Sulphites in Wine: Who You Gonna Call? Myth Busters!

Posted on February 03, 2017 by Alexander Thomson McLean | 0 comments

Sulphites in wine: 6 most popular myths about natural wines
We continue spreading the word about the role of sulphites in wine. It is time for discuss misconceptions, so here you have it - 6 Myths of Natural wines with no added sulphites

What are wines with no added sulphites?

Haha! Before we start, yes, I sometimes I am more cheesy than a packet of Cheese Strings! Anyway, let’s consider the most popular myths about natural wines, let us draw a line what are they.

Natural wines or those made without added sulphites, or sulfites as some spell it, but I am British so they are wrong! Sulphites are produced with minimal intervention in the winery. Winemakers who follow this practice do not specifically encourage or discourage the natural processes in the winery, so the wines in some way produces by itself, as nature intended.

Organic certification clarifies and regulates what is happening in the vineyard - no artificial chemicals or harmful pesticides. Natural winemaking ensures that you are not getting any of these and these lovely tasty additions which can be added in the winery. Hope it makes sense!

Sulphites in wine.... Why are they important?


Wine that was produced naturally will still contain some minimal levels of sulphites, as we should hopefully now know, usually below 20 mg/l. Law insists that winemakers should put ‘contains sulphites’ on the label regardless if they are naturally occurring or added if the levels are above 10 mg/l. This creates some confusion as plenty of natural wines fall into a bracket of 10-20mg/l, so you see this note on the label, however sulphites in wine are naturally occurring and can in some cases be harmless.

Just to let you know, extreme cases when people are very sensitive to sulphites occur when the concentration exceeds 45 mg/l. Organic wines are already made with much lower quantity, but if you are sensitive, you should consider shopping for natural wines with no added sulphites.

So what are these myths about sulphites in wine then? These are the top 6 questions I have been asked by my customers who have been mislead by the huge array of inaccurate information available.

They are faulty or smell faulty

MYTH! Well unless your nose is broken or have a cold. The smell of freshness, fermented wine and young character of natural wine can indeed be a bit too much. Extreme examples include aromas of cardboard, rotten eggs and forest floor. In these case’s you can return the bottle or send it back in the restaurant. Even if you are looking at any bottle of wine, even something conventional, that is a bad sign! It sometimes happens with all the wines, doesn't matter natural or conventional. However, the clear majority of natural wines or wines with no added sulphites will smell the same as any other. Sometimes, it is better with some types of wine varieties.

The other thing is that in natural winemaking all processes happen naturally so winemakers do not forcefully stop anything (or encourage) - it might just be that the wine started to re-ferment. Again, if your nose smells a fault - send it back. Good quality natural wines smell fresh, almost like just out of the barrel, but not faulty. We will recommend to aerate a very playful natural wine - it can be just too unusual and too playful, so it needs some air to express itself in a more balanced way! It is almost like allowing a child time to run around and tire themselves out. Let it breathe and let the aromas settle.

Natural wines are amateur young wines that everyone can make

BIGGER MYTH! Great wine is about amazing grapes and very talented wine makers. It is about harvesting great grapes and then processed in clean and hygienic environment in the winery by someone who is truly a master at his craft. Most of them are a product of Organic viticulture. Natural wines in general assume no intervention during winemaking process and to work in sync with nature. Fermentation is being carried out using natural yeasts.

If you can do it all...  well, we are so looking forward to trying your wines!

Amateur? Again, it is a bit subjective statement I suppose, but having said that some natural wines won top awards at the international wine tasting panels.

If you were to make a comparison to some big well-known companies then yes - these natural wines an artisan creation, they reflect the soil but also heart and soul of the winemaker. I definitely cannot call that an amateur talent.

Natural wines taste awful

A HALF MYTH! The wine industry, like many others around the world, there are people in this business looking to make a quick buck and then cash out. Some of these wines though are, quite frankly, terrible. In my younger and more juvenile days I once used the word ‘rank’ to describe a wine. Honestly, I don’t even know why people would release them or retailers would even want to buy them! But it is probably that they find their customer- some people have unusual palates don't you think?

