Eco-friendly wine tastes better

When it comes to doing good for the environment, consumers often have to make trade-offs or sacrifices. When it comes to wine, many consumers are unwilling to make the ultimate sacrifice of inferior taste for sustainability. Good news: you don’t have to. Despite widespread belief among consumers that eco-friendly wines taste worse than conventional ones, a recent analysis of expert wine reviews found just the opposite.

“I thought that [the eco-friendly wines] would maybe be just as good as conventional wines,” said Magali Delmas, the lead author of the study, which was published in the Journal of Wine Economics. “I was surprised they were better.”

For the study, researchers analyzed ratings for 74,148 California wines produced between 1998 and 2009 that were reviewed in either Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, or Wine Spectator. The researchers scaled the scores of the different publications to make them more comparable.

Researchers controlled for the amount of experience a certain vineyard had with eco-certification by including a variable on years of certification. They controlled for the effect of size of the harvest on quality using the number of cases produced. They used the region where the wine was grown to control for the effects of soil and climate. They also included as controls the age of the wine and the variety. The sample included around 800 wines that were certified either as biodynamic or as “made from organic grapes.”

The analysis showed that eco-certified wines had scores that were, on average, 4.1 points higher than conventional wines. When researchers broke down the scores by type of wine, they found that the difference between eco-certified white wines and conventional white wines was not statistically significant. They say this could be because the white wine sample size was small.

The results seem to bear out what winemakers who opt for eco-certification say about their wines: they taste better. In fact, many of them pursue this kind of agriculture and certification, which adds costs to their production, without receiving a premium on price, as is common with other organic products. The researchers found that one of the reasons that two-thirds of certified wineries in California don’t put their label on the bottle is because consumers see it as a stigma.

Delmas believes that some label confusion between “organic” and “made from organic grapes” may be to blame for why consumers shy away from certified wines. Organic wine cannot include added sulfites. Sulfites are used to stabilize flavor and preserve wine, so organic wines lacking in them may well be of lower quality. (None of the reviews in the three magazines included organic wines.) Wine certified as “made from organic grapes,” however, can include additional sulfites.

What all this means is that consumers who buy labeled wines are getting a better product that is better for the environment—at a cheaper price. At least for now.

The authors hope that their study will convince more consumers to buy eco-certified wines and push more wineries to adopt these practices, get certified, and display their labels with pride. It could make the industry more sustainable and provide us all with better wines. Cheers to that! —Catherine Elton | 26 August 2016

Source: Delmas M,  Gergaud O, Lim J. Does organic wine taste better? An analysis of experts’ ratings. Journal of Wine Economics. 2016.

Header image: Matthew Rogers/