We may rightly ask: Do eco-friendly wines taste better? In answer, we have, indeed, been told that: Evidence mounts that eco-friendly wine tastes better. It is thus argued that this is Why certified organic wines are worth the search. Indeed: “Organic wine-making is all about taking away the shadow and mystery from that translation of a vineyard into the glass ... [the wines] really show the place, down to almost the row” (Why organic Shiraz is a true taste of terroir).
Beyond organic wine, there is biodynamic wine. Biodynamics is intended to take the basis of organics to another level, apparently with the intention of moving closer to some sort of spiritual (metaphysical?) ideal of do-nothing farming and wine-making. Given their intended superiority, we could reasonably ask whether these wines actually taste better than do organic wines; but the literature answering this question is much less clear.
So, it seems worthwhile to look at some data, in which the same people have tasted both biodynamic wines and organic wines. In this regard, wine-quality scores from reputable online sites are of value, provided we can get enough such scores. The quality of the wine tasting procedure is important, of course; but when it comes to plotting a meaningful graph, quantity certainly helps, as well. The people at the James Suckling site have certainly been busy this year, with: 12,000 wines rated, 13,000 to go: The year to date; so we could look at their data as an example.*
Recently, they produced a report on: 12 months of organic ratings: Uncovering some of nature’s finest. This report covers 1,682 wines labeled as organic, with an average score of 92.1 points (and a median of 92). They have also produced a report on: Rating biodynamics: Finding the true soul of wine. This report covers 750 wines labeled as biodynamic, which is 45% of the organic sample size, with an average score of 93.5 points (and a median of 93).
The first graph below shows the data for the organic wines, with the quality scores horizontally, and vertically a count of the number of wines at each score. The second graph shows the data for the biodynamic wines.
As expected from the data summaries listed above (average and median), the scores for the biodynamic wines are shifted to the right in the graphs, compared to the organic wines. That is, in general, the biodynamic wines do get higher quality scores than the organic wines. Note that this conclusion is independent of whether the James Suckling site tends to give higher scores than do other wine commentators (as has sometimes been suggested), since we are comparing the scores within the same group of wine tasters.
It thus seems reasonable to anticipate that, at least at the moment, organic wines taste better (on average) than do conventional wines, and biodynamic wines taste better (on average) than do organic wines. The future looks better for both the environment and for our taste buds.
This is not to say that these attempts at ecologically sustainable agriculture are without problems. Most of these problems have to do with grape-grower responses to disease. The viticulturalists are not supposed to be spraying their vineyards with modern chemicals. As noted by Tony Ingle (Angove chief winemaker, in South Australia):
If you’re going to be doing it in a region that’s got a lot of disease pressure, then it starts getting really hard. You have to start spraying things a lot, which is why we do it in the McLaren Vale, where there is very low disease pressure ... With organic grape-growing, yes you’ve got to be a little bit more careful, you’ve got to walk through the vineyard a bit more often to see what’s happening, and you’ve got to react when you see things making a problem.This has become increasingly obvious this year, with, for example, Downy mildew becoming widespread in Champagne and the areas north of there. We may therefore ask: After the storms — do organic rules need to be rethought? (“you have to expect the unexpected; and that makes commitment to organic farming very difficult”). After all, for natural wine, everything depends on Nature; and Nature has the last word.
* Note: I do not have direct access to the JamesSuckling.com database. For my blog posts, I independently extract the data from the online web pages, just like any other reader. This hopefully avoids any potential conflicts of interest; however, access to these pages was kindly provided by James Suckling, for which I am grateful.