Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Stellenzicht launches no added sulphite wines

Stellenzicht has launched two wines without any added sulphites, a 2008 Petit Verdot, and a 2009 Chardonnay. Although Stellenzicht winemaker Guy Webber has been experimenting with low-sulphite wines for several vintages, these will be the first to be released into the local market.

Sulphur-free wines are not yet possible as yeasts produce small amounts during fermentation.
Guy said the two new wines would help to grow a very small category of wines with no added sulphites  available to local consumers. To be classified as a low-sulphite wine, the sulphite count must not exceed 10 parts per million. "This is quite a challenge, as sulphites are also generated during fermentation. One therefore has to take extreme care to reduce sulphur contact with the grapes to the minimum, and this starts in the vineyard with the avoidance of sulphur-based fungicides and insecticides."

Guy said although the wines were intended primarily for people who are sulphur-sensitive they did also serve to extend the taste spectrum for consumers. "This new Chardonnay tastes different, in the same way a wooded Chardonnay tastes different from an unwooded one. It is fresh and complex on the nose with nuances of ripe pineapple, pawpaw and gooseberry. On the palate it is different from what one would expect from a white wine - its freshness at the end belies the rich, buttery complexity with which it starts off and makes it for me a most exciting wine."

At this stage, Guy does not intend adding more low-sulphite wines to the Stellenzicht line-up. "There is inherently nothing wrong with sulphur - it is a natural, environmentally-friendly substance that has been used extensively in the wine industry as a preservative since classical times. Sulphur turns into sulphites which preserve the wine. It is an antiseptic as well as an anti-oxidant."

According to Guy the risk of bacterial spoilage determines every action in the making low-sulphite wines. "You have to start with healthy grapes of excellent quality that must be delivered to the cellar without delay. It is also important to select yeast cultures for fermentation that generate little sulphur. To achieve microbial stability, the wine needs to undergo malolactic fermentation. We avoid contact with oxygen as far as possible, and finally, we move the wine as little as we can - the Chardonnay goes virtually straight from the tank into the bottle."

In the case of the Petit Verdot, Guy gave the wine the maximum exposure to tannins by keeping it on the skins for almost a year. After drawing off the skins, the wine remained in the barrel for another year before bottling early in 2010. He said the concentrated fruit flavours on the nose of this intensely deep-coloured wine "are balanced on the palate by an abundance of ripe tannins and a crisp acidity".

Particular care was taken to avoid oxygen contact during bottling. "We used high-quality composite corks that allow zero oxygen penetration and before filling, staff wearing sterilised gloves dropped pellets of dry ice into each bottle to fill it with carbon dioxide and expel the oxygen."

"In addition to sulphites there are a number of inherent preservatives in wine, such as tannins, the acids and the alcohol itself. If it is sealed in hermetically, there is no reason why a low-sulphite wine should not last as long as sulphite-treated ones," Guy said. "As the wines were not cold-stabilised it is possible that small tartrate crystals will in time form in the bottles of white wine and a fine sediment in the red."

Very small quantities of the two wines were produced: 1 700 bottles in the case of the Petit Verdot and 2 000 in the case of the Chardonnay. Some of this will be offered selectively to the local market while some will be going overseas. The Petit Verdot is expected to sell for about R115 per bottle and the Chardonnay for about R89.

for more see Hope for Wine Allergy Sufferers

Jonathan Snashall

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