The ongoing, en vogue, and often polarizing discussion of ‘natural’ wine, and what makes it so, necessarily involves several aspects of winemaking. Farming without chemicals is generally the first ‘rule’ of natural wine, followed by eschewing any additives, such as yeast, water, sugar, or Sulphur Dioxide. But what constitutes a ‘chemical’? This is just the beginning of the slipperiness of this definition.
Sulphur Dioxide is a naturally occurring gas and antioxidant, probably first employed by the Romans to preserve food and beverages. It is toxic in large quantities, as are cake, beer, and even water (this list is long, depending on what you call ‘large’). Plenty of organic and biodynamic growers use SO2 and copper sulphate, sometimes liberally, as there are few other substances that ‘naturally’ combat fungus in wet years.
Sulphur dioxide is added to much of the beer, wine and cider we drink, and in higher concentrations, to soft drinks, frozen shrimp, fruit and vegetable juices, and many processed foods like pickles, jam, candy, crackers, and maraschino cherries. (Come to think of it…what else is in those ‘cherries’?) A typical soda contains as much SO2 as a commercially produced bulk red wine, and most dried fruit has between five to ten times more, levels technically known as a ‘shit-ton’ of sulphur.
The FDA says about one in a hundred people have an adverse reaction, or extreme sensitivity, to low levels of SO2 (though various sources claim that number is higher) and, since the 80’s in the US, they’ve required wine with more than 20 parts per million to be labeled ‘Contains Sulphites’. Before any additions, most wine already ‘naturally’ contains between 10 and 40PPM, so almost no wine is truly sulphite free, and the US warning alarms consumers, 99% of whom should have nothing to fear. The rate of sensitivity is notably higher in asthmatics, and symptoms are most often difficulty breathing and throat irritation.
Many people blame SO2 for their red wine headaches, but it is much more likely that these are a result of dehydration, high levels of residual sugar or alcohol in the wine, or a reaction to histamines, tannins, or any of the hundreds of chemical compounds that exist naturally in red grape skins.
Here at OAKLAND YARD, we like wine that tastes clean and polished, and we also like wine that is wild and funky. When tasting and buying, we look first for balance and value, but we always inquire about winemakers’ farming practices, both for our own curiosity, and so we can inform our customers. If you’re curious too, come on in and taste some unsulphured wines with us this Sunday. These aren’t the stinky, cheesy, barnyard-y ones; the bottles we’ll have open this Sunday are of fresh, clean wines that were carefully – and sometimes just plain luckily – made.
But first…TONIGHT: Thursday Night Flights – All Italian Reds & Whites - $12 from 4-8pm
SATURDAY, April 14th: California Tasting Flights – Red, White, & Rose from our great state - $15 from 2-6pm
SUNDAY, April 15th: Unsulphured Tasting Flights: ‘Natural’ wines - $15 – from 2-6pm
See you there,