Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup

Photo by MiloSnap Photography

Colder days call for warmer foods. This soup can be as spicy or as mild as you like but flavorful and satisfying no matter what.


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 15-oz can black beans (low sodium=bueno)
  • 1 15-oz can canned pumpkin
  • 1 15-oz can diced or stewed tomatoes
  • 2 c water
  • cumin
  • chili powder
  • cinnamon
  • pepper
  • red pepper flakes


  1. In a large pot, sauté garlic in olive oil on medium heat.
  2. Add beans, pumpkin, and tomato, then spices.
  3. Add water and stir well.
  4. Simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. You’re welcome to use an immersion blender to puree the soup, but why make it more complicated?

Serve with a side of cornbread.

What to pour:

If the cold weather has you leaning toward red, you want something fruity and a little bit bold. A Syrah or Merlot would work nicely. You could also try this dish with a rosé.

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So you’ve ordered the bird and mapped out your side dishes, told your daughter her boyfriend can bring the bottle of Pinot Noir. You’ve also delegated the dinner rolls, cranberry sauce and backup wine to friends and family, but are you ready for Thanksgiving?

While the main course, with its trademark hunk of meat, is a highlight for many, another important part of Thanksgiving is the dessert course. Though pumpkin, apple and pecan pie are some of the standard, dessert can be a great place to branch out a little. This year, why not try introducing a dessert wine or two to your holiday table?

Dessert wines may be served with or instead of dessert. As a rule of thumb, the wine should be sweeter than the dessert it’s paired with. You also want to take into account acidity and intensity of the wine.

A few popular varieties include:

  • Muscat (sometimes called Moscato, not to be confused with muscadet, a dry white) is a sweet, fruity wine that has hints of peach and melon. It pairs very well with cheese. Try it with creamy desserts like cheesecake.

  • Sauternes is a white dessert wine from the French district for which it is named. It is best enjoyed with light desserts but not chocolate. Domestic varieties called Sauterne may be purchased but are thought to be lower in quality.

  • Vintage Port is a natural choice with chocolate dessert, dark chocolate truffles.

  • Tokaji Aszú is a dessert wine from Hungary, made from moldy or shriveled grapes, which are especially sweet. This wine would be perfect with a tart fruit dessert (like apple pie) or with anything caramelized.

  • Vin Santo is an amber-color Italian dessert wine that is traditionally paired with biscotti.

Joey Replice, the Beverage Director of NYC’s Pure Food & Wine is planning to serve Recioto Della Valpollicella Trabucchi 2005. Recioto, which is made from the same grape as Amarone, another Italian wine—75% Corvina and corvinone, 10% Rondinella, 15% Negrara, Dindarella, Oseleta—is a dark purple color—almost pitch black—with aromas of violets, iris, and morello cherries. This wine unfolds gradually, with notes of balsamic followed by fine floral hints, as well as aromas of cherry liquor and tobacco. The texture is silky, with balanced acidity and bright tannins. It has a long, elegant and intense finish.

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Voodoo Vintners

Whether you’re a biodynamic wine enthusiast or a skeptic who thinks it’s something only dirty hippies and Sting are into, you’ll learn something new from Voodoo Vintners: Oregon’s Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers (Oregon State University Press/Corvallis). Renowned wine writer Katherine Cole paints a picture of biodynamicism as a spiritual, “beyond organic” style of farming, practiced by “off-the-wall characters making wines in an unconventional way.”

Beginning with an in-depth look at the history of biodynamic winemaking and Rudolf Steiner, the so-called father of biodynamics (BD) Cole unpacks its origins, weaving the tale of a practice that can be traced from Paleolithic times to modern-day vineyards.

Though she leaves room for skepticism, she admits, “As someone who drives a stick shift when she’s not getting around on foot or by bike, I feel camaraderie with anyone who prefers to take the more arduous path to arrive at his or her destination. It may not be the most efficient way to get there, but it is, in my experience, always the most pleasurable.”

While the final, drinkable product may turn out beautifully (though sometimes not), the process of creating biodynamic wine can be a little, well, unusual, by most people’s standards. Take, for example, the various preparations using in BD winemaking—or preps, as they’re commonly called. First introduced by Austrian scholar Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s, preps are used as homeopathic treatments for the plants.

Prep 500, to name one, is a cow horn packed with the manure of lactating bovines and buried two-and-a-half to five feet underground for the winter and dug up in the spring. Tiny portions of the manure are then added to half-buckets of water that is stirred ritualistically and then prayed on the soil in late spring and autumn to encourage root growth. Prep 501 entails burying a cow horn packed with ground quartz for the summer. It’s dug up in late autumn and saved until spring, when a small amount of the quartz is stirred into a whole bucket of water that is sprayed over the plants to promote photosynthesis and ripening.

