JWL Issue #046: What is sulphur? About low sulphite wines

April 2, 2019

After last week’s sad drinks news to kick things off, some better news this week. Sam Smith’s, the pub chain that affordably only stocks its own beers, is banning mobile phones. Cheap beer will not be the only reason to visit!

In Learn, I’m visiting the subject of sulphur after having had an incredible low sulphur red this week. And elsewhere in Taste, I dip into one of the new Le Grappin 2017s, which is an elegant masterpiece.

It was April Fools’ Day yesterday, one of the least comic days of the year (sigh: inner cynic coming out). That said, The Wine Society did prompt a smile with a video on Twitter indicating they’d now be using interpretive dance for tasting notes.

A question for all, I’ve built up quite a list of ‘incredible affordable wines’ over the last year, and perhaps might revisit with a bumper issue of 'Best under £15’. Thoughts?


Terre de Mistral, a low sulphur Côtes du Rhône, was my highlight of the week (Buon Vino, £10.95). This was elegantly smooth - both on the nose and on the palate, with aromas of black cherry, crushed black pepper on the nose, and wafts of cured, hanging meat from the pantry. Best affordable red I’ve had in a long time.

Le Grappin seem to be the most infamous winemaking names in London at the moment. Loved by everyone I meet, they produce stellar Burgundian wines around the £20 price point. They also have a more premium range. Their Savigny Les Beaunes Blanc (buy direct, £42) is an elegant example in this bracket. A strong, mineral nose, with a background of lemon and hints of hawthorn enticed you to drink this. Great structure and an elegant finish completed it. A wine you have to stop yourself from racing through.


The role of sulphur

While folklore says the Romans used sulphur in winemaking, its recorded usage dates back to the 13th century. 

Sulphur dioxide (SO2) can be used at various points in the winemaking process, and results in sulphites left in the bottle. Its use is to help preserve the wine so that it’s still fresh when you open it. The overall trend in the last 50 years has been for sulphur to be used less and less. ‘No sulphur’ or 'low sulphur’ wines are on the up, mirroring the rise of the natural wine movement, over the last couple of decades. 

Some people are highly sensitive to sulphites, and therefore might want to look out for low sulphur wine. And in some extreme circumstances, there are allergic reactions to them. Sulphur is present in lots of food we eat, like dried fruit and bacon too. 

As with anything personal preference plays most at hand here. Likewise there are good wines and bad wines that contain sulphur, and good wines and bad wines that don’t. Not containing sulphur is not an indication of a good wine any more than the label is.

A final note: sulphur has on many occasions been linked as the cause of hangovers. I’ve searched high and wide for any level of academic text that draws a link and can’t find one, but if you have one, please do share it.

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