Wine Education Wednesday: Sulfites in wine

Chances are, the wine you drank last night had a "contains sulfites" advisory on the label. Ominous as that sulfites may sound, sulfites are a terribly misunderstood component of wine. We’ve set out to demystify a few sulfite myths here.

– First let me say that just as some people are lactose intolerant or allergic to pollen, there are people who are sensitive to sulfites, even the small amounts in wine (which contains about 10mg/glass; 80mg/liter), and this sensitivity can cause a reaction. Asthmatics can be particularly sensitive. This small percentage of the population must also avoid other sulfite- heavy products such as dried fruits and molasses. If you think you're sensitive to sulfites, try eating a handful of dried apricots and see how that affects you – dried fruits, particularly apricots, have about 10 times more sulfites added than your regular glass of wine.

– Sulfites are not the cause of the mysterious red wine headache. Some drinkers do get a headache from red wines, but studies have not yet been able to find the exact culprit there, though histamines are thought to have some effect. White wines often have more sulfites than reds, so if no headache is caused by whites, but you do get them with reds, its not the sulfites.

– Almost ALL wines contain some percentage of sulfites. Yeasts naturally create sulfites in wine during fermentation, so if your wine was fermented, then its got some sulfites hanging around. What the USDA’s advisory label primarily refers to are added sulfites.

fermenting juice- Sulfites are added to wine as a preservative since wine is a perishable substance. They are not dangerous. They have been a part of winemaking for centuries, though in different forms. They kill bacteria in wine, which we certainly don’t want, and they protect the wine from oxygen, which can turn a wine to vinegar pretty fast.

– Almost all winemakers add some sulfites to their wines. Again, winemakers want to preserve their wine, and sulfites are the safest way to do it. You can find wine with no added sulfites, which can be stated on the label. These are the only wines can be certified organic by the USDA. There are other organic certification programs that do allow minimal sulfites to be added.

– There is no difference in the French or Italian wine you drink here vs. the one you drank in the home country. Winemakers do not add more sulfites in wines coming to the US than they do to wines that remain local. Most other countries do not require a sulfite warning on the label, so you will only see the warning on wines purchased in the US. But again, that does not mean that a Bordeaux here in the US has more sulfites than the Bordeaux sold in Bordeaux. Just the labeling laws differ.

So, those are some notes on sulfites. A great article to read on sulfites and wine is here, done by researchers at UC Davis.

What is your most memorable wine experience?

cheers Sometimes our best experiences with wine are those that are tied into another special occasion – an engagement, a first date, celebrating a new job, a wedding or a big accomplishment. For others, the best wine experiences are just because of the wine and the people – could be any random Thursday night, but something about the wine, the place or the people with whom you share it, make it memorable. Whatever it is, it’s special to you.

We are so interested in hearing your story, that we’re giving away 1-cent shipping for the month of October. From now until September 30th, post your memorable wine experience here on our blog and we will randomly pick a winner to receive 1-cent shipping for the entire month of October. Read about contest details.

Stories are the best part of wine, so tell us – What was your most memorable wine experience?

Golfers and Wine

golf flag

Last week at an event, we poured wines to fit the theme, “Golfers and Wine.” Who knew so many wines would have a golfing hand (or club?) behind them! I have yet to see another sport with so many members in the winemaking field. The styles of wine from these swinging guys (though gals are getting into the fray as well!) range the gamut, with some sparkling, some white, some red.

Here are the wines we poured at the event and the stories behind them.

greg norman

Golfer & Wine: Greg Norman Sparkling Brut – Dry and crisp, with citrus and stone fruits. Because it’s a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, you get that bright citrus mixed with a richer, almost nutty character. Great value for the bubbles.

About: Greg Norman, aka “The Shark,” began drinking wine on the tour, soaking up the wines from Europe and California as he played and tasted his way around the world. In the 1990’s, Greg paired up with Beringer Blass Estates to create Greg Norman Estates in Australia. More recently, Norman put his name on Greg Norman California Wine Estates, producing a range of wines from the entire state. Though he does not  make the wine or own the vineyards, he approves the decisions and the wines reflect his style – approachable, easy-to-drink but with lots of character.

Golfer & Wine: Arnold Palmer Santa Barbara Chardonnay – Ripe stone fruits and juicy citrus backed by a good acidic backbone. A touch of oak and a creamy texture round out the wine making it refreshing and delicious.

