Kimberly’s in Honig Heaven

honig_cabx

From the cluttered desk of Kimberly Eakin:

Yesterday, June 9th, I had the pleasure of dining with Michael Honig, president of Honig Vineyards and Winery in Napa.  Michael was visiting Virginia and had arranged for a luncheon with three southwest Virginia restaurateurs and wine retailers, me among them.
We lunched at Charlottesville’s Inn at Court Square, a 1785 Federal-period home that has been beautifully restored.  I enjoyed a lovingly prepared and exceedingly delicious mushroom Po’ boy but, more importantly, I got to taste all four different wines from this gifted winemaker.  I’ll own that I was a tad embarrassed that I was less familiar with what Michael and his family was doing at Honig vineyards than were my tablemates but I was prepared to learn what Honig wines were all about.
Michael told me, “Our family grows only two grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.  That’s all we’ve ever grown and all we ever will.”  This was OK with me as I’m a proponent of sticking to whatever it is you do best.  And the strategy was obviously working for them as these were all very good wines.  I’m loathe to recommend fixes for that which is not broke.
We tasted the ’08 Honig Sauvignon Blanc Napa and the ’07 Honig Sauvignon Blanc Reserve Rutherford as well as the ’06 Cabernet and the ’05 Bartolucci Cabernet.  They were each excellent in their own way, fullsome, well constructed and aromatic.  As I’ve done post-tasting research on the wines I also find them to be well regarded in the industry.  Look soon for us to stock both the Cabernet Sauvignon Napa and Sauvignon Blanc Napa.
Quite aside from their wines, I must admit that these folks have a terrific sense of humor.  Check out the postcard campaign they have as a marketing tool.  It’s hilarious.

honig_postcard

http://www.honigwine.com/postcards

Published in: on June 10, 2009 at 10:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

Fettucine with Peas, Morels and Country Ham

Simple and stupefyingly delicous.

Simple and stupefyingly delicous.

Mike Harper

There is nothing quite like Country Ham.  It’s sometimes called Salty Ham because of its salt cure and strongly salty flavor.  A good one will hold its own against other world-class hams such as Prosciutto (from Italy) and Serrano (from Spain).  The town of Smithfield, south of Richmond, was an early center of ham production and it was heralded for the quality of the ham produced there.  Of all the country hams, those labeled as “Smithfield” are broadly considered the finest. In 1926 the Virginia General Assembly passed a law that said only peanut-fed hogs, cured and processed in the town of Smithfield, could be called Smithfield hams. (It had been the local practice to allow the pigs to roam the peanut fields, foraging for peanuts missed during harvesting.) Later the peanut-fed stipulation was dropped and the hogs are now fed a variety of grains.  Today, there are only four companies that can legally sell their products as Smithfield hams. All other similarly-styled hams are called “country” hams.  Therefore, like “Champagne”, Smithfield is a legally-protected place-name and it means something very specific to the consumer.
The basic method for making a country ham is to generously rub the hind leg of the pig with salt in order to cure the meat. Some country ham producers also use sugar, which will both tenderize and sweeten the meat, and some also smoke the meat. Many producers also use saltpeter (potassium nitrate) in order to aid in the preservation and to give the ham a rich, pink color.
Once the ham is cured, it is then aged for a minimum of 25 days and may be as long as several years depending on the desired style and the leg’s fat content .

Fettucine
with
PeasMorels and Country Ham

Serves 4 to 6

1 lb. fettucine pasta – dried pasta works very well but, if fresh is available, adjust your cooking time.
1 tbs. canola oil
1 Vidalia onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
8 oz. fresh morel mushrooms  or 6 oz. dried and reconstituted
1 pt heavy cream
2 ½ cups freshly shelled English peas (pre-cooked frozen peas can be substituted)
4-5 oz country ham, cut into very thin strips, ~2in. long
2 tablespoons freshly chopped flat leaf parsley
Freshly-grated Parmigiano Reggiano, for serving
Coarse salt (for pasta water) and freshly-ground black pepper

Cook the pasta in a large pot of rapidly boiling salted water until al dente, (usually 7 to 10 minutes but check the package instructions).

