No, no -- not another verse-filled vinho verde column...it's the environment, silly!
I enjoy being greener. Call it "Gore's example" or clean living, or just plain old smart, but I like it. I like looking for everyday ways to trim a little here and there from the ol' carbon footprint. I do what I can. I try to keep the house energy-efficient. I drive less. I recycle more. I try to buy local when I can. I've got a composter (code name: "The Muffin Machine") humming silently, happily away in the backyard.
But what about my other habits? Am I as green as I can be when it comes to this little literary enterprise of mine? Thankfully, wine and winemaking contribute nicely to the "green experience." Winemaking is an exacting process. Vinifera grapes (WineSpeak for "the major grape varietals in wine") tend to be finicky critters, so companies that use huge, soulless mass-production methods, lots of pesticides, automated harvesting, and the like -- the grapes don't respond well and what ends up in the bottle is generally an inferior product.
"Organic" is nothing new in the wine world, nor are environmentally friendly agricultural practice. Regardless of the price of a wine, the care taken as the grapes move from bud to bottle almost always shows through in what winds up in the glass. There's much more to conservation than just being organic, so here are a few bottles I've tried (and recycled) lately that contain a "green tint"
I discovered X Winery 2006 "X3" Cabernet Sauvignon one day at the wine store when I was looking for a cabernet with a Stelvin screwtop, largely because, honestly, I wanted a wine I wouldn't have to fool with all that much when I was ready to drink it. Yes, there are some days I'm too lazy to pick up a corkscrew. This winery is focused on using new technologies, environmentally friendly production techniques, and the growers that they work with are committed to sustainable agriculture -- meaning that they try to do as little harm as possible to the ecosystem while farming. What I didn't realize was that I found a very, very good wine to boot. This wine is their second-line cabernet at around $15. This cab has a big nose of vanilla and blackberries. The body is well-balanced with some smoke and chocolate flavors. Paired with chocolate, you've got a big winner.
Seeing a display for the Yellow Jersey 2007 Pinot Noir surprised me. At first, I thought it was simply a bunch of half-liter bottles with bright yellow labels. I was wrong. The bottles were a full 750 ml, and they were made entirely of plastic. It makes sense that a plastic bottle would be smaller -- they're not going to be as thick as a glass one. The wine itself? Well, it wasn't bad for a $10 pinot. I certainly didn't taste anything significantly different from a glass-container wine. This was honestly a relatively nondescript pinot, meaning that it wouldn't get in the way of most foods, and it wasn't a bad quaff if you just wanted a glass of something without thinking too much. Now. where this wine would come in very handy is any picnic, hike, or somewhere that you'd have to pack it in and out. The bottle itself is 90% lighter than glass, shatterproof, and, of course, recyclable. When the weather's nice, a bottle of this with a cheese and meat board somewhere outside would be delightful. Just make sure that you clean up when you're done.
One of my favorite couplings of environmental improvement and wine quality is box wine. As I've written before, the days of Vella and Franzia are thankfully coming to a close. Companies are starting to package more and better qualities of wine in boxes. Although, as I think about it -- I don't know how much of the box itself can be recycled. The cardboard of the box is obviously recyclable -- but the spigot and the Tetra Pak plastic inside the box...I'm not sure. I did some research and couldn't find anything definitive.
Regardless of the specific container, a single box of wine is a more efficient transport than the four glass (or plastic) bottles of the same amount. The Chateau de Pena 2005 Cuvee de Pena is one of the more interesting wines in a box I've had. This blend of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Mourvedre from a cooperative in Roussillon bills itself as "the world's friendliest red wine." I don't know if I'd go quite that far, but it's definitely an affable companion which will nuzzle up to any number of recipes. It's the earthiest box wine I've had. There's even a little bit of that Old World funk on the nose. The finish is dry and a little earthy. I'd call it a "Cotes-du-Rhone Lite" and be happy. A bottle's around $8, but the 3 liter box, my purchase of choice, is around $25.
On an interesting side note, I recently met the parents of Christine the Pie Queen. Her father is a former engineer at Dow who worked on the technology that eventually led to bag-in-a-box wine. He said that the bags are usually several layers of plastic laminate thick. Each layer does something specific, whether preventing oxygen from getting in, esters (those yummy smell molecules) out, protection from pollutants, etc. The innermost is the most important, because it's the one that would impart (or, rather, not impart) flavor to the wine. Hearing the process by which these things are made was nothing less than fascinating.