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‘Natural wine’ has become common parlance for wines made with as little intervention in the cellar as possible. One of the key aspects of ‘natural wine’ is that the addition of sulphur dioxide (SO2) is avoided. While non-interventionist winemaking should certainly be lauded, critics of ‘natural wine’ would argue that it should not be at the expense of quality, and that the term itself is misleading to the consumer.
• ‘Natural wine’ has no legal status, and nor is it governed by a certification body, so it is the individual winemaker who decides whether the wine ‘qualifies’ as such
• ‘Natural wine’ cannot be ‘sulphur-free’ even if no sulphur has been added, as sulphites are present on the grapes in the vineyard (nature’s defence against microbial growth) and produced by the yeasts during fermentation.
• Sulphur is widely used in the food & drink industry as a fruit preservative and its judicious use during the winemaking process will kill off bacteria and protect the wine from oxidation or re-fermentation in bottle that would otherwise turn it to vinegar within months
• While some asthmatics are sensitive to sulphites, they are unlikely to be affected at the levels used in wine.
Dried apricots have up to 10 times the level of sulphur in wine yet are not associated with causing headaches or more adverse reactions
• During a recent discussion with a producer of ‘natural wines’, Chablis producer Michel Laroche discovered that the SO2 levels were the same in both wines. This is because there has been a move to reduce SO2 levels in wine over the past two decades, something that has been achieved by more care and hygiene in the cellar
• ‘Natural wine’ should not be used to excuse wines that are cloudy, fizzy and stinky due to a slight refermentation in bottle.