Meanwhile, heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the ham and onion and cook until the onion is translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender.  Add the cream.
Simmer, stirring frequently, until reduced,  – about 5 minutes. Just before the pasta finishes cooking, add the peas to the cream sauce to warm through.

Drain the pasta well and add to the sauce. Toss to coat and combine.  Season to taste with pepper.  (The sauce will not need salt as the ham is already quite salty.) Transfer to a warm platter and sprinkle with chopped parsley and freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Serve immediately.

Fosco Diano d'Alba


Wine Recommendation:

I like a dolcetto with this.  Dolcetto is an Italian grape that produces soft, round and fruity wines with aromas and flavors that include licorice and almonds.  It pairs particularly well with the morels found in this dish.
We have a Diano d’Alba wine in the store that is 100% dolcetto (see  above).  It sells for $19.99/btl and is absolutely delicious.

Published in: on June 7, 2009 at 7:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Pairing Food and Wine

Don't forget to have fun.  In fact - everything else is secondary.

Don't forget to have fun. In fact - everything else is secondary.

Mike Harper

Food and wine pairing is a highly subjective and inexact process. The old rules — (primarily) red wine with red meat and white wine with fish and poultry — don’t take into consideration the complexity of today’s multi-ethnic and subtly flavored foods and the corresponding wide range of wines from around the world that are now conveniently available to almost everyone.

These days you’re more likely to hear food and wine pairing suggestions than hard and fast rules. This is a good thing as it means there is considerable room for experimentation and expression of your own personality in pairing food and wine.

It should be borne in mind that rarely has a meal been ruined by an injudicious choice of wine.  If you like the wine you’re having and also enjoy the food, then they’ll likely make, at least to some degree, a reasonable pairing.  If you’re unsure about which wine you should choose, it’s mostly just a matter of expanding your range of wine experience.  Vineyard tours and wine tastings, such as we have at Wine gourmet every Saturday, are a great way to try different wines and learn which flavor(s) you favor. Then begin by pairing the foods you like with wines you like. You’ll probably find that you’ll have a natural affinity for getting together two things that you enjoy.  Confidence will ensue.

It is better to keep in consideration some general rules-of-thumb — bearing in mind that rules are often made to be broken and that no orphans will die as a result of the choice you make.
A pairing that’s contrary to a rule-of-thumb may still achieve a particular effect or you may make an inspired choice that would mark you as a true artist. It’s best, however, if you first develop a familiarity with convention and an understanding of why the suggested combination(s) usually works.

When pairing food and wine, the goal is synergy and balance. The wine shouldn’t overpower the food, nor should the food overpower the wine.

Think of wine much as you would a condiment — it should complement the food.

Wine drunk by itself tastes different than wine with food, because wine acts on food similar to the way a spice does. Acids, tannins and sugars in the wine interact with the food to provide different taste sensations.

Wine can enhance the flavor of food. A good match will bring out the nuances and enhance the flavors and unique characteristics of both the food and the wine. Most memorable food and wine pairing is achieved when you find similarities and/or contrasts of flavor, body (texture), intensity, and taste.

Above all don’t stress over the perfect food and wine pairing. The best pairing is good food, good wine and good company. Friends and loved ones are the most important ingredients.

To illustrate this point, I’ll provide a story:

