Debunking Wine Myths: Vegan Wine, Sulfites, and Unicorns

Horsepower in the Vineyards at Champagne Chartogne-Taillet

Horse and Gurrrl-power in the Vineyards at Champagne Chartogne-Taillet

Today I’d like to share my views on some common wine myths.  Yes, the truth is out there, and now it’s in here!

Vegan Wine: This wine tag became popular several years ago in Oregon and California, and has spread across the US, appealing to the “green” crowd.  If wine is made from grapes, how could it be anything other than vegan, you might ask?  When winemakers clarify the wine, they remove the particles (dead yeast cells, sediment, etc.) either through filtration or by adding a “fining agent” to the wine.  Some winemakers consider fining a more gentle method and the less likely to have a negative affect on the wine.  The fining agent bonds to the particles and sinks to the bottom, allowing the clarified wine to be siphoned off from the top.  Winemakers have various options regarding which fining agent to use, including diatomaceous earth (also called kieselgur), bentonite clay, gelatin, egg whites, or isinglass, which is made from fish bladders.  It sounds yucky, I know, but in fact does not make the wine taste fishy.  Wines labeled as “vegan” assert that no animal products of any kind were used in the winemaking process.

Well, I’m sorry to be a killjoy, but if any of you have visited a winery during the harvest and fermentation, you will have been plagued by miniscule fruit flies.  These little insects love grapes and wine almost as much as you do, but they don’t listen when told to “shoo” as the winepress is on its way down.  No matter how well filtered or clarified the wine may later be, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but there is sure to be a tiny amount of bug juice in your wine.

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Sulfites: These have become the “big bad” in the mind of American consumers.  In fact, sulfites occur naturally during fermentation, so no alcoholic wine could be 100% sulfite free.  What you’re really searching for is “no added sulfites.”  Let’s look at this more closely.

SO2 (sulfur dioxide) is used in winemaking to stop fermentation, and also as a preservative to keep the wine in good condition longer.  If you buy a bottle marked “no added sulfites” that means that the delicious wine you buy today may not taste as good a year from now, and may be vinegar in a few years.  Or it may not, you never know. So are you feeling lucky, punk?

If you plan to cellar your wine for future enjoyment, then wines without added sulfites may not be the way to go.  If, on the other hand, you’re looking for something to enjoy this weekend, then go for it!

Many wine lovers blame sulfites for their next-day headaches and lethargy.  In fact, sulfite sensitivity varies from person to person, but often shows up as a rash on the forearms or jawline. What you might mistake for a sulfite allergy may simply be dehydration, a common problem for those of us who don’t religiously drink one glass of water for each glass of wine.  I know, I don’t feel thirsty when drinking wine, either!

Sulfites are most commonly used at salad bars, in order to keep the cut vegetables fresh longer.  Do you have a bad reaction after you eat at a salad bar?  Most packaged cookies, bottled sauces and other prepared foods have added sulfites as preservatives.  Have you noticed next-day headaches when indulging in pre-packaged goodies?

Lastly on this topic, some people do find that they develop a sensitivity to certain types of wine, red or white, as they grow older. If your reaction isn’t too severe, you can experiment and see if it is triggered by one or more particular varietals (Pinot Noir vs. Cabernet Sauvignon for example).  Then you’ll know what to avoid and can enjoy the rest of the wine world’s wonderous offerings.

 

How about you?  Have you tried a “vegan wine” or one with “no added sulfites”?  Did you like it?  Did you age it and if so, how long?  I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below.

 

The Perfect Wine: No such thing.  What you love to drink today may not be your favorite quaffer in 6 months, or a few years.  Tastes change, palates evolve, and the pleasure you get from a wine may be completely altered by the foods you’re eating.  So be flexible, experiment with new varietals, new regions, even new colors (orange wine, anyone?).  The wines of the world are out there, waiting for you to discover them.  So enjoy the journey, and send me a postcard!

Looks More Like a Duo-corn to Me

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