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  Editorial Issue 119, June 2013   
Wine is Just Sulfur DioxideWine is Just Sulfur Dioxide  Contents 
Issue 118, May 2013 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 120, Summer 2013

Wine is Just Sulfur Dioxide


 Before discussing about the evident provocation of the title, it is the case to state a rightful introduction: sulfur dioxide is not a healthy substance, a condition determined, as usual, by the quantity being used, by the use and the abuse. Sulfur dioxide is not even the absolute evil of wine - something someone is trying to support in many occasions - by recognizing to this substance the discriminating power capable of defining a good and genuine wine or a bad and adulterated one. One more rightful statement: as health is a subject of evident collective interest - everyone wishes oneself to live in good health - it is also evident a healthy wine is something of collective interest, both “honest” producers and consumers, with no exception. Therefore, if it is true sulfur dioxide can be a harmful substance for the body - in particular, for those subjects particularly sensitive to this element - the reduction of its usage is of course something to be wished in order to have a healthier wine.


 

 If we see what is happening in the world of wine in recent years, it seems there is a war going on against sulfur dioxide - sometimes being cut-throat as well - something never seen in the past, something never seen for any other beverage or food. Sulfur dioxide is widely used by food and beverage industry, sometimes used in quantity higher than what it is usually done for wine, nevertheless, it does not seem this is arising the very same outcry, the same cut-throat opposition happening for wine. It would make no sense to give an example of foods and beverages in which sulfur dioxide is widely used: the list would be extremely long and boring. Moreover, in order to realize how sulfur dioxide is used in foods and beverages, it is enough to do what it is not usually done when you go to a shop: reading the list of ingredients printed on the label of those products we easily, and with too much trust, put in a carriage.

 It is not difficult to find that out: the most frequent indications include “sulfur dioxide”, “contain sulfites”, or the famous European codes beginning with the “E” letter, followed by numbers going from 220 to 229, a category identifying sulfites, commonly used as preservatives, with the exception of calcium bisulfite (E227) also having thickening properties. For the sake of completeness, potassium metabisulfite, that is the substance mainly used in wine making for the production of sulfur dioxide, is identified with the code “E224”. Nevertheless, no one, maybe just few, make objections on some products in which are evidently present sulfites used as a preservative. We happily buy them, we take them home and we consume them with satisfaction and pleasure. Wine is different: in the poor beverage of Bacchus, even the minimum suspect of the presence of sulfites can cause endless arguments, even blaming the producer of adulterating the wines, as if it was a crime.

 It is then a big surprise to find out sulfur dioxide is naturally found in wine and also in case this substance is not added by man, yeast produces sulfur dioxide during fermentation. It should be said the production of sulfur dioxide made by yeast during fermentation can also reach 40mg per liter - depending on the type - however the average quantity if about 20-25mg per liter. A quantity evidently lower than what it is usually added during production that - it should be noticed - is set by law and it is 200mg per liter for white wines and 150mg for red wines. Once again, for the sake of clearness, it should be said the maximum quantity set by law is rarely reached and - in good viticultural and wine making conditions - the quantity is even lower than the half. Let me say this clear: I am not trying to justify or supporting the use of sulfur dioxide in wine making, I am simply stating concrete facts.

 The use of sulfur dioxide in wine making is a very ancient practice: not only it was used as a preservative of wine and in order to sanify it, but also for sanifying wine tanks and the rooms where it was being produced wine. Before the introduction of potassium metabisulfite, sulfur dioxide was produced by burning sulfur pills, a practice, used since many centuries, which can also be considered traditional. This practice - to which is usually recognized a romantic and genuine meaning - is indeed quite difficult to control as it is not possible to know the exact quantity of sulfur dioxide added to the wine. The use of modern and evil potassium metabisulfite offers a better control, as every gram produces about 0.55 grams of sulfur dioxide. In conclusion, despite potassium metabisulfite is considered the absolute evil of wine, this allows a conscious and judicious use of sulfur dioxide.

 We all agree on the fact sulfur dioxide is not he healthiest of the substances and limiting its use in wine making it is desirable, also by considering the property of this element to alter the organoleptic profile of a wine. I am suspecting the war against sulfur dioxide is just a new “wine fashion”, a subject of which everyone can talk about, also with in a simple way and without having any specific competence in wine making: after all, if everyone is talking about this, there must be a reason. It is something everyone talk about as if this is the main problem of wine - indeed, the worst of them all - even though, in my opinion, I believe the real problems of the world of wine are elsewhere and it is convenient to keep them hidden. Producers, as they are legitimately trying to make a profit from their job, follow this fashion and start to make wines by emphasizing the fact they do not contain added sulfites. There is also who, cunningly, say their wines do not contain sulfites, a pretty improbable condition, as yeast however produce this substance. My point of view is still the same, also in this case: glass at hand, I want the wine to be evaluated by my senses, without the conditioning of words and fashions. And in case the evident faults of a wine are being justified by saying it is because there are no added sulfites, this is not a merit: it is an aggravating circumstance.

Antonello Biancalana






   Share this article     Summary of Editorial column Wine Tasting 
  Editorial Issue 119, June 2013   
Wine is Just Sulfur DioxideWine is Just Sulfur Dioxide  Contents 
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