When I was a young sailor, living in Italy (courtesy of Uncle Sam), some buddies and I had a little time off and hired a boat to take us to an island about 20 miles or so offshore.
The island, Ventotene, had only a few hundred permanent residents and was popular as a tourist destination for locals. When we arrived, we discovered, to the horror of our growling stomachs, that we had sailed to the island in the off-season and there was little there to support us, food-wise. No stores or restaurants were open. It was late afternoon when we’d pulled into our berth and by the time we’d sorted out that no one was going to make us a meal, it was almost dark. No one was up for a 4-5 hour return sail.
We struck up a conversation with one of the local fishermen there in the tiny port area and explained, as best we could, our food situation.    . . . If there’s anything that my travels have taught me, it’s that a lack of common language is no impediment to commerce.
– He offered to sell us some of his food and we readily agreed to buy some.
He led us up a nearby hill to a small cave that had been carved out of the relatively soft volcanic rock that made up the island. This was, apparently, a common practice locally as the hillside was dotted with man-made caves like freckles on an Irish girl. Anyway, among other things, he kept stores of extra food in his cave. He had baskets of potatoes and onions, jars of olives and olive oil, sausages dangled from the ceiling like stalactites and, most prized of all, 5-liter bottles, enmeshed in plastic weave, and holding homemade wine. We commenced shopping. When we’d sorted out all we wanted and come to an agreement on price, we invited him back down to the boat with us.
We got back to the boat, happy as kids at a church picnic and fired up the tiny stove in the galley. The rustic meal was prepared and consumed – along with most of the wine. The wine was very alcoholic and, under the circumstances tasted rich and earthy. We soon dubbed it “vino collapso” for its effect. Anyway, as the night wore on the bellies got fuller, the stories got funnier, and the eyesight fuzzier.  Toasts were offered to the brotherhood of nations, the salacious geometry of the Italian female and, as our pilot was British, the health of the Queen.  A good time was being had by all.
After several hours of revelry, a voice was heard coming from the pier outside, calling a name. It had a tone that would that could blister paint. The expression of our friend the fisherman passed from bliss to blues.  “Merda!”, he said.
“You?”, we asked
“Si”, he replied gloomily.
And with that, he went topside while we followed, crowding ourselves into the hatchway, craning to get a view of the fireworks that were sure to follow. Our fishwife delivered spectacularly. She screeched at the sight of him and let forth a torrent of curses that must have had people half the island over looking up from their dinners. He hopped down from the boat and scooted past her as she whirled and followed, slapping him repeatedly on the back of the head. That’s the way they left the port, he hunch-shouldered and walking quickly, she slapping and cursing and we laughing as hard as we’ve ever laughed.

I never saw the fisherman again, but I’ve never forgotten him or his “vino collapso”.  Despite the wine’s lack of pedigree, it remains one of my favorite wine experiences and though it may be entirely attributable to my generous and non-judgmental attitude, the wine delivered.

Let’s begin with some of those suggested rules-of-thumb to use as guidelines, and then follow that with a discussion of why certain flavors are found in, or are more dominant in certain wines.

Ten rules-of-thumb for food and wine pairing

1.)    Match quality of food and wine. If you are taking wine as a gift to a dinner party, don’t worry about matching the wine to the food unless you have been requested to do so and have enough information about what is being served to make an informed choice. Just bring a good wine.
A dinner party with multiple courses of elaborately prepared dishes deserves a better wine than burgers on the grill with potato salad.

2.) Timing is everything. When you’re serving more than one wine at a meal, it’s customary to serve lighter wines before full-bodied ones. Dry wines should be served before sweet wines unless a sweet flavored dish is served early in the meal. In that case match the sweet dish with a similarly sweet wine. Lower alcohol wines should be served before higher alcohol wines.

3.) Try to match flavor and intensity. Pair light-bodied wines with lighter food and fuller-bodied wines with heartier, more flavorful, richer and fattier dishes.  You can have a pinot grigio with a steak, but, if you wanted a white wine with your steak, you’re more likely to find the experience satisfying with an oaky chardonnay because, as a white, it has substantial weight, whereas the pinot grigio does not.

4.) Consider how the food is prepared. Delicately flavored foods — poached or steamed — pair best with delicate wines. It’s easier to pair wines with more flavorfully prepared food — braised, grilled, roasted or sautéed. Pair the wine with the sauce, seasoning or dominant flavor of the dish.

5.) Match flavors. An earthy Pinot Noir goes well with mushroom soup, the leather/pencil box /currant flavors of cabernet nuzzle up close to the power of steak and the grapefruit/citrus taste of Sauvignon Blanc goes with fish for the same reasons that lemon does.

6.) Balance sweetness. Beware of pairing a wine with food that is sweeter than the wine, although I do like chocolate with Cabernet Sauvignon. I also like chocolate with good dark beer. Come to think of it, I like chocolate with just about anything.

7.) Consider pairing opposites. Very hot or spicy foods — some Thai dishes, or hot curries for example — often work best with sweet desert wines. Opposing flavors can play off each other, creating new flavor sensations and cleansing the palate.

8.) Match by geographic location. Regional foods and wines, having developed together over time, often have a natural affinity for each other.

