We need to talk about sulphur. You might have noticed that most bottles say ‘contains sulphites’ somewhere on the label.
This is an EU and US requirement and given that sulphur is produced naturally when grape juice is fermented into wine you won’t find many bottles without this written on the label (10 parts per million is the cut-off point).
Sulphur is used as a spray in the vineyard to ward off fungal diseases and is especially useful for organic growers so there is nothing unnatural in sulphur itself (Irish farmers use sulphur dioxide to prevent potato blight).
More significantly sulphur-dioxide is added at the racking stage prior to bottling to prevent oxidation and bacterial growth which can cause wine faults (eg vinegary, volatile acidity and sweaty saddle smelling brettanomyces).
If you are sensitive to sulphur (fewer than 1% of us are) then you should watch for ‘no added sulphur’ information, but be warned that these may taste a little different.
There is an increasing number of winemakers that do not add sulphur at this final stage and believe that not doing so preserves the purity of the wine and that sulphur dampens down some of the natural flavours.
The downside is that immaculate cleanliness and finely honed winemaking skills are required or the wine’s flavour will suffer in the short and particularly, long term.
The ‘natural’ wine movement generally eschews sulphur (or reduces its use considerably) and I confess I find some of these natural wines undrinkable.
However, from a good producer you should find that the wines have purer fruit flavours, if perhaps less freshness.
Natural winemakers would argue that adding sulphur at the racking stage is a 20th century innovation and we need to re-learn how to make wine without sulphur.
The Romans used sulphur in winemaking it is believed, but not in the way that it is used by modern winemakers.
Most of this week’s wines have minimal sulphur or no added sulphur (the exception is the Laurent Miquel which you might try for comparison purposes).
The Dunnes wines will be at the below prices from April 5.
BEST VALUE UNDER €15
Laurent Miquel Pére et Fils Syrah 2014, 13% abv, Languedoc, France — €9.00
Stockist: Dunnes Stores
This is a bargain price which is available in Dunnes Stores from next
Tuesday as part of their annual Mediterranean promotion.
Dark purple hues, blackcurrant and black cherry aromas, solid and fruity on the palate with a touch of black wine gums on the finish.
Naturae Syrah 2015, 12.5% abv, Languedoc, France — €12.00
Stockist: Dunnes Stores
Organic wine from the hands of former French International rugby player Gerard Bertrand whose wines have featured here before.
This is made without added sulphur (no easy thing) and has pleasing light blackberry fruit aromas and some structured darker flavours on the palate.
Naturae Chardonnay 2015, 13% abv, Languedoc, France — €12.00
Stockist: Dunnes Stores
Once again this is organic and made without added sulphur and seems to have suffered no ill effect showing fine pure pear and lemon drop aromas with more pear and a hint of lemon candy on the palate and a fine fresh finish.
This is light enough to serve as an aperitif but would also work well with a big bowl of mussels.
BEST VALUE OVER €15
Albet i Noya Nosodos Xarel-Lo 2014, 14% abv, Penedès, Spain — €16.99
Stockists: O’Donovans Cork, Quay Co-Op, Organico in Bantry, www.marypawlewines.com
Albet i Noya wines from Penedès appeared here before and in general their wines do contain sulphur but this is their non-sulphite version made from the Cava grape Xarel-lo.
Apple, tropical aromas with floral touches, citrus and soft apple with some structure and freshness on the palate.
Albet I Noya Lignum! 2013, 12.5% abv, Penedès, Spain — €16.99
Stockists: O’Donovans Cork, Fields Skibbereen, Mortons Galway, Clontarf Wines
While this does contain some sulphur it is kept to a bare minimum and the grapes are grown organically and sustainably. This has Chardonnay,
Sauvignon and Xarel-lo and has fine ripe pear and melon aromas with a hint of tropical fruit — crisp and fresh on the palate with fresh clean pear flavours. A perfect Spring wine.
Coste Piane Prosecco di Valdobbiadene ‘Naturale’, 11% abv Italy — €25.99
Stockists: Ballymaloe Cookery School, Corkscrew, Le Caveau Kilkenny www.lecaveau.ie
This is a purely natural Prosecco and will taste considerably different to what you would expect from inexpensive supermarket Prosecco (a good thing!).
Ferment happens in the bottle (normally Prosecco is tank fermented) and this is packed with floral and light peach and yeast aromas, a light tropical fruit-tinged fizz with a touch of minerality and fine-balanced freshness.
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