What are sulphites and why are they used in the production of wine? Can you make (good) wine without adding sulphites? Why choose to buy wines without sulphites? We asked those who produce this type of wine
We talk and read a lot about sulphites: responsible for allergies and annoying headaches, they are among the most "talked" additives of the moment. But there is also a lot of confusion on this topic.
What are sulphites?
Sulphites are chemical compounds derived from sulfur, naturally present in many foods and which are equally naturally produced during the fermentation of grapes, albeit in very small quantities. A completely sulphite-free wine, therefore, cannot exist. There can be a wine with no added sulphites. In fact, sulphites are used «as preservatives – he explains Angiolino Maule, owner of the La Biancara farm and founder of the Vinnatur association – and are found not only in wine, but also in dried fruit or frozen fish, to give examples. All the additives indicated with the codes between E 220 and E 225 are sulphites. They don't hurt in themselves unless you're allergic, but they can bring problems if they build up in our body. In the production of wine in particular we are interested in sulfur dioxide. Sulfur dioxide is an antiseptic and antioxidant, and favors the natural selection of yeasts . An explanation that is also taken up by Nadia Verrua, from Cascina Tavijn: «The sulfur dioxide selects the bacterial charges, and ensures that the wine is maintained over time. But at the same time it risks "flattening" the aromas . It is thanks to sulphites, therefore, that the wines are preserved, keeping their characteristics intact. But making wines without adding sulphites is possible, although difficult.
Why (and how) to make wines without sulphites?
"Here in Asti, many fresh, fruity and young wines are drunk. And sulphite-free wines have a fresher and broader flavor. This is why I chose to produce them. And obviously why they are healthier, contain nothing else. Of course, you have to know how to do them, to avoid bad surprises. But the result pays off . Words echoed by Maule, who tells how it took "experimentation and knowledge to create a winemaking system where sulphites are not used: traditional winemaking in fact uses them at every step. But if we want to achieve a unique, truly territorial wine, we must use only what nature gives us: typicality arises from aromas, which are the result of the fixation of molecules, of a natural process that must not be hindered. Of course, it is risky to make a wine without sulphites: it takes expertise, oxygen and low temperatures. Human intervention makes wine: if I crush a bunch of grapes, it becomes vinegar. " It is therefore not only an ecological choice, but a more complex work, which wants to limit the standardization process and recover the ancient knowledge, the knowledge that guided the producers «80 years ago, when sulphites were not used – explains Maule – aware that if a wine starts badly in the cellar it will be bad in the bottle and that the wine needs constant care. The decanting is fundamental: oxygen must not be too much or not too little. And they must be done at the right time . A radical choice, which requires passion but which attracts more and more admirers: «our customers are people tired of drinking standard wines, as well as health-conscious people, a choice that mainly involves the new generations, between 25 and 40 years old . Maule concludes, supported by Verrua, who stresses that "in Italy, sulphite-free wines are increasingly in demand. It is a movement that is gaining momentum and originating in France ". So much so that it is no longer just a “niche” production. So he explains Maria Pia Leone, director of Costadoro: «We have been producing organic and vegan wines for many years and that of making wines without added sulphites is not only a commercial choice but also an ethical choice. Today it is increasingly important to show greater attention to the consumer and one sector to be kept in the utmost regard is that relating to allergens. Having wines in the range without added sulphites also means responding to the needs of those who experience intolerances and allergies.
How to choose them (watch the labels)
But how to buy a wine without sulphites? "The labeling of wine is very particular – explains Verrua – because on the contrary that in other foods we do not find a list of ingredients. The only indication that is given is the wording "contains sulfites". European legislation in fact provides that the presence of sulphites is declared on the label when they exceed the 10 mg / liter. Those who choose not to use sulphites in production can omit this wording or write explicitly "without added sulphites". In choosing, then, as always, it is necessary to be guided not only by taste but also by knowledge: "Choosing a wine without added sulphites means choosing a wine that maintains its taste, character and properties intact, without creating allergy problems or simply without causing that annoying headache that adding sulphites could entail. " It is still Maria Pia Leone who speaks, who continues: «It is fundamental today rely on a cellar that you know and trust to avoid the risk of incurring a wine that does not meet the expectations you have: a good wine must not lose its organoleptic qualities over time due to the absence of added sulphites ".
In the gallery a selection of wines with no added sulphites.
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