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Auckland, North Island, New Zealand
Wine tour operator, wine writer and lapsed physiotherapist. "Nature abhors a vacuum. I personally hate dusting."

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Natural Wines (What's in your wine?)

Recently I attended a Wine Writers of New Zealand tasting and debate on Natural Wines, at the fab Molten restaurant in Mt. Eden, with a fine dinner to follow.
There is a worldwide trend in wine making and grape growing, where little or no chemicals are used in the process.  This has been variously called: organic, natural and sustainable.
However, those three categories are subject to a lot of debate - both within and outside the wine making fraternity.

Is organic wine – wine that is made from organically grown grapes, yet contains some chemical additives in the winemaking process?  Does Natural wine equal Organic wine? 
Sulphur dioxide (preservative 220) has been used since Roman times to preserve wine.  Egg white is essentially natural and possibly organic, but has also been added as a clarifying (fining agent) for hundreds of years.  But does it make a wine unnatural if you add an animal product to fermented grape juice?   As someone in the debate added – it’s all very well saying that wine should have as little human intervention as possible but grapes don’t pick and squash themselves, so humans have been happily intervening with grape crops for thousands of years in order to make an alcoholic beverage.

Another hot topic was whether winemakers should be obliged to list all ‘artificial’ ingredients on the bottle.  Nowadays many will state common additives like S02, egg white and fish products (isinglass derived from fish bladders is used for fining), the latter two often listed in case the drinker has allergies, though the traces in the wine may be non-existent or  a few  parts per million - and highly unlikely to cause any reaction.  Yet – many other additives are commonly used to tweak a wine’s final character.  These include unfermented sweet grape juice, tartaric acid, cane sugar, enzymes, commercial yeasts, copper sulphate, ammonium bisulphite, casein, edible gelatine, diammonium phosphate, and many others. 
Food labelling requirements are very stringent and we are all used to seeing the microscopic font sized lists on anything from muesli bars to fruit juice.  Should winemakers be exempt from stating their ingredients? 


My gut feeling is that wine is a product made in the 21st Century and like any food or drink does require some degree of human  intervention to maintain  standards and optimise
flavours and longevity.  I can live with a bit of albumen or copper sulphate in my wine. But I would like to know what’s in there.

2 comments:

  1. I don't know that there really is a need for egg white fining, and certainly there is no need for copper ....unless you can't get the basics right. Then, perhaps, to meet a "standard" this might be necessary; I would suggest trying some of the Domaine Viret wines, which lack nothing in terms of longevity, and have more flavour than a lot of similarly priced Rhone wines which do indulge in fining and sulphuring.

    I, too, can probably live with copper and sulphur, and fining using whatever agent, however I don't think that labelling will do anything to allay consumer fears, many of which are ill-founded: the number of idiots who "can't drink red wine" because of their reaction to sulphur, when they are perfectly alright easting dried fruits, is staggering- can you imagine how many allergies would materialise were producers required to give an ingredients list on their wine?
    There is one sure way to know what is in your wine. Buy as natural a wine as you can (they get pretty easy to recognise with practice) from a retailer you trust, and then you have no need to label everything else with the junk it does in fact contain, and avoid the detrimental effects that doing so would no doubt beleagure the industry as a whole.

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    1. I quite agree about the folk who swear that sulphur in red wine gives them headaches. Often these folk quite happily drink white wine, which generally has much higher concentrations of SO2.

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