This is a really short article, that way we can keep to the facts about sulfur. Without going into the health problems posed or not posed, or the relationship of free vs total sulfur, let’s look at the legal limits of total sulfur and my experience of tasting sulphured, little sulfured, and non-sulfured Italian wines in the cellars. (As a side note: sulpher is the British variant spelling, solforosa the Italian translation).
Reviewing EU regulations on wine and sulfur usage, we find the following legal maximum limits of total sulfur for dry red and white wines:
–Dry red wine 150 mg/l
–Dry white wine 200 mg/l
According to the new EU dicate for Organic wines that was just passed in Feb. 2012 (where are long-time Certified Organic companion producer Nicola Venditti was asked for the commission), they must come down to:
–Dry red wine 100 mg/l
–Dry white wine 150 mg/l
Now, numbers are cool to bandy about but what about tasting sulfured and less or non-sulfured wines side by side. We always taste from the tank before a wine goes out; samples come in small bottles to our office here in Italy, or, we travel and visit directly the producer in his or her cantina. Without a doubt, wine’s are more complex and have more of a honed and open nose, when there’s no sulphur added. The same may not be true, as time goes on and a wine ages; not adding sulfur to a wine that’s made to age, may be counter-productive to producing a fine wine. But, with wines that you’d want to drink relatively fresh (within say 3 years of harvest), wines with decidedly less sulphur will bring more pleasure, if they are shipped and stored properly. An example is the wines of Marabino, who sulphured and non-sulfured wines we shipped last year in a reefer with glorious results.
Three years ago I met Pierpaolo from Marabino and he was, and is, on a quest to make his Nero d’Avola transparent of its soil and variety. Every year he’s gaining experience to use less and less sulfur. This difference of using less sulfites is truly amazing to me. The wines have a more honed and nose; in the mouth, the wine is more vinous and fresher. The primary fruit is pushed by acidity instead of acidity intertwined by fruit. I tasted the wines blind on over 5 occasions, one of which was at our warehouse in NJ, where we lined up the two wines.
So, let’s make all wines without sulfur, right? Not so quick, as always, every producer (and wine merchant) always has to understand what relationship they are after between how much sulfur is added and the risk (or aversion to) oxidation among other risks. But, even with that risk/reward, it costs more. Marabino has a new winery; you could eat pesce crudo off the floor. Marabino also works organically and has healthy whole grapes coming into the cantina. But still, the grapes and level of cleanliness (in Marabino’s account of Nero d’Avola) must be even more scrupulous and selective. So, it costs a lot more.
We’ll what are Marabino’s levels? Well, I get to the climax, which is a wine he makes without any sulfites (5 mg is the minimum level recordable in the lab here); see the 5mg/l of total sulfur on file here. He makes it as a hobby, to understand the no-sulfur road of NdA. There’s a scant 50 cases made.
However, for me the REAL NEWS is his regular NdA that rings in a just 28 mg /l total. That’s ridiculously and incredulously low:
I challenge anyone to find a Nero d’Avola with a technical sheet (scheda tecnica) with less total sulfites in all on Sicilia! I mean all! Sure, laws are one thing, and followed laws are another. But, I feel Marabino ‘put up,’ so to speak. They didn’t sing the we are natural wine makers, but they posted on Facebook and allowed here the sulphur results from an independent lab. So, ask the producer to come up with a tech sheet for a lower sulfured Nero d’Avola. I have a few ideas of some producers to ask but I’ll see what you come up with first…