9.) Pair wine and cheese. In some European countries the best wine is reserved for the cheese course. Red wines go well with mild to sharp cheese. Pungent and intensely flavored cheese is better with a sweeter wine. Goat Cheeses pair well with dry white wine, while milder cheeses pair best with fruiter red wine. Soft cheese like Camembert and Brie, if not over ripe, pair well with just about any red wine including Cabernet, Zinfandel and Red Burgundy.

10.) Adjust food flavor to better pair with the wine. Sweetness in a dish will increase the awareness of bitterness and astringency in wine, making it appear drier, stronger and less fruity. High amounts of acidity in food will decrease awareness of sourness in wine and making it taste richer and mellower — sweet wine will taste sweeter. Bitter flavors in food increase the perception of bitter, tannic elements in wine. Sourness and salt in food suppress any tendency of the wine toward bitterness and astringency and may make sweet wines taste sweeter.

Flavors found in wine

The basic flavors that occur in food are also found in wine which is, after all, simply another type of food. Those flavors are sweet, tart (sour, acidic), bitter (pucker-y, astringent sensation) and salty (which isn’t found in wine, but affects its flavor). In addition wine has alcohol which adds aromas and body, making the wine feel richer.

The sugar that is present in grapes is converted during fermentation to differing degrees. A wine with very little sweetness is called “dry.” Sweet white wines are Chenin Blanc*, many Rieslings* and Moscato**.  Sweet red wines include Lambrusco, Beaujolais Nouveau and Port.

If a dish is acidic — citrus or vinegar — then an acidic wine would be appropriate, although a lightly acidic dish can be balanced with a lightly sweet wine. Acidic white wines include Pinot Grigio,  Sauvignon Blanc and most sparkling wines. Acidity in wine cuts saltiness, so sparkling wines generally pair with salty foods better than lower acid wines, such as most red wines.  Sparkling wines are among the most flexible for pairing.  (If you familiar with the climactic conditions under which particular grapes best fare, cool climate wines usually have higher acid than do warm climate wines.)

Tannins from the skins and sometimes stems of grapes and the oak barrels used for aging can all cause bitter or astringent aftertastes in red wines. (Larry’s palate is particularly adept at noting “stemmy” characters of wine.)  Tannins however, also give a wine a sense of structure.  They also mellow with age and are one of the components that add complexity to a mature wine.  To counteract a tannic wine, pair it with foods that feature a prominent salty, sour or bitter taste.  These will make a wine seem sweeter and less tannic.  Tannic red wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel and Syrah.

Alcohol gives wine a sense of body and weight, the higher the alcohol, the more full-bodied the wine. Rich meat, fish or chicken dishes that include cream are well suited to full-bodied wines (13–15 percent alcohol) whereas light, simply prepared and flavored dishes pair better with low alcohol wines (7–10 percent).

* Wine made from these grapes can be made in a wide range of sweetnesses up to and including bone dry.  Information can often be found on the label but, if you’re unsure where a particular bottling lies, ask your retailer.

** Moscato is an Italian grape that is often made in the sparkling wine (in Italian: spumante) style.

Published in: on June 3, 2009 at 11:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sparkling Wine

