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Unsulfured wines – Dead or Alive??

For those of you who follow my writings, my last publication was a producer profile on the philosophy and wines of Bressan from Friuli, Italy.  I have been speaking rather loudly about natural wines for some time now and I will again try and get my point across about how when well made, these wines are alive.  The wines of Bressan are no exception to this rule – they are most certainly alive and have one hell of a “shelf life”.

I opened his wines and began to write about them on December 26th, 2009.  I wrote about my findings and continued to taste the wines over the course of the next few days.  On December 30th, I left for Poland where I remained until the 13th of January.  I left approx 1/3 of a bottle of the 2006 Verduzzo  Fruilano and 1/3 of a bottle of the 1999 Pignol in my fridge.  On the evening I returned home, I removed the two bottles from the fridge and poured myself a half glass of each, and was not very surprised to find that the wines were still showing well. There was no sign of turning to vinegar and the wines were still very fresh and drinkable.  This was 18 days after I opened the wines!

Tonight I finished what was left of the Pignol, a whopping 22 days after being opened, and it was showing remarkably well. If I have to be fussy, I could say that the fruit had faded a tad…(but only a tad!).  This being said, the wine was very drinkable (which I did) and showed no signs of negative volatility nor had it become vinegar and in fact improved again once it sat in the glass for 5 mintutes… This is a 10 year old wine opened 22 days ago and I enjoyed it as much today as the day I opened it.. And it was made without the use of sulfur. Sulfur is a preservative that many conventional wine makers say you cannot make a stable wine without it… really?

Before my current position at Jacob’s Bar & Kitchen, where I have the largest selection of natural wines in Norway (and I sell them almost exclusively to the tune of about 250-350 bottles a month (perhaps more)), I managed what is considered the best wine bar in Norway.  A wine bar that boasted a wine list of over 500 titles and the “Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence”.  Although I managed to sneak a few natural wines on the list here and there, the wine consisted of mostly a very well selected group of  “conventional” wine makers. Although we prided ourselves in hand selecting small wine makers and growers, they very often used selected yeasts and sulfur in wine making.  I speak from the 4-years of experience managing this bar when I say that almost every bottle of wine that was open more than 3 or 4 days, ok sometimes 5 days, was sent to the kitchen as “waste”. This included expensive, well-made wines.

In my last 12 months of running the wine program for Jacob’s Bar & Kitchen, I sell almost exclusively organic, biodynamic an natural wines. I have a wine list of over 15 unsulfured wines, and I hardly send a bottle of wine to the kitchen as waste.

I have experience with other natural wines being long lived like the wines of Frank Cornelissen, Domaine Le Mazel (vertical tasting coming soon!) and Clos Roche Blanche (whose wines I have tasted over a one week period) for example.  I have deliberately set aside opened bottles of wine from the likes of these producers and tasted them over the course of weeks only to find that they almost always improve over the course of 10 days. I often find they level out and remain the same through the 14th day after being open, and most will begin to fade after day 18.

Why does this happen? I am not sure that I have the explanation for this. I feel that these wines are alive. Sulfur may be a preservative, but what kind of perservative kills its host?! Well-made wines without sulfur in my opinion are alive, more stable, have more interesting aromas and I am able to drink more and feel better the next day.

I just have to finish by saying that I simply write what comes spontaneously to me.. It’s what I feel.  In this case it’s also based on my experience and I challenge and welcome anybody who wants to discuss their personal findings on this subject, after all, I just want to learn as much as possible about the life that these wines possess.

Category: 1 WINE, 9 WINE THOUGHTS, natural wine (100% living wine), Unsulfured wines - Dead or Alive??

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10 Responses

  1. Jacob says:

    All I can say is, the wines you have given me are the best I ever tasted. And the “sulfur=hangover”-equation makes a lot of sense.

  2. F. says:

    Hmmm. Very interesting and provocative thoughts. It appears that everyone in the field has some reason for adding sulfur in the winemaking process. Some of the more diplomatic producers comment simply that there is no discussion necessary regarding sulfur —-in that they do not use it. Others engage themselves with zeal explaining that they have to add at some point. This leads me to the thought that perhaps it is the location that predicates the use of sulfur. For example, perhaps the bacterial flora is different from vineyard to vineyard and as such one vineyard does not require sulfur whereas another might (claim?) to lose fruit or bottles if no additional sulfur is added. Of course, I would love to live in a perfect world and I believe your notions are very interesting, but I start to wonder if some vintners are truly at a loss without the compound and this is not due to the economics of production, but rather of venue. Very nice and motivating piece. It is very comforting to know that you are being cerebral about what you ingest and imbibe. It is also comforting to hear about the wines of Bressan, that can still make your palate excited after prolonged opening. Saluti to the long-lived Bressan wines!

  3. Good reading and info, thanks! I now also check my wines even after them being open for many days prior to “wasting” them. I too find the natural or organic etc ones fair much much better than previously experienced conventional wines. I too wonder what others’ findings are??

  4. Fabius says:

    I found your post very interesting as I am a producer of natural wines in Spain, and we don’t add any sulphites to the must or wine. I have to confess that I’ve never done that experiment, ie starting a bottle of wine and leaving it in the fridge for 14-18 days; but I’m going to do it today, and I’ll get back to you in 14 days!
    What I have noted, though, is that our wine (a young white, 100% Airén, 12%) oxidizes slowly over time;

  5. John Kaare says:

    Hi Joseph,

    Great read as alway. As you know I don’t always agree with you but you do express youself well. And your wine list at Jakob’s is becoming very impressive indeed. We should do a tasing again soon!

    Fabius. I’m also looking forward to hearing your findings. Can we buy your wone in Norway?

    JK

  6. Fabius says:

    Hi John,
    Sorry for taking so long to reply – I didn’t notice that there had been more comments!
    I’m afraid you can’t buy our wine in Norway. In fact we don’t export outside Spain at all at the moment, though we are hoping to start at the end of this year in December.
    I’ll be tasting the (possibly) oxidised wine in my fridge tonight. Will post findings tomorrow.

  7. Fabius says:

    Well, I had a taste (1 glass) of the wine last night, after 9 days. I thought I could detect a very slight difference from an recently opened bottle, but I wasn’t sure. I need to open a bottle and try them both at the same time. I must say that I was very surprised as I was expecting it to be oxidised.

    I’ve recorked the bottle and left it in the fridge again. I’ll taste again at 14/15 days.

  8. Fabius says:

    Will taste again tonight (at 16 days). I also have a bottle of identical wine unopened, so I’m going to do a blind comparisson.

  9. Fabius says:

    Well, I did the test again after 17 days, and at the same time I opend a bottle of exactly the same the same wine and blind tasted both. Result: the same as above at 9 days! I thought I could detect a slight difference but it wasn’t obviously easy to detect. I have to say that I’m not an experienced taster, so maybe an expert would have noticed immediately. I think it’s worth while for this test to be repeated and the wine(s) tasted by someone else, who IS experienced.

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About
Vinosseur is the company name of sommelier Joseph R. Di Blasi. Vinosseur.com is his web page where he writes about wine, food, restaurants and other gastronomic experiences.

Joseph has a special place in his heart for quality wines from the old world, especially France & Italy, with a strong focus on Organic, Biodynamic and Natural wines.

Joseph grew up in Italy and California, but left The States in 2002 and now resides in Poland.

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Joseph would love to hear from you! You can contact him by email at vinosseur@gmail.com