As she goes throughout the book, Cole describes the various other preps and their place in biodynamic winemaking. There’s also the moon to take into consideration. The lunar cycle, not to mention the movements of the stars and planets, is one of the pillars of biodynamic farming. There is also an emphasis on using raw materials from your property and protecting the environment, understanding that when you protect nature, it will protect your crops. Many winemakers do, in fact, report healthier vines after switching to biodynamic methods.

One such winegrower is Doug Tunnell, of Brick House Vineyards in Newberg, OR, which he runs with his wife, Melissa Mills. After purchasing the property two decades ago and converting it from a hazelnut and walnut orchard to a pinot noir, chardonnay, and gamay noir vineyard, he decided to transition to organic agriculture. He also began collecting a “chemical history” of the land, interviewing sprayers who had applied substances that sounded “like a chapter out of Silent Spring.” He decided to try biodynamic farming in 2000, after noticing the plants start to droop and lose character. He was drawn to the holistic, nourishing biodynamic approach, and found that it improved the health of his vineyard. “If you have healthy soil, you will have healthy plants. And if you have healthy plants, you will have better fruit. And if you have better fruit, you will have better wine. And if you have better wine, you will have better customers and happier people.” Brick House Vineyards has been a Demeter-certified biodynamic property since 2005.

Ultimately, Cole leaves it up to the reader to decide how they feel about biodynamic winemaking. Through careful research and meaningful recollections of time spent on various Oregon vineyards, Cole dispels the notion that BD is merely a trend. The winemakers she interacts with, both those who vineyards are Demeter-certified, organic, or neither, are deeply committed to this style of winemaking. Still others who either dabble in biodynamics or remain skeptical insist that the only thing that matters is a good wine, and they’ll do what it takes to make that possible.

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Maybe you need something a little stronger than wine, or perhaps you’re looking for your new signature cocktail. Or maybe you’re hosting a party and haven’t stocked your home bar since that Millennium Party in 1999. Look no further than Mardee Haidin Regan’s The Bartender’s Best Friend: A Complete Guide To Cocktails, Martinis and Mixed Drinks for inspiration.

This comprehensive book serves as a guide to the classics and to new favorites. In addition to the requisite old standards and new-fangled concoctions, you’ll find helpful suggestions for what to stock at home and what to have on hand when entertaining. There’s also advice on pouring techniques and tips on how to tell how many drinks are in various sizes of bottles.

A small sampling of the cocktails you’ll find in this book:

  • Americano (with Campari, sweet vermouth and club soda)
  • Beam Me Up Scotty (with Kahlua, crème de banane and Bailey’s)
  • Fresh Ginger Mojito (with mint leaves, lime juice, fresh ginger, spiced rum, ginger ale, and candied ginger)
  • Italian Champagne Cocktail (with prosecco, Campari, a sugar cube, and an orange twist)
  • New Orleans Milk Punch (with bourbon, dark crème de cacao, milk and nutmeg or cinnamon)
  • Satan’s Whiskers* (with gin, dry vermouth, sweet vermouth, Grand Marnier, orange juice, and orange bitters)
  • Third Rail Cocktail (with dark rum, applejack, brandy, and absinthe)
  • Windex (with vodka, blue curacao, and triple sec)

And now you officially have no excuse: make sure you’ve got all the Apocalypse fixings (page 66) ready for your 2012 party.

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Salad is often looked at as what we eat before a meal, or perhaps as a main course when we’re trying to be healthy. Patricia Wells, a journalist, author and cooking teacher based in France, asks us to reconsider the salad as a viable entree in her new book, Salad as a Meal: Healthy Main-Dish Salads for Every Season (William Morrow/Harper Collins). By including recipes for dishes often served with salad, such as soups, eggs, breads, and extras like hummus and marinated olives, Wells makes a case for putting salad in the spotlight of your next meal.

The personal anecdotes accompanying the recipes make you want to catch a flight to Provence and take one of Wells’ cooking classes, and gorgeous photos plus suggestions for wine pairings really bring the dishes to life. A few standouts:

• Provence on a Plate: Eggplant, tomatoes, goat cheese, and tapenade
• Cilantro-Flecked Heirloom Tomato Soup
• Zucchini Blossom Frittata with Goat Cheese and Mint
• Summer Salad: Green beans, toasted nuts, and cured olives
• Lobster Salad with Green Beans, Apple, and Avocado
• Sardines Tartines with Herb Spread, Tomatoes, and Mixed Greens
• Ginger and Sesame Chicken Salad with Glass Noodles

Just one word of caution: reading about Wells’ dining experiences, complete with Parisian haunts and her Provencal herb garden, may cause life envy.

