Organic Wine 101

Earlier this year, I researched the best organic wine bars in Boston, in a collaboration with the Organic Wine Journal, navigating my way through the biodynamic, sulfite-free, and small producers that make up the organic wine industry.

At the start of my search, I had nearly no experience in the field, and could not tell my “wine made from organic grapes” from my “organic wine,”  – and what are sulfites anyway? Since I figured I can’t be alone in this, here is a short introduction for all the non-sommeliers out there to help you make an informed wine decision, or just to be able to impress a date with the casual sentiment, “I always drink biodynamic – I prefer my wine to be harvested according to the cosmic cycles.”

Organic Wine 101

Organic Wines – These are wines that are free of pesticides, herbicides, and all that bad stuff. Natural preservatives like sulfites (more on that later) are kept to a minimum, and traditional wine-making techniques are observed, with hand-picked grapes and very little filtration.

Biodynamic Wine –  Like organic wine on overdrive, this refers to the agricultural processes involving the grapes. Biodynamic producers often use compost, and plan their harvest schedule with the cosmic cycles. Wines that use biodynamic practices are also certified organic. The concept of “terroir” is often used in describing these wines, as they are said to be the best representations of the land that they came from.

Wine Made from Organic Grapes – This is a separate category of organic wines, which are made from organic grapes, but can have added sulfites and can undergo other manipulations after harvest that are not organic practices.

Certified Organic Wines – Recognized by the small green badge of honor on their label, these are often larger commercial wines that practice organic production.

Uncertified Organic Wine – Many smaller producers practice organic production without getting certified because the certification process can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and getting certified in the US and in Europe are two separate processes. As Felisha Foster of the Boston wine bar, Spoke, puts it, many small producers believe, “My family’s been doing this for eight generations, why would we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a stamp on the back of our label for something that we’ve been doing forever?” However, it is important to be careful here because many smaller wineries will claim that they are organic when they are not, so it’s best to go on a case by case basis. But most good wine directors have close relationships with their distributors and producers and will tell you if they believe that a wine is organic.

Sulfites – These are compounds that are naturally present in all wines – so when a label says “Sulfite-Free,” it actually means no added sulfites. Sulfites are usually added into foods as preservatives, and are added to wines to stop the fermentation process to prevent oxidation (pre-mature oxidation basically means spoiled wine). The reason sulfites are such a hot-button topic in organic wines is because the ingestion of too many sulfites can cause health risks. While a little won’t hurt you at all, sulfites can destroy vitamin B1, and can cause allergic reactions such as trouble breathing. If you have aspirin sensitivity or asthma, it may be best to keep in mind that white wines contain more sulfites than red wines, and sweeter wines contain more sulfites than dryer ones. But almost all wines have sulfites. For a wine to be deemed truly sulfite-free, it would have to be tested in a lab.

Why is organic wine a big deal?

Really, choosing between organic wines and non-organic wines comes down to personal preference. Here’s a chart of some of the main pros and cons to help you decide for yourself!

Organic Wines Pros and Cons

How to tell if a wine’s organic –

  1. Organic Label – Certified organic wines will have a green sticker on their label that reads “Certified Organic.” Easy, right?
  2. Wine menus – Many wine menus will boast their organic wines by placing an asterisk next to their organic options. When in doubt though, don’t be afraid to ask your waiter or sommelier – some menus leave their organic wines unmarked, and unless you recognize the producer, it can be impossible to tell whether the wine is organic.
  3. Case by case basis – Many smaller producers do not go to the trouble or financial burden of registering their wines as organic, so when you see a smaller producer on the menu, feel free to ask a sommelier you trust whether the wine uses organic practices.

Need a jumping off point? Here is a list of some organic wines to look out for and try yourself – 

Best Organic Wines Chart

Giving & Thanking: A Guest’s Last Minute Guide

Giving & Thanking

If you’re anything like me, you’re sitting at home with your family (still in your pajamas) watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, or you’re sitting on your bed listening to your boyfriend play guitar while you wonder what to wear since it just started snowing, and what to get for a last minute host gift. If you’re in the latter category like me, here are some tips to get your Thanksgiving going without a hitch:

Bring the perfect host gift. Resist the temptation to bring wine (unless asked). Many hosts will have already bought all the necessary wine and booze to go with your meal, and by bringing a bottle, you will be throwing an impostor into the mix. If pressed for time (which, let’s face it you probably are), pick up an expensive bottle of Olive Oil or Vinegar. If you have a couple of hours before the feast, try making this centerpiece. It’s gorgeous – and edible!

Get into the holiday spirit. I am usually fairly against watching the television during the holidays – with two exceptions, one of them being the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (the other being It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve). There’s nothing like watching a hydrogen-pumped fake turkey to get you into the mood of eating one. If you’re in New York City this year, catch the balloons uptown where there are fewer tourists – anywhere above 51st Street and Sixth Avenue is usually prime for viewing!