About: Before Tiger there was Arnold. This guy has won 92 national and international golf championships! Not too shabby. A savvy businessman and wine lover, Palmer partnered with Luna Vineyards, a well-known winery in California, to create his line of wines. Established in 2003, Palmer just released the 2005 vintage of his Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Santa Barbara Chardonnay. Both are typical of their region and quite good.

luke donald

Golfer & Wine: Luke Donald Claret – Ripe black fruits dominate this blend with a spicy and smooth texture. Soft tannins, big fruit.

About: A native of England, Luke Donald has been on the tour since 2001. He got into the wine business more recently, partnering with the Terlato Wine Group (he’s good friends with Bill Terlato) and releasing his first vintage in spring of 2008. His Claret, or Bordeaux Blend, is a classic Napa Valley blend. Big fruit, smooth tannins, long finish. Earlier this year he released his first white, a Burgundian-style Chardonnay from Carneros.

 

Golfer & Wine: Nick Faldo Shiraz- Spicy pepper and sweet plums mix to create a well-balanced red. More spicy than sweet, this Shiraz shows the typical style of Coonawarra reds.

About: Like Donald, Faldo is of English origin, but chose Australia as his country of choice to produce wine – the Coonawarra region to be exact. Longer in the game (both golf and wine) than Donald as well, Nick’s first vintage was 2000. His wines, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz & Cabernet Sauvignon, come from the Terra Rossa (red earth) soils of Coonawarra, giving the wines lots of backbone and a touch of eucalyptus and spice.

Golfer & Wine: Ernie Els Engelbrecht-Els Red Blendripe black fruits, spice and smoke marry well in this blend, with a solid tannin backbone and els a lingering finish. Will get better over time, but delicious now, too.

About: South African golf legend, Ernie Els, partnered up with old friend and wine veteran, Jean Englebrecht, for his wine venture in the Stellenbosch region of South Africa. They launched their first wine in 1999 and opened a winery in the region 5 years later. The brand creates a range of wines, from the affordable Guardian Peak to the collectible flagship wine, Ernie Els. The Englebrecht-Els blend is distinctively South African, a blend that marries Els’ love of Bordeaux Blends with Engelbrecht’s passion for Shriaz.

Not only the boys are making wine. Annika Sorenstam recently partnered with Wente Vineyards and launched a $60 Syrah under her name. We’ll keep you posted on more golfers that turn to producing wine, as well as other sports that have players in the wine game. What other sports have you seen in the wine field?

Chardonnay Revisited

ABC – Anything but Chardonnay. You may have heard it from a few wine drinkers along the road. Fed up with the over-oaked, big butter, creamed-corn style Chardonnays that were coming out of California about 10 years ago, many wine lovers swore off the grape, particularly California style. I still talk to people who tell me they just don’t like Chardonnay (which is when I have them taste Chablis). While I did not have  an adamant hatred of the grape, I certainly would choose a slew of other wines before ordering or drinking a California Chardonnay. But recently, this changed.

It all started when I wasnewton chard vines categorizing some wines into our “style of wine” categories on Wine.com. A few wines I had not yet tried, and so instead of throwing all California Chardonnay into “rich and creamy,” I carefully read through the tasting notes offered by the winemaker and even ordered a few of which I was unsure. As I read note after note, even those that were rich and creamy, with notes of butterscotch, fig and crème brulee, I started craving a California Chardonnay. Enough with grassy, acidic Sauvignon Blanc, or my go-to Rose for summer. No more cool Torrontes or Gruner Veltliner. Not even my favorite Chablis would do the trick. I wanted Chardonnay. Not the buttery oak bombs of yesteryear, but the delicious fruit & oak balance with a creamy finish that these wine notes promised. I was salivating.

I ordered a few Chardonnays to taste and also had the pleasure of tasting a few at the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend over Labor Day. I am officially a Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley Chardonnay girl. Sip after sip, I re-introduced my palate to California Chardonnay and am happy to say that they will once again have a place in my wine-drinking repertoire.

Here are the wines I found to quench my California Chardonnay thirst:

Davis Bynum Russian River Chardonnay – I remember stopping by this winery in 2003, before I’d ever heard of them (I was younger then, and living on the east cost). Their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir got two thumbs up, and we packed some up in our luggage to bring home. I got to re-taste these delicious wines at the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend and once again, gave them all two thumbs up. About $24.

anabaAnaba Sonoma Coast Chardonnay – a fairly new winery producing a red and white Rhone blend as well as this Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Wow. This was an excellent wine and a perfect example of what cool-climate Chardonnay can do. Clean, crisp, with lovely ripe fruit balanced by a creamy texture and subtle vanilla oak flavors. Really lovely. Winemaker, Jennifer Marion, knows her stuff, too. Young and eager, she is doing some great things here…  $25.

