Grape Juice, Fermented
If there’s one thing a BrokeAss gourmand can’t afford, it’s fine wine. Good thing for us, then, that some of the very best wines are actually the cheapest.
No. I am not going to suggest that Charles Shaw really is a worthy wine for the downtrodden. It’s not. In fact, it’s the only wine I know of that can make you gag before you’re drunk. Nor am I about to assure readers that there are many excellent wines under $20 – because people who consider $20-and-under wines to be bargain deals can’t possibly be broke and therefore have no business reading this column.
But how’s $5.99? That is the retail price of one of the best-selling organic wines in America. It’s just a simple red blend called WELL REaD, produced by Heartswork Winery in Lodi, California, but what makes the wine so remarkable are its ingredients; it is made with nothing but yeast and organic grape juice, unlike many conventional wines, which may be laden with preservatives, yeast nutrients, stabilizers, clarifying agents and more.
The “organic” in WELL REaD is the key point. Certified as such by the USDA, the wine is guaranteed to contain no petroleum-based products, no irradiated matter, and nothing derived from sewage sludge. I think we can trust that most conventional wines don’t contain sewage or plutonium, but almost all of them do contain sulfur dioxide (SO2), or sulfites. This synthetic preservative protects a wine from various sorts of subtle damage, most notably oxidation spoilage, and there have been cases in which entire bottlings of organic wine have gone bad on shelves.
Thus, connoisseurs often steer clear of the organic wine department, and the notoriety that spoiled bottles of organic wine have lent to the entire genre has produced a very fascinating market feature: Organic wines are on average cheaper than conventional wines. (Try finding organic strawberries a quarter the price of the regular.)
It’s true: There is a substantially higher risk that any given bottle of organic wine (compared to conventional wine) will be spoiled upon opening (so save those receipts), but for some that little risk is worth it. Much anecdotal evidence suggests that organic wines do not cause, among other disagreeable symptoms, headaches. This is a matter of debate, but Phil LaRocca, a maker of relatively pricey (up to $50) organic wines near Chico, once told me these convincing words: “Anytime that anyone – whether it’s Joe Shmoe or my grandchildren – eats food without chemicals in it, how can that not be better for you?” I don’t know how to spell Shmoe, but LaRocca’s message rings of sense and truth: Ingest fewer chemicals and more pure foods, and you’ll live long and prosper.
Heartswork Winery operates simultaneously under the name of Our Daily Red and Orleans Hill, and in total the business makes some half-dozen or so USDA organic wines – all of them about halfway between ten and zero dollars. Find more information here.