Fire & Brimstone

June 24th, 2009 | Uncategorized

Sulpur, sulphur or sulfur, was commonly called brimstone in English translations of the Bible, possibly because of it’s volcanic origin and rather pungent smell. Burning suphur, and more especially the smell, was associated with the old ‘fire and brimstone’ religious sermons that threatened eternal damnation. (It is the burning of sulphur that actually produces the suffocating and dangerous sulphur dioxide gas, as in it’s natural form sulphur is virtually odourless).

Sulphur dioxide has many different uses, not least of all in winemaking – we use it as a preservative agent, but only in absolutely miniscule amounts that are measured in parts per million. In the wine bottle it serves as an antibiotic and antioxidant, protecting wine from spoilage by bacteria and oxidation. It also helps to keep volatile acidity within acceptable levels, and it is for this reason that you will see the expression “contains sulfites” on every wine label.

The precise amount of sulphur added at bottling is absolutely critical, as this not only has a huge impact on the taste, but also on the actual ‘shelf life’ of the bottle itself. Too little and your wine might oxidise quite quickly, too much and it can render your glass completely flat and unpleasant – effectively ‘killing off’ the wine for good. Natually the amount we add is determined by the experience of our own wine, and how quickly we like it to evolve. As we have never really designed our wine simply for ‘instant gratification’, it is perhaps possible that we might add a touch more sulphur than some of our neighbours.

It was my own experience at home yesterday evening that provoked me to explain this story, as we opened a bottle of Castro Martin 2007 with our meal. After pulling the cork, whilst there was no obvious presence of sulphur on the nose, the wine did appear to be a little ‘dumb’, and was not really showing it’s true potential. At this point some consumers might say that the wine should be allowed to ‘breathe’, but in the case of a (quality) white wine it is really more a question of letting the wine recover for a moment, allowing the last remnants suphur to dissipate.

So the moral of today’s sermon is, if you whip out the cork and find our Albariño appears just a little flat, swirl your glass a little and give it a few moments before you pass final judgement.

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