Though this is a book about salad, one thing worth noting is the frequent use of meat and cheese. While vegetarians may feel slightly put off, others may consider the copiousness of bacon within these pages a very, very good thing. One other thing to be aware of—a few of the recipes call for equipment most home cooks may not have, such as a deep fryer. While it’s easy enough to go online for suggestions on makeshift alternatives, it’s probably better to figure that out before it’s time to submerge the falafel in hot oil.

In general, though, the recipes are straightforward and engaging. Whether you’re pulling greens from your backyard garden or foraging for goat cheese at your local Trader Joe’s, you’ll be sure to find something that speaks to you in Salad as a Meal.

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Vegan Wines

Most of us would assume all wines are vegan – it’s just fermented grapes. Before wines are bottled, however, they go through a clarification process to remove proteins, yeasts and other organic particles. Animal products are routinely used to bond with these unwanted substances to form larger particles which then sink to the bottom of a cask or tank. Commonly used fining agents are:

       • Animal albumin (egg albumin and dried blood powder)
       • Casein and potassium caseinate (milk proteins)
       • Edible gelatin (made from bones)
       • Isinglass (made from the swim bladders of fish)

Even though these animal products are removed and not present in the finished wine, wine drinkers who wish to avoid anything made with fish bladders and dried blood may prefer vegan wines, which are clarified using clay like Bentonite.

Joey Repice, Beverage Director at Pure Food & Wine in New York seeks out vegan wines to accompany their raw, vegan menu. “I don’t think that anyone goes to more length than we do to get vegan wines,” he says. The restaurant’s list comes with a guide that allows diners to learn more about the wine they order. Vegan wines are noted with a “v.”

It can be difficult, however, to always know for sure. “If a wine on our list doesn’t have a v next to it, it doesn’t mean they’re not vegan,” says Repice. “It just means I could not obtain information from the winemaker.” He adds, “We go to the lengths to find winemakers that are responsible—to the vineyards, to their customers, to winemaking.”

Its also worth noting that organic and vegan are two separate concepts in winemaking. A wine being organic gives no indication it may also be vegan, and vice-versa. Like everything else in wine, if something matters to you it may not always be easy to find the information but it’s not impossible. Here’s one list to help get you started.

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Goat Cheese Grits with Rosé Wine

Despite their versatile, fruity flavor, rosé wines are often overlooked. France is the leading producer of rosés, but Spain, Portugal, Australia, Italy and the United States also offer plenty of varieties. The warmer weather of spring and summer is the perfect opportunity to uncork a bottle of this so-called “patio-wine” to enjoy with a meal.

These wines range from sweet to dry, and with a lower alcohol content and high acidity they are easy to pair with a wide range of dishes. Since rosé wines are produced from the same dark grapes as red wine, consider the body of the grape when making a selection. Something to keep in mind – the lighter the color, the lighter the taste. It’s fantastic with spicy foods like curries, but it works equally well with backyard barbecue fare. It also complements egg dishes like omelets and frittatas quite nicely and would be a great wine to serve at a summer brunch. A tart goat cheese perfectly balances the fruitiness of the wine. 
Here’s a recipe for goat cheese grits that would be great with poached eggs and a colorful salad.


  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup uncooked grits (quick-cooking is best)
  • pinch of salt
  • ½ cup goat cheese
  • pepper to taste


  1. In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add salt and grits, stirring constantly.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes or until thick. Stir occasionally to avoid clumps.
  3. Remove from heat. Stir in goat cheese and pepper, if using. Serve warm.

Serves 8

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Spring Sparklers & Mango Sorbet

Spring has finally sprung and summer is right around the corner. What better reason to celebrate? Sparkling wines are the perfect pour for a festive gathering and can be paired with all kinds of seasonal favorites, from appetizers to entrees to desserts.

Drier varieties are fantastic with cocktail-hour offerings like spring rolls, mini crab cakes, and sushi. From there, you can branch out into dinner by pairing with poultry and light seafood dishes.

Sweeter sparkling wines are perfect for dessert. You could go with something chocolate, but why not emphasize the crisp, coolness with something like fresh fruit or homemade sorbet? Below is a recipe for the easiest, most delicious mango sorbet you’ll ever have!

Simple Mango Sorbet

Serves 4


* 1 1-lb package frozen mango chunks or 1 peeled mango, chopped and frozen
* 1 tbsp lemon juice
* 1 tbsp honey, agave or sugar (optional)
* 1 cup rasberries, for garnish
* Mint leaves, for garnish


1. Place mango chunks, lemon juice, and sweetener (if using) in a blender or food process or blend until smooth.
2. Pour into large container (such as a 32-oz yogurt container) and freeze for at least 2 hours.
3. Take out 15-20 minutes before serving. Scoop into glasses or small bowls and garnish with raspberries and mint. Serve immediately.

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