Natural wine (and food) – Part 4 – Sulphites

February 25th, 2019 | Bodega

A couple of weeks ago we attended a very interesting seminar – ‘Making wines with low SO2 (sulphur dioxide) content’.

One of the most defining characteristics of a ‘natural’ wine is that it will certainly be low in sulphur – sometimes with no added SO2 whatsoever. Added sulphur has two roles to play in a finished wine: Firstly, it acts as a microbicide, killing bacteria or any remaining yeasts that could eventually lead to spoilage. Secondly, it prevents oxidation of the wine, by preventing or reducing interaction of wine with oxygen.

During fermentation yeast will naturally produce a very small amount of SO2 (and so it will always be present), the question is – is this enough to protect a wine in the medium to long-term? For example, it’s worth noting that premature oxidation is actually a very common fault in ‘natural’ wines.

Our seminar talked of this, and offered alternative solutions, products to be used in the grape must to replace SO2, yeast strains that produce very little natural SO2, and pre-bottling additives – all apparently quite natural. We tasted two Spanish white wines from the 2018 vintage made using the low-sulphur products….

When I was a wine buyer, one of the most important issues for me was not only the quality, but mainly the longevity of the wine – looking into its future and trying to imagine how it might evolve. (Bearing in mind that many of my purchasing decisions were made in the producers cellar, tasting raw wine from tanks and barrels). If a wine tasted ready for drinking from the first sip, then the likely hood was that it would not last the course. It is rare that a good or great wine will show it’s true colours during its infancy – and that is where the buyers judgement comes into play.

I say this because of the two 2018 wines in the tasting. They were fine for drinking NOW, very commercial styles, but simply ready to give a bit of ‘instant gratification’. Perhaps perfect for the two wines in question, but not really for our albariño, which can often be consumed two or three years down the road. I’m sorry to say, that we will almost certainly continue with our current policy of adding a little pre-bottling SO2, simply because it works for us, and our export customers (who require an extended shelf-life).


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