produce from getting spoiled, including wine. It is fermented, which is a process that converts the grapes’ sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol.

During this process, the distilled spirit is added at different times. This boosts the amount of alcohol in the wine and alters the flavour. If the spirit is added to the wine before fermentation is complete, the end result is much sweeter. If the spirit is added after the process is finished, it will be a drier end product.

Both dry and sweet fortified wines are traditionally served before or after meals as aperitifs or digestifs. They’re thought to stimulate the appetite and help digestion, which is why they assumed these roles over the years. Other types are commonly used in cooking to add extra flavour to dishes.

Types of fortified wine

The most common types of fortified wine include Port, Sherry, Vermouth, Marsala and Madeira. You’ve probably heard of all of these, but do you know the difference between them?

  • Port wine originally came from Portugal, although it’s now made everywhere. Before the wine finishes the fermentation process, brandy is added, which gives a rich, sweet flavour.
  • Sherry comes in lots of different kinds, depending on the grapes used. Traditionally dry, it can also be sweetened and serves as a dessert wine.
  • Madeira originally hailed from the Madeira Islands in Portugal. It is oxidised and heated, with brandy added at different times during the fermentation process.
  • Marsala is fortified with spirits after fermentation, leading to its unique, dry flavour.
  • Vermouth is available in both sweet and dry versions and is a fortified white, flavoured with different herbs and spices. These include cinnamon and cloves but differ according to the brand. It’s the main ingredients of famous cocktails, including Martinis and Manhattans.
Fortified wine is higher in sugar and alcohol

Fortified wine has high levels of antioxidants, which are thought to protect against cell damage, and help fight some diseases. It is, however, higher in calories than normal wine. For example, Sherry contains almost twice as many calories as red wine, but as it’s served in smaller quantities than wine, this doesn’t necessarily cause a problem.

It also has higher levels of alcohol than normal wine, due to the addition of the distilled spirits. Fortified wines generally contain around 20% alcohol, while regular wine hovers between 10% and 15%.

Which reds, whites and rosé are the ideal wines for summer?

With the long, hot summer days rolling by, it’s always nice to find new wines to enjoy while dining al fresco. Summer favourites tend to be whites and rosés, but don’t omit red wines entirely, as there are plenty to choose from.

If you’re throwing a summer party, get plenty of rosé in, as that is what people generally expect. Think of it as the crowd-pleasing choice, particularly now there are lots of lighter, drier, classier versions to enjoy. Rosé is not longer synonymous with overly sweet wine, and the perfect bottle is delicious served chilled with dinner party food. Try something like Estandon Lumière Rosé, which is a very classic, pale rosé from Provence, which provides a crisp, refreshing bottle for long summer evening.

White wines for summer

It’s always a good idea to include a couple of different white wines for a summer dinner party. The best choices for hot weather are those that are young, fresh and fruity with a crisper edge. If you are sticking to tried and tested, then you’ll be looking for a sauvignon blanc, perhaps from New Zealand.


But if you’d rather choose something that is guaranteed to please your guests, but is also a little different, then choose a vinho verde from Portugal, or a picpoul. Both of these are sure to hit the spot. For example, Portal do Minho Vinho Verde is the ideal easy drinker, packed with crisp, fresh notes with a fruity edge. If you’re serving up a feast packed full of Italian cuisine, then you could go for a safe match, such as the Nosiolo Trentino from Mastri Vernacoli Cavit.

Red wines for summer

Many people avoid red wines altogether when it comes to summer drinking, but it’s always worth including them for balance. It can be more difficult to choose something that will suit your guests, particularly as some people always want to stick with a heavy, oaky red, even in the heat. However, even the most ardent rich red wine drinkers will find it hard going throughout an afternoon or evening party in the hotter months, particularly if they’re served at outside temperatures.

Try ditching oak-aged red wines completely and switch to a juicier, lighter, more exciting red. There are lots of pinots from Spain, Portugal and France to try, and although they’re a bit more expensive, they’re worth it. Try a high-quality Beaujolais for a real taste of summer in a glass.

How do tannins affect the flavour of wine?

Some types of red wine make your mouth feel ‘dry’ when you drink them. New research into why this happens finds out why tannins affect the flavour of different wine types.

The character and quantity of red wine tannins are often affected by different factors. These include how thick the grape skin is, the climate of the growing season and how the wine is cellar stored.


Different wine types affected by tannins

Researchers have published their findings in the latest issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry regarding the effect of tannins. They show that the tannins in Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, are more numerous, contain more pigment and are physically larger than the tannins in Pinot Noir.

They experimented by extracting tannins from a Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Sauvignon and discovered that tannins from Cabernet form more protein in saliva. This backs up previous research that shows wine can cause a dry mouth sensation when proteins in tannins and saliva interact.


What are wine tannins?

Tannin is a polyphenol that appears naturally in plants, wood, leaves, seeds, bark and, of course, fruit skins. In wine, tannins add astringency, bitterness and complexity of flavours.

Wine tannins are usually present in red wines however it is possible for tannins to be present in white wines if they are oak aged. Tannin is dry and tasted in the front part of the mouth as well as the middle of the tongue. An easy example to try of pure tannin is in unsweetened black tea.

Tannins in wine come from either the grapes or the wood of the barrels it’s aged or stored in. Grape tannins are in the stems, skins and seeds of the grape, and as red wines have more contact with the skin there is more time for tannins to dissolve in the liquid. On the other hand, wood tannins dissolve in wine if they are in contact with the liquid.

Examples of red wines that are high in tannins include Petite Sirah, Monastrell, Nebbiolo and Cabernet Sauvignon. Lower tannin wines include Zinfandel, Grenache and Pinot Noir, which is why the researchers used Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir to discover more about tannins.


Different factors affect wine taste

The researchers also found that tannins don’t make these changes happen on their own. Other factors within wine affect the tannins and how they affect the flavour and taste of the wine.

In the article, the team of researchers say: “When the opposite type of tannin was put into Cabernet or Pinot wines, the sensory panellists could not detect differences in dryness. For example, when Cabernet tannins were added to a Pinot wine, the drink appeared to have the same dryness as the original Pinot.”

They also point out that aromas from the wines would also have influenced the test panellists’ perception of the flavour of the wine.