When it comes to expressions of love, no box of candy or suggestive leer can quite compare to the impact on the beloved that’s delivered by a flute of sparkling wine.  The pale, delicate color and streams of tiny pearl-like bubbles rising to form a cap of mousse evoke both the purity and livlieness of love.
There are several types of sparkling wine. The most famous, from the Champagne region of France, is Champagne.  Sparkling wines from outside of Champagne are called something else.  If a sparkling wine comes from another area of France, for example, it is called cremant.  If it comes from Spain, it is cava; from Italy: spumante; from Germany or Austria: sekt.  In the USofA we simply say, sparkling wine. But, to paraphrase Shakespeare, that which we call a sparkling wine would by any name taste as sweet.   . . . or dry, if you prefer.
Sparkling wines vary in degrees of sweetness.  The level of sweetness is described in terms of its opposite, dryness.  The driest (least sweet) sparkling wines are labeled “brut”. This is easily most popular style but, in order from driest to sweetest they are: Brut, Extra Sec, Sec, Demi-Sec, and Doux.  Doux, if you can find it, is very sweet.
Sparkling wine should be served well-chilled and works best in a tall, thin wine glass, called a flute.  Standard wine glasses, however, will do just fine in the absence of flutes.  The classic wide-mouthed champagne glass, the one that’s served as design inspiration for honeymoon-suite bathtubs the world over, is fun, if a little sloppy.  For me, the wine goes dead too quickly in these but I am charmed by the story that the original shape was created from a mold of the breast of Marie-Antoinette.
If you’re giving your beloved dinner with his/her sparkling wine, you’re in luck.  These wines, champagne especially, are very food friendly.  They’ll work with everything from burgers, to asian cuisine, to steak, chicken and fish.
Here are some sparkling wine recommendations that escalate, in price, from solid value to rich extravagance.
Tocco Prosecco @ $15./btl –
The “champagne” of Italy, Prosecco is the name of both the wine and the grape used to make it. It is light, floral and has flavors of yellow apple, pear, and white peach.  If  brut champagne is too austere, you’ll love the crisp yet light character of Prosecco.
St. Hilaire Brut @ $17./btl –
Made by the traditional method from the Mauzac grape in Limoux in Southwestern France. This wine was a supposed favorite of Thomas Jefferson and, if it’s good enough for the father of the constitution . . .
It tastes like toast and green apples with a little lemon cream, – delicious and an outstanding value.
Champagne Agrapart & Fils @ $50./btl –
A true champagne whose producers use Chardonnay grapes from four Grand Cru villages [a Grand Cru designation indicates very high quality grapes] and several harvests. It is rested in the bottle for four years before it goes through its final process steps.  This is a labor-intensive, hand crafted wine and it shows.  It is explosively lively yet delicate and creamy and graceful with a floral nose and a mouthful of biscuits and apricot jam.   – open a bottle for breakfast.
Moet Chandon Dom Perignon Vintage 1999 @ $200./btl –
Is any bottle of wine worth $200.?  Well, perhaps. This is, after all, a “vintage” champagne.  Vintage champagnes differ from non-vintage in that all the juice in the bottle comes from a single year and that single year has to have been exceptional in terms of the quality of the grapes produced.
Dom Perignon bears the name of a monk whose name is inextricably linked to champagne. Dom was the cellar master of the Abbey of Hautvillers in Epernay, in the heart of Champagne. He was a visionary and developed techniques that dramatically improved the quality of the wine.
This is a fairly intense champagne experience. The ’99 Dom has intoxicating aromas of pineapple, coconut and cinnamon.  In the mouth, it has yards of complexity with an earthy, smoky start that gives way to full fruit and then fades gradually with bits of spice and toast.
If you’re comfortable dropping 200 clams on a bottle this will make for memorable experience.

Bubbles baby!

Bubbles baby!

Mike Harper

When it comes to expressions of love, no box of candy or suggestive leer can quite compare to the impact on the beloved that’s delivered by a flute of sparkling wine.  The pale, delicate color and streams of tiny pearl-like bubbles rising to form a cap of mousse evoke both the purity and liveliness of love.

There are several types of sparkling wine. The most famous, from the Champagne region of France, is Champagne.  Sparkling wines from outside of Champagne are called something else.  If a sparkling wine comes from another area of France, for example, it is called cremant.  If it comes from Spain, it is cava; from Italy: spumante; from Germany or Austria: sekt.  In the USofA we simply say, sparkling wine. But, to paraphrase Shakespeare, that which we call a sparkling wine would by any name taste as sweet.   . . . or dry, if you prefer.

Sparkling wines vary in degrees of sweetness.  The level of sweetness is described in terms of its opposite, dryness.  The driest (least sweet) sparkling wines are labeled “brut”. This is easily the most popular style.  Sparkling wines are classified by their sweetness level and, in order from driest to sweetest they are:  Brut, Extra Sec, Sec, Demi-Sec, and Doux.  Doux, if you can find it, is very sweet.  There is also a rarely used super-dry champagne called, alternately: brut zero or extra brut

Sparkling wine should be served well-chilled and works best in a tall, thin wine glass, called a flute.  Standard wine glasses, however, will do just fine in the absence of flutes.  The classic wide-mouthed champagne glass, the one that’s served as design inspiration for honeymoon-suite bathtubs the world over, is fun, if a little sloppy.  For me, the wine goes dead too quickly in these but I am charmed by the story that the original shape was created from a mold of the breast of Marie-Antoinette.  (That would have been an interesting job.)

