20 Nov Wine Quality & Sulphur Dioxide
Whilst my fundamental belief is that wine is a natural product vs a manufactured product like soft drinks or spirits, the winemaker still has a key role in ensuring that the product is produced in a manner that will ensure that there is no spoilage. This being the case then it is necessary to add chemicals during the wine making process, but to me it is the amount and the method that distinguished between the wine making styles. High volume mass produced wines will, I believe have greater amounts of winemaker interventions due to the need to ensure the product standardisation, this is a commercial reality of high volume products.
If the previous statement is true, then wines that are a true representation of Terroir will predominantly be the domain of smaller wineries and the premium products of the larger wineries. This is the situation with the Colomba Bianca – Reserve Rosso, that we sell. The company owns 5 wineries has 2,500 different growers and is one of the largest producers of Organic wine in Italy. Currently about 95% of the groups production is bulk wine! In one of their wineries they have a very small, 40-50 barriques, barrel room where the best of the best grapes are crushed and fermented separately in small tanks and then left to develop to the best that they can produce without the interventions and standardisation required for the bulk product.
The Colomba Bianca Top Rosso is a great wine – rated 98pts, and equally some of there bulk wines are rated very highly. Is one style any less a quality product, not necessarily, they are different wine making styles bought about by commercial reality
Additives have been used since wine making began, some to assist in preserving the product and others to alter the product to be more acceptable to the market.
Preservatives in wine are probably one of the first additives with wine makers striving to ensure that their product did not go off. Preservatives have, over the years, taken many forms from tree resin to brandy spirit to sulphur dioxide.
Sulphur dioxide in wine is a complex subject but sulphites – preservative 220 – is often seen as the evil additive.
Sulphur dioxide is commonly used in 3 main ways in the wine making process. 1st at harvest / crushing to assist in sterilization of the grape juice so the wine maker can add their own cultured yeasts. 2nd after fermentation to stop spoilage, 3rd during bottling to ensure the product does not spoil whilst waiting to be drunk.
So Sulphur dioxide is used for 2 purposes – to sterilise the juice and to stop spoilage from oxidation.
So why make wine without sulphur?
The first is simply a philosophy of being as natural as possible, using nothing but the crushed grapes. This position is purely idealistic and whilst I have tasted on excellent natural wines, they are often very funky and can run the risk of spoilage.
Both our preservative free Bordeaux winemakers, producers of Chapo & Le Petite Bichon, have done so as they believe the product to be a brighter and better representation of the fruit. Both of these wine makers are using nitrogen to replace the use of sulphur dioxide where it is necessary to stop spoilage / eliminate the contact of oxygen with the wine. This is not a low cost option and they do so as they believe it is a better product.
The final reason would be to produce a product for people who are allergic to sulphur dioxide. I have met people who have various reactions to sulphur dioxide, these people reactions that range from migraines through to major asthma attacks. For the majority of the population the concentration of sulphur dioxide in wine is in too low a concentration to cause issues, but if you are concerned then look towards wine produced with not added sulphites or at the very least organically certified product as the levels of allowed sulphur dioxide is less than the levels in standard wine, eg wines from Vignoble Boudon have an average of 50mg/ltr of sulphate, this is up to 1/6 the Australian standard for normal wine.