Intranet Catprocess
  1. Consulting
  2. articles
  3. News
  4. Vignerons
  5. Informations
  6. Vins actuels
  7. Wine ebook
  8. Pourquoi vivre en Norvège
  1. Sulphur in Wine:

    “In the vineyard :
    The use of sulphur works preventively: to fight against oïdium, it can be sprayed on the leaves pure and dry (flowers of sulphur, amorphous sulphur in very fine powder), as a powder, mixed with clay or dissolute in water. It is transformed by microbes on the leaves into sulphuric acid which lowers the pH of the leaves and prevents the apparition of the oïdium mushroom…

    In the wine cellars :
    Since centuries, wine growers use to burn a sulphurized wick inside of their oak casks to disinfect them. Nowadays the use of a sulphur tablet instead of the wick is preferable, followed by washing the barrels with water. The tanks and some tools also undergo the same treatment.

    In the wine :
    The use of sulphur dioxide (SO2), in tablet form or as dissolution, is quite a prevalent custom for the huge majority of wines during their vinification, maturation and before the bottling.
    Inside the wine, sulphur remains under two different shapes: the ‘bound sulphur’ and the ‘free sulphur’.  60 to 95% of the added sulphur binds with other elements (phenols, sugars) and have no real effectiveness. The free sulphur is a gas which doesn’t bind with other molecules. This is the active one. The sum of both types of sulphur is called ‘total sulphur’.”
    Written by Jean-Emmanuel Simond (Rvf 2009)

    Claude Courtois


    People often confuse ‘organic/bio wine’ with ‘wine without sulphur’. The denomination ‘organic/bio wine’ is not officially existing, the certification only concerns the viticulture and not the vinification. Chaptalization (adding sugar to unfermented grape must in order to increase the alcohol content after fermentation), sulphurization, use of selected yeasts and acidification are not forbidden but tolerated. Nowadays, some associations like Nature & Progrès and Demeter propose vinification charters. The AVN (Association for Natural Wines) presents wine growers who do not use any extern additive during the vinification, only adding some sulphur in very low quantities before the bottling.

    What causes headaches?

    Sulphur is not the only guilty one regarding the severe headaches some people suffer of when drinking wine. The mix of different chemicals inside the grapes, the chaptalization and the adding of sulphur are the guilty ones. It affects strongly my nostrils, the back of my head and my stomach.

    Wine without sulphur does not exist: 

    It should be more correct to call it ‘wine without added sulphur’. Indeed, the natural/wild ferments do produce their own sulphur during the fermentation. In France, a bit more than 20 wine growers propose wines without added sulphur.

    The taste of wine with a lot of sulphur
    Burned matches in the nose. Totally blocked finish with a metallic undertone.

    The characteristic of a wine without added sulphur:

    Sometimes a barn smell in the nose and even some volatile acidity.
    A good wine without added sulphur can present a touch of both aromas above, but never dominating. The fruit is pure and the nose is very complex. The phenolic maturation gives a smooth attack. On the palate, you can get some gas (pouring the wine over into a decanter will get rid of it). The tannins in the red wines are very elegant thanks to a good phenolic maturity. The retro-olfaction is very complex and mineral.

    Gilles Vergé
    Carbonic maceration and no added sulphur:
    “… The tank is initially saturated in carbonic gas (CO2); the grapes have been vatted uncrushed and healthy… There is no reason any more to use sulphur because the grapes are fully protected by the carbonic gas… Sulphurizing implies a constant stirring of the grapes and juice, which is not really compatible with the technique of macerating uncrushed grapes.“ From François Morel book ‘Le vin au naturel’.
    After many blind tastings, I discovered that I do prefer the Beaujolais wines with the traditional Burgundy vinification and not those made with the carbonic maceration. I find in the first ones more minerality and complexity.
    The carbonic maceration gives easy ‘gurgling’ wines (sic dixit François Morel himself), meant for the typical folkloristic French bistro. Personally I won’t criticize those wines because if I was a wine grower making my first wine, I would use the carbonic maceration to make an easy drinking (and fast selling!) wine. 

    How to serve a wine with no added sulphur:

    In the La Méditerranée restaurant, we propose the white wine of Domaine Rapatel by glass. From the end of June to the beginning of September, it was fizzling, no idea why. It smelled like beer. We decided not to sell them for a while and just waited to see what happened. Now, the wine is great and matches perfectly with our bouillabaisse (Mediterranean fish soup).
    To serve this kind of wine, man and wine should be on one mind. Our philosophy must be to understand and tolerate. Wishing everyone to hell and plague them like a nasty piece of work after a bad working day is your right; you are at least no robot but a human being. Wine without added sulphur is like you; it is alive, it breathes without conserving agents.
    Barn smells today, mad fizzling another day, volatile acidity or oxidative aromas reminding the grey hairs or the wrinkles of a 40 years old human… as a professional taster, you should be aware of all those aspects and even more important, know if your potential client can accept it like you do. The most important is to sell wine and that your clients understand your opinion. That is why I am open enough to have both styles of viticulture on my wines card. But let us get back to the subject. One should be perfectly calm while tasting a wine without added sulphur, because the wine has to be properly attuned. You just need to let it breathe in a decanter and be patient. This type of wine is fond of air and oxygen, even if it sounds paradoxical.
    Above all, never argue for ever if your guest is right at the opposite of what you think. Right, tell him only on the very last moment that the wine has no added sulphur. Start simply with: “it has some character and I am sure you have never tasted a wine like this”.

