Wine tasting – Wine not punishment 2012

Wine Not Punishment: A Tasting Without Added Sulphur


 We all shop for food, and many of us spend time frowning over the ingredients lists on packaged foodstuffs. Are they organic? Free from additives or preservatives? Gluten or dairy free?

We don’t do this with alcohol. We can’t. Alcoholic drinks are exempt from labelling laws. This anomaly can lead to the misconception that alcoholic drinks have nothing to declare. This is far from the case, as is particularly evident in wine. Grapes are a foodstuff prone to mildew and damp, and are heavily sprayed. A typical glass of wine will contain residual levels of thirteen pesticides.

Then after the (unwashed) grapes are pressed at the winery, the list of ingredients lengthen. From the industrial yeasts that create specific “flavour profiles” to the acids that antioxidise, to the isinglass (made from fish bladders), or the casein (a milk protein) that are passed through wines in order to fine them.

The other misconception is that wines are all as bad as each other. There are many winemakers with integrity, who treat their environment and their customers with respect. You won’t find pesticides in organic wines and there is a list of 60 additives used in conventional wine production that are banned by organic standards. Furthermore, you can avoid the animal products by buying vegetarian or vegan wines.

But it’s sulphur dioxide that dominates debate. It’s a divisive issue amongst organic winemakers. Sulphur dioxide occurs naturally in the fermentation process that turns grape juice into wine. But most winemakers add ‘free sulphur’ to the mix as an antioxidant, and as a stabiliser – it prevents the yeast from continuing to ferment in the bottle. How much is acceptable? Can you still call a drink with a chemical additive organic? Technically, you can’t – hence the phrase ‘wine made from organically grown grapes’.

Though precise levels vary, organic wines typically contain less than a third the amount of free sulphur of conventional wines. But even at low levels, sulphur dioxide can aggravate asthmatics and exacerbate hangovers. Henry Finzi-Constantine, of Castello di Tassarolo, who has experienced respiratory problems in the past, makes a range of biodynamic wines without adding sulphur. These wines form the backbone of the next organic and vegan tasting at the Greenhouse, at 7.30 on Friday September 14th.

The Castello is situated near Genoa, in the north west of Italy, near Gavi. Here, the Cortese grape predominates, and we will sample two light and refreshing examples of it before trying the rich, ripe, raspberry notes of the Castello’s Monferrato Rosso. We will also feature the juicy, succulent fruit of our popular Tempranillo Cuesta Colora from Bodegas Parra Jiminez, and the classic Burgundian elegance of Renaud Boyer’s Bourgogne Rouge.

A place at Wine Not Punishment: A Tasting Without Added Sulphur costs £8. Please book in advance in the café.

The evening’s wines in full:

1) Gavi Frizzante, Castello di Tassarolo, 2011
(12% vol., £12.75. Grape variety: Cortese.)

2) Gavi Spinola, Castello di Tassarolo, 2011
(11.5% vol., £11.25. Grape variety: Cortese.)

3) Monferrato Rosso, Castello di Tassarolo, 2010
(13% vol., £12.50. Grape varieties: Barbera / Cabernet.)

4) Tempranillo Cuesta Colora, Bodegas Parra Jiminez, 2010
(13.5% vol., £9.50.)

5) Bourgogne Rouge, Domaine Renaud Boyer, 2008
(12% vol., £15.50. Grape variety: Pinot Noir.)


Feedback from Loire Whites & Rhone Reds, our most recent wine tasting:
“Good range, good quality, well presented.”
“Gets better and better!”
“Background to the wines and regions was helpful.”
“Don’t change anything. C’etait parfait!”

And remember!
‘What is the definition of a good wine? It should start and end with a smile.
William Sokolin