Call your mom. If you aren’t lucky enough to be with your family this year (or consider yourself lucky for dodging that bullet), take time today to give your parents a call. Even if it’s for a quick chat, one phone call can go a long way. On that note, text your friends – they’re basically family too and it never hurts to let them know you’re thinking of them!

Find the perfect outfit. Whether finding inspiration from your closet, or running to JCrew to find something acceptable to wear to Auntie Carol’s, just remember that black is slimming, and leave room for that food baby. And a last coat of nail polish can go a long way in making an outfit look more polished.

Get outside. On the food baby note, getting some exercise on Thanksgiving never hurt. Whether it’s an early morning Turkey Trot, or a long after-dinner stroll, take time to stretch  your legs. Your post-Thanksgiving belly will thank you.

Review: All’onda (Greenwich Village)

Before moving to New York City – when the uni craze was at its peak – I saw a photo on Kate Krader’s Instagram. Captioning a bowl of Bucatini pasta nested in breadcrumbs, she wrote, “Yes on Bucatini with smoked sea urchin & spicy bread crumbs.” Although I had not yet graduated school, yet alone found an apartment in New York, I made a reservation for two at All’onda in May.

Yes on Bucatini with smoked sea urchin & spicy bread crumbs.

A photo posted by Kate krader (@kkrader) on

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How to Budget for Dining Out

How to Budget for Dining Out

One of my favorite things about living in New York is that every time I read the NYTimes Dining section, or see an Eater list of top restaurants, almost every restaurant is within a subway ride away. Since moving to New York, I’ve been to four out of five of Eater’s “hottest” restaurants and eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world, even though chances are my salary isn’t a third of the size of those dining on either side of me. One of the most common questions I get when I tell people about the fantastic meal I’ve eaten the night before, is “How did you afford that?” The short answer is that food is something I care about and make an effort to prioritize, but here are some tips I’ve adopted for being able to eat out at an amazing restaurant at least twice a month!

Have drinks at home. While having a glass of wine is sometimes a necessary part of a meal (Say Yes to the wine pairing at Noma, say No to the wine pairing at the new trendy place down the block), whenever you feel that the cocktail or wine list won’t enhance the food, skip it and look forward to the bottle of 2 Buck Chuck you have waiting at home for you! Another tip: my boyfriend and I have a deal that if one of us is taking the other out, the other person will pay for all of the drinks.

When you eat out, make sure it’s somewhere special. Don’t eat out (or order in) just to eat out. On nights where I’m too exhausted to cook, and just don’t have it in me to make anything for dinner, I stay away from the Take Out menu drawer in my apartment and head to the grocery store. If necessary, lots of stores have great ready-made options that are a fraction of the price of take-out. Trader Joe’s has great frozen foods that (while not nearly as delicious as anything home made) cost $8 instead of the $20 that China Palace will cost you.

Bring lunch to work. Never, ever eat lunch out. Think of it this way: if you spend $10 per workday on lunch, then that’s $50 per week and $200 a month. That’s an entire twenty-course tasting menu at 11 Madison Park or Sushi Nakazawa, or a dinner for two with all the drinks you want at Pok Pok. Chances are you won’t remember the fried chicken you bought last Thursday, but I can still describe in detail every piece of tuna Mr. Nakazawa served me two months ago.

Ditch your gym membership. A gym can cost upwards of $80 per month. Instead of spending your money on treadmills and barbells, try running and working out outside (it’s a better workout anyways)!

How to Cook an Entire Pumpkin Pt. 3: Pumpkin Bread

Fresh Pumpkin Bread

In honor of my favorite fall food, I’ll be taking apart a pumpkin one piece at a time to show you how to make an entire meal (appetizer, entrée, and dessert) with one five-pound pumpkin! Here’s how to make the rest of the meat and make a dessert!

My love affair with pumpkin started with pumpkin breads and pies. Every Thanksgiving, I look forward to the pumpkin pies that would come with it, but most often came out of a can, premixed with pumpkin purée, sugar, and nutmeg. After a recent purchase of pumpkin butter, I decided that I wanted to learn how to make pumpkin bread the old fashioned way, and it was much easier than I expected it to be! As long as you have a food processor, the entire preparation shouldn’t take you more than thirty minutes!

Time: 20 minutes (1 hour, 15 minutes to cook)
Yield: 1 loaf

You will need:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups shredded fresh pumpkin
1 cup toasted pumpkin seeds (I did not like the pumpkin seeds but others did!)

To make:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Sift the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla. Combine both mixtures and fold in the shredded pumpkin and pumpkin seeds (at last minute). Once the ingredients are all incorporated pour into a non- stick 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan, coated with butter.
  4. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. At this point a knife inserted into the middle of the loaf should come out clean. Cool for 15 minutes and turn out onto a cooling rack. Cool completely.

 

Credit: Adapted from Food Network