The natural wine movement has been around for more than a few years now; Natural and/or Sans Soufre (made without the addition of Sulphur Dioxide) are much more readily available.
Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is usually seen as the bad boy in wine production; however it has a vital role. Conventional wine makers will add SO2 to grapes upon arrival at the winery if there is a chance that they have broken skins. It acts as an anti-oxidant to ensure that any damaged grapes exposed to oxygen before fermentation will not become oxidised. During the fermentation process SO2 is naturally produced; sulphites will therefore always be present in wine, however levels of SO2 additions can be controlled. Prior to bottling the wine typically receives further additions to provide microbiological stabilisation by inhibiting any unwanted yeasts or bacteria.
Let’s talk numbers and legal limits. A conventional white wine produced within the EU is allowed an addition of SO2 of up to 200mg/l, an EU Organic wine up to 170mg/l, however in practice Organic and Biodynamic certified producers will add much less. As an example Biodynamic agency Demeter’s registered producers have a limit of 105mg/l. L’Association des vins Naturels has a much lower limit of 40mg/l for Natural wines. Great care must be taken throughout the winemaking process as these wines have much less protection against oxidation. Any SO2 addition is usually saved to protect the wine prior to bottling and its onward journey to the consumers.
How do these wines taste? They tend to taste quite vibrant, more fruity, nuanced, pungent and more alive. During any wine tasting session you tend to like some more than others and that has been my experience with the low Sulphur wines; I don’t particularly like those with a cloudy appearance or made in an oxidative style which can be an acquired taste. However those styles are not the norm. Anecdotal evidence suggests fewer side effects are also apparent, I think that means fewer hangovers…….
I’m personally trying to track down a Champagne from Drappier that is both “Sans Soufre” and “Brut Nature” to which neither SO2 nor sugar is added (practically a health drink?). It is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes but because of its winemaking process pristine ripe fruit is necessary for the production which means they don’t make it in a poor vintage. Apparently demand is high and increasing for the product.