So after recently venturing into a new entrepreneurial period in my life, I’ve decided to try and work with wine. After discovering the joy of organic wines, I discovered the intriguing world of wines with no added sulphites.
It is truly astonishing by our initial sales of sulphite free wines. It is such a pleasure to also find ourselves helpful to people who are suffering from allergic reactions on wine. Yet they do want to enjoy a glass or too!
So, while trying to learn about the flavour profiles of cabernet sauvignon, how wine makers blend grapes to make chardonnay, yuck, and of course, obviously about the soil minerality that makes Argentina the perfect place to make the perfect Malbec. There is this distinctive and sadly unknown type of wine in the UK, wine with no added sulphites.
Now let’s overload my poor little overworked brain and try to find out what these wines are like and why they are supposedly better for your general health. In order to research this, firstly I need to drink some. Sorry ‘sample!’
There is none. I mean, seriously, what do supermarkets expect us to drink? Chemicals? Insect repellent? Liquid sulphur? It would seem so. Perhaps there is another reason I just don’t know yet. I should try to be open minded but then again there is never ever anyone around to ask. So, thanks guys no I need to look a little bit harder.
So here is my idiots guide to sulphite free wines. Just FYI, the idiot in this case, definitely me….
Sulphites or ‘preservatives 220’ are additives that are used during winemaking process to hide some faults, prevent oxygen from entering the vats and, in general, protect the winemaker from accidental flaws. In the conventional winemaking process it is fairly usual that significant amount of sulphites (but not threatening to general health) is added. So basically, it’s chemicals added as a way to preserve the wine so that it can sit longer in your swanky wine cellar. Not that I have one at home, or that the wine can last long enough!
So, that explains how sulphites end up in our wine. Just to make sure it a little more confusing, there is a small amount of sulphites that occurs naturally. Some have slightly more than others but that depends on the type of soil. Wines from Sicily have a slightly higher naturally occurring level due the volcanic soil. Just an example, because sometimes I need them. The amount is low though and normally below 10 ppm (parts per million) or less. That’s less than 1% of a bottle of wine!
Natural winemaking, or simply practices that follow minimal interventions call for sulphite levels not to be higher than 10 ppm. It means that an organic certification will not mean the wine doesn't have an addition of sulphites, just the presumption that the levels are fairly low.
So, while reading back all the above, I’m trying not to sound like a wine geek. But in summary, basically, sulphites will always appear in a bottle of wine at a very minimal level. They can be added additionally to help preserve the life of the wine. But if the wine is made well why should it need this?
They are quite aggressive preservatives and scientific studies show evidence that they can trigger allergic reactions or more severe symptoms (ie. increased heart rate, dizziness, stomach upset). If there is a larger amount added it can even be life-threatening for people with asthma.
For most of us, me included, these levels are not really a big deal. If you have a favourite wine tipple that particularly tickles your fancy that is not organic or sulphite-free, generally it is going to be OK. So good times and no worries! But there is always a but, some studies claim that sulphites are responsible for that ‘morning after’ headache. Imagine being the test subject for that in a lab!
However they all have a similar conclusion, that it is just too difficult to distinguish between low tolerance level, too much wine in general (getting drunk) and the influence of the sulphites. Because everyone is unique and beautiful, its going to vary every time. People need to try and work it out by themselves. But don’t be silly and take this as advice to drink too much wine! It is not a good idea, take it from an idiot who tried!
Natural winemaking is a massive gamble though for wine producers. What if the weather turns out to be extreme or there was potentially any kind of interruptions during fermentation? There are no easy means (like additives or extra manipulation) how to get this wine to taste good. Yet these wines can taste differently in a good way – they can surprise and spark your imagination. You need to try a few good ones to make your own opinion. Interestingly enough, there is a couple of varieties that taste better without sulphites!
Simply, sulphite free wine does not exist. As a wine retailer, I would love to tell you something different, but then I would by you lies. Both red and white wines normally require some addition of sulphites - be it to prevent the wine from being exposed to oxygen (mainly whites, not to lose their delicate flavours) or to age wines well (mostly red’s, as aged wines are valued more normally).
Winemakers that don't do it take a giant leap of faith into the dark unknown abyss. With the possibility of faults and simply unforeseen circumstances (things happen, we all know that!). It is understandable know why it’s not so widely available. Why would you take that chance and risk losing everything because of the bad weather?
But, again there’s always a but, in general wines with no added sulphites are fresher, younger, as they are no really supposed to be kept for a long time, which is good for me! They are very expressive for the grape variety and have the ability to make some truly amazing wine.
We were on a mission to find and select the best tasting sulphite free wines for me, sorry you. Please let us know if we succeeded. You can find sulphite-free wines in our Wines catalogue or have a look at our Pre-Mixed Cases for a wider tasting selection of no added sulphites wines. Cheers