Natura Cabernet Sauvignon

2014, Chile, $9.99-11.99

Natura Chardonnay

2013, Chile, $9.99-11.99

About a decade ago, I tried an organic wine. It was expensive and bad. I didn’t spit it out or even pour it down the drain, probably because of my Scots heritage, but I didn’t like it.

So when friends recently suggested that I write about organic wine, I was reluctant.

The organic wine I’d tried back then was overpriced for the quality. It was watery, and the taste was off, almost rotten.

For $15 to $20 a bottle, I could do much better, even though my interest in healthy eating (and drinking) and the environment suggested that I cultivate a taste for it.

But now, organic wines are hot. In fact, a survey of chefs by the National Restaurant Association ranked organic wines in the top 20 of the most popular items served.

I’ve been spotting wines on the shelves of stores around the Pioneer Valley billed as organic and priced under $10. I figured that I already buy organic or sustainably grown produce and meats, so why not give organic wine another whirl? Maybe the producers had gotten their act together.

One of the first things that I learned was that you probably don’t want to drink 100 percent organic wines, unless you live really close to the vineyard and can buy it early. Apparently there are only a handful of vineyards that produce 100 percent organic wine anyway, and they are in California. A better bet is wine made from organic grapes.

The label is the key. It tells you what you’re getting, and it probably can be trusted. The U.S.

Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms strictly control the labeling of organic wines, and wines from outside the United States must be certified by an approved agency to make an organic claim. Having the ATF looking out for my wine is a real comfort. Well, maybe not.

When the original organics came out in the mid-1990s, the wines really were organic. The grapes were raised and harvested organically, and everything used in the winemaking process was organic. There were no additives and no added sulfites — and that’s the problem.

Sulfites or sulfur dioxide are used to preserve the wine and keep it from oxidizing. Although they occur naturally in wine, small additional amounts are used in the winemaking process — mainly for cleaning fermenting tanks and blocking unwanted bacteria.

The early organics might have been great when they left the winery, but they rotted and oxidized quickly. They had no shelf life, much less cellaring time. Maybe today’s 100 percent organic winemakers have figured things out, but their wines are rare and I don’t know them.

However, wines made from organic grapes can be quite nice, and they are widely available.

Natura is one of the best brands that I’ve tried. Both the cabernet sauvignon and the Chardonnay are well crafted, complex and well balanced. The winemaking at Natura is overseen by winemaker consultant Alvaro Espinoza Duran, who is recognized as one of the best in the world and a leader in the international sustainable and organic farming effort.

Emiliana Organico, a subsidiary of Concha y Toro, produces the wines in the Central Valley and Casablanca Valley in Chile.

Emiliana does not use commercial fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Plants and animals are employed to maintain biodiversity and produce the organic grapes. The company is maintaining the environment, and the vineyards are beautiful, at least in the photographs shown on the company’s website.

Grass and flowers grow between the rows of vines, and the bugs eat the flowers rather than the grapes. Geese are marched into the vineyard each day to eat the bugs and help fertilize the vines, and alpacas are used to keep the grass, weeds and flowers in check. They also do a great job fertilizing the area. It’s a neat system, and apparently makes for a great spectacle for vineyard visitors.

The Chardonnay is exceptional for the price. It’s rare these days to find a complex, dry and heavily oaked Chardonnay under $10. The wine pairs nicely with the warm weather, but I enjoy it in winter, and it is great to sip with appetizers or have with a light dinner. Try it with a dish that contains ginger.

I also liked the cabernet sauvignon a lot. Espinoza has come up with a terrific blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent carmerere and a little cabernet franc and malbec. The wine is quite complex, with different levels of flavor including a hint of oak. The cab works really well with lamb or other meats — or just to sip.

I tried the carmenere, which is widely available. The wine has gotten rave reviews elsewhere, but the bottle I tried seemed a bit young and tannic. I like carmenere, but this one perhaps would be better cellared for a year. I need to try it again.

Natura wines are widely available, and they all are a great bargain.•

Wine suggestions in the $10 range are always welcome. Warren Johnston can be reached at