If you’re giving your beloved dinner with his/her sparkling wine, you’re in luck.  These wines, champagne especially, are very food friendly.  They’ll work with everything from burgers, to Asian cuisine, to steak, chicken and fish.

Here are some sparkling wine recommendations that escalate, in price, from solid value to rich extravagance.*

Montelliano Prosecco @ $13.99/btl –

The “champagne” of Italy, Prosecco is the name of both the wine and the grape used to make it. It is light, floral and has flavors of yellow apple, pear, and white peach.  If  brut champagne is too austere, you’ll love the crisp yet light character of Prosecco.

St. Hilaire Brut @ $17.99/btl –

Made by the traditional (champagne) method from the Mauzac grape in Limoux in Southwestern France. This wine was a supposed favorite of Thomas Jefferson and, if it’s good enough for the father of the constitution . . .

It tastes like toast and green apples with a little lemon cream, – delicious and an outstanding value.

Champagne Janisson & Fils Tradition @ $39.99/btl –

This value-priced champagne combines 70% pinot noir with 30% chardonnay. It pours a lovely pale-gold with sprightly, active streams of bubbles forming sinuous ribbons. The nose is rich and complex presenting notes of custard, toast, pear, and vanilla.  While the mouth fairly explodes with flavors of orange, golden-delicious apple, and currant.  At $40./btl – this is sufficiently affordable to open for even small occasions.
(Whoo Hoo!  A Seinfeld episode I’ve never seen before!)

Moet Chandon Dom Perignon Vintage 2000 @ $199.99/btl –

Is any bottle of wine worth $200.?  Well, perhaps. This is, after all, a “vintage” champagne.  Vintage champagnes differ from non-vintage in that all the juice in the bottle comes from a single year and that single year has to have been exceptional in terms of the quality of the grapes produced.  (The non-vintage champagne, produced by Moet, is called “White Star”.)

Dom Perignon bears the name of a monk whose name is inextricably linked to champagne. Though he did not invent the method used to produce the sparkling wine we know today, he is a key figure.  Dom was the cellar master of the Abbey of Hautvillers in Epernay, in the heart of Champagne. He was a visionary and developed techniques that dramatically improved the quality of the wine.

This is a fairly intense champagne experience. The ’99 Dom has intoxicating aromas of pineapple, coconut and cinnamon.  In the mouth, it has yards of complexity with an earthy, smoky start that gives way to full fruit and then fades gradually with bits of spice and toast.

If you’re comfortable dropping 200 clams on a bottle this will make for memorable experience.

* Each of these wines is consistently available here in the store.  Prices are correct at the time this blog is published but (*sigh*), as with most things, they are subject to change.

Published in: on June 3, 2009 at 4:34 pm  Comments (1)  

Green Wine

A world gone right.

A world gone right.

Mike Harper

In response to its customers’ desires and in accordance with Roanoke City’s “go green” policy, Wine Gourmet has, in the past year, dramatically increased the number of organic products it carries and has increased its use of recycled products for packaging. Now Wine Gourmet offers one of the largest organic wine sections in the valley and also stocks organic beers and hard ciders.

Organic wines come in several different stripes. Makers of organic wine may simply use organically grown grapes in production (practicing organic) or offer USDA certified organic products (certified organic) or go a step further with a holistic farming approach that is inherently organic (biodynamic).

A certified organic wine is made with organically grown grapes and is free from unapproved chemicals and pesticides.  Biodynamic wine is produced by a method of organic farming that has a spiritual basis and views the vineyard and its environs as a single organism.  Biodynamic agriculture is a balanced, holistic approach to farming that considers the interrelationship of the soil, plants, and animals a closed, self-nourishing system.  Biodynamic processes seek harmony between the vineyard environment and the production of grapes.

So, let’s talk about sulfites.
A small number of people are sensitive to sulfites and can react adversely to their presence.  While sulfites (which is simply the compound sulfur dioxide [SO2