To generalise, this statement is a myth. Froom what I have sampled, that’s quite a lot, I may not enjoy the wines personally, but with an analytical mind I can come to the conclusion that it is a good well-made wine. Chardonnay for instance, I cannot stand the stuff! But in order to do my job I need to be open minded, and some people like it. What I have discovered on my voyage of great wine discovery is that people who chose to make wines that are organic, natural or bio-dynamic have a huge amount of love in their hearts for their chosen career choice. But, very cliché, its not a career it’s a labour of love for something they truly cherish.

I work  together with my very own personal WSET certified wine expert and our customers to personally handpick natural wines to ensure no major misses or unpalatable examples.

Every wine can taste bad if produced with mistakes or shortcuts, it is essential for wine experts to taste them all before they hit any retail shelves or Internet pages.

Are they really healthier?

TRUE! Yes this statement is true and there is no doubt about that. I hate using the word healthy though to describe this. Ultimately this is an alcoholic product that when its abused can cause so much harm in so many wide ranging ways to you, your health and everyone around you.

First of all, certified or not, natural wines are made with minimal or no interventions in the winery so it means maximum synchronisation with the goddess that is Mother Nature. It maximises nutrients and antioxidant levels*. In addition to that you do not adding nasty pesticide residue into your body.

Recent studies* also confirmed that natural wines made without added sulphites are easier for your liver to break down. That means potentially a lighter effect on your body, less headaches if you are prone to it, but please note, we still insist you stick to drinkaware guidelines.

*Organic wine benefits as per Department of Human Nutrition at the University of Southampton, University of Rome’s Clinical Nutrition, University of California at Davis and University of Newcastle.

Sulphites are everywhere so why bother about sulphites in wine?

TRUE! Yes, sadly it is true, sulphites are added to loads of foods to preserve it. It is in your dried apricots in an enormous quantity just to give you an example. But I hate apricots so I’m not that bothered. A regular size can of coke will have more than 200 mg/l. Conventional winemaking not only preserves the wine but masks unwanted flavours and makes the wines look and taste the same year after year by drowning you with loads of sulphites. My gran used to say it’s not hard it is probably not worth doing. Thinking about trying to avoid sulphites she’d probably be right!

People are generally not very sensitive to them, studies only tentatively confirm that there could be 3-5% people who can be very sensitive. These include people who suffer from allergies and increasingly asthmatics.

In some way, it is like buying fresh ingredients and making a big pot of homemade vegetable soup. The contains so much goodness but also can taste 'as expected'. Unless your me and burn it! Its not easy, it’s a complete pain and tastes nothing like you remember it does. But it tastes good and you know deep down your proud of what you’ve made. Just like you will be proud of your wine find!

Should be drunk in one go - natural wines are not destined to live forever

HALF TRUE, HALF FALSE! Ok so now I’m falling off the optimism scale here. This one is difficult to answer. The sulphites added are a preservative, so wines without the ‘sulphite preservative’ in theory shouldn’t last for that long once you’ve opened the bottle. Sadly for me, I have never left a bottle long enough without consuming it all. But then again, I am probably the very definition and shining example of a bad man!

On the other hand natural wines are living wines, they live in the bottle, develop and become more complex with age, call it wine wisdom or complexity of flavours. However depending on the style, grape variety and circumstances they can die and the absence of sulphites will ensure that they are really dead, being not suitable to drink after.

There are examples of natural wines that were kept in good cellars for 10-15 years and they taste amazing after. On the other spectre, there are wines which are past their best after a few years.

What about after its been opened. Well the simple answer is this, the wine was made with love and care to be presented to you, so you should love it back. Resealing an open bottle and storing it correctly away from sunlight or in the fridge will keep it for about a week after you’ve broken that seal!

Sulphites in Wine: My Conclusion

I believe that natural wines made without adding any sulphites are not just for people with wine intolerances.

These natural wines are expressive, they are healthier for you (don’t forget what I said about this earlier) and also represent a direct continuation of organic principles - farmers create a  healthier growing environment and winemakers produce these fantastic wines without adding nasty stuff too. These are living wines and it is just quite an enticing thought to think about and try them out!

Most of these natural wines have amazing stories, delicious flavours delivered by passionate winemaking. See for yourself!

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