    Some experiences of mine:

    For the ones who still doubt about wines without added sulphur…
    A bottle of Mâcon from the well-known Vignes du Mayne was passing out, but after 15 minutes it just came back to life.
    A magnum from Cousin (Anjou) was undrinkable for 2 days and after that simply fantastic for one week.
    In 2003, a bottle of the Racine 2000 of Claude Courtois was damned corked… I left it open, without cork, for one month. I just wanted to use it in a stew but I tasted it. Strangely enough, it was fizzling, it was invigorating. I left it again for one more month and tasted it. It was perfect.
    I could mention to you more examples, but they would bring us too far from the ordinary context of the modern oenology. The reason is very simple: the wine is defending itself, it is not bounded, it is free.

    Are there also bad wines without added sulphur?

    Well, there are some bad sommeliers, bad physicians, bad dentists, bad tradesmen, and also bad natural wines without added sulphur; most probably caused by a lack of experience. I do trust those wine growers getting further year after year. As one says: wisdom is the fruit of experience, experience the fruit of stupidities.
    During a tasting of different wines without added sulphur in the cellars of a wine grower, you notice that:
    The white wines have the same very distinct oxidative aromas: the wine grower made a vinification mistake, the wines are oxidised.
    The red wines show the same lack of complexity and minerality: the wine grower might have made a miscalculation in the maceration time.

    Should we be intolerant for the wine colour?

    Surely not, the very best white wines tasted turn to orange or even brown.

    Is there a difference between oxidation and oxidative?

    Yes… Oxidized wines are dead; they all smell the same, like an old dry sherry wine. An oxidative character is like the grey hairs or wrinkles when you get older. It is an evolution, the aromas are complex: minerality, apple, sherry, underwood, fruits, and wine distillate. One should just accept them the way they are.

    Michel Augé
    The future of our wines in France has to go through recognizing and accepting the two kinds of viticulture, but also the terroir imprint in a wine. Our wine institutions, our professional tasters and journalists must admit those important but often forgotten points.
    The so called natural wines, without added sulphur, are the specialisation of our viticulture. They can allow us to be different on the international wine scene. Why not create special workshops and lectures about this type of wine in the viticulture schools?
    I do believe in wines made from organic/bio grapes but naturally vinified. Sulphur can be added before the bottling. Wine growers should not systematically take irretrievable risks for their company. Making wines without any added sulphur is for them like being a rope-dancer or even an artist.
    Would people be receptive for that? The future will tell us.

    Jean-Charles Botte translated by Christian Callec

    Estates that offer wines with no added sulfur :

    Pierre Frick, Michel Augé, Sébatien Riffault, La grapperie, Les vignes de l'angevin, La Paonnerie, Mirebeau, Château Lassolle, Valentin Zusslin

    champagne sans soufre

    How to recognize sulfur in wine ?

    Nose: burnt matches or burnt rubber
    In the mouth : you find in finish mettalic tatse. Sulfur encloses the fruit
    if in retro-olfaction; the smell of burning rubber coming and you dry throat. Too much sulfur
    In the nose of empty glass: always smell empty glass. If you smell fruit, the wine is clean. If this is you smell burnt matches, the wine has too much sulfur
    To help you in your education, you can take Vitajuwel
    riesling trocken

    the color is pale yellow 
    the nose is fruit  with a light burned matches 
    the attack is semi-smooth 
    the middle is pleasant semi-robust with a fruity finish. It is easier to drink
    but the retro-olfaction  of sulfur  invades the nose and throat 
    and this is too bad because this is a good wine spoiled by too much sulfur
    I love this vineyard especially Stein or Kirspel:  I do not smell sulfur in this wine. 
    White wine from Italy
    no decanted
    the color is orange and cloudy
    the first nose is opened of fruit,  beer and volatile acidity 
    the second is discreet with mineral and  farm 
    the attack is ample 
    the middle of wine is concentrated, semi long,
     I find a little gas 
     The end is straight with a long retro-olfaction of minerality 
    the first nose is more discreet 
    the second fruit and spice like white beer 
    the  attack is unctuous 
    the middle is long and ample without gas
    the  final is straight with a long rétro-olfaction of minerality and salty.   
    this wine is natural,very spiritual ,male, straight and  dry. Magic to begin aperitif.
    the nose of the empty glass is fruit spices with a little volatile acidity