Landmark Overlook Chardonnay – mmmmm… this is one of those full-bodied wines that while rich, have a nice backbone of crisp acid and citrus to back up the tropical fruit & oak. The '2007 vintage is $26

Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay – An all time favorite. It’s expensive, but if you have the opportunity to taste it, do so. Apple, toast, spice and a long finish make this a wine to savor. See Newton Vineyard pictured above. The ‘06 vintage is on sale for $53.

Au Bon Climat Chardonnay – Jim Clendenen shows us what California Chardonnay should be. From a warmer climate, the ABC combines bright donkey and goatfruit and lush vanilla and oak into a Chardonnay that is definitely California, but the way it should be. This is a Chardonnay I truly enjoy AND it’s at $20.

A Donkey and Goat Chardonnay – Small boutique winery in Berkeley, CA, Jared and Tracy Brandt get their Chardonnay fruit from the Chalone appellation, which is a bit warmer, but they do this wine well. Again, the balance is excellent. They actually blend in some of the ver jus to heighten acidity and lower alcohol. The result is fantastic! $40.

My favorite non-California Chardonnay picks are these, and they are great, easy-drinking Chardonnays, almost all at $20 or less.

Catena Chardonnay – From Argentina. A perfectly balanced Chardonnay. Always a crowd pleaser. $20

Meerlust Chardonnay – Excellent South African Chardonnay – good balance and structure. Also $20

Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay – Rich and delectable, this has got layers of complexity, great balance and a wonderfully long finish. Great for the price!!! $18

Cape Mentelle Chardonnay – Always a winner from the left coast of Australia. Classic Chardonnay style. $20

Tell us – what are your favorite Chardonnays?

Perfect Indian Summer Whites from Southern Italy!

italy

Fall indicators become apparent after the Labor Day Weekend with school back in session and the leaves on the trees about to change color. But  many parts are enjoying an Indian summer with unusually warm temperatures. On those hot days, I always recommend dry and aromatic whites from the Mediterranean. Specifically, I’m quick to mention the array of Italian white varietals for the dinner table and barbecue gatherings. Where can you find more varietal options than Italy, which holds claim to over 2,000 native varietals?

The Italian White category is one of the most underrated categories in the White Kingdom for the QPR (Quality Price Ratio)! Anothsellamoscaer perk is that the category offers a great range of pairing options from semi soft cheeses to the foods of the sea. Also, let’s not forget the antipasti course. The most known Italian grape is Pinot Grigio hands down, which hails from the Northeastern corridor of the country: Alto Adige, Collio, Friuli, Trentino and the Veneto. But, let’s not forget the wonders of Southern Italy, where many native cultivars date back to Phoenician and Greco-Roman times. greco

There’s no better place to start in the South than Campania, the district that surrounds Naples, and where the grapes Falanghina, Fiano and Greco di Tufo take center stage. These varietals languished for several decades, but now have made a roaring comeback, making Campania the center of the Southern Italian Wine Renaissance.

Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, has followed suit over the last 15 years, with wine imports recently hitting an all-time high. Importers are finally bringing in an array of wines made from ancient varietals like Inzolia, Catarratto, Ansonica and Grecanico. Several noted houses blend Inzolia and Chardonnay together. The finest producers make incredible blends from several of the above mentioned grapes – these are worth seeking out.

Zipping over to Sardinia, or Sardegna to natives, Vementino takes prominence in the northern portion of the island. Galluria is the most noted vermentino sardinia and prized D.O.C.G. for this region. Vermentino also grows in Tuscany, but the exotic fruit characteristics on the nose and palate really shine through with the Sardinian rendition.

The common denominator for all these Southern Italian whites are great price points, praise from the press, alluring aromatics, exotic fruit notes braced by excellent minerality and acidity, versatile food pairing wines, and alcohol levels are in check (12.0%-13.5% alc.) without the use of cumbersome oak. Both the neophyte and serious enthusiast can find tremendous benefits from this category.

My highly recommended picks:

Falanghina: Terredora, Irpinia D.O.C., Campania 2008

Greco: Feudi di San Gregorio, di Tufo D.O.C.G., Campania 2007

Ansonica-Catarratto blend: Donnafugata “Anthìlia”, Sicily IGT 2007

Inzolia, Catarratto & Grecanico blend: Regaleali Bianco, Sicily IGT 2007

Vermentino: Argiolas “Costamolino”, Sardegna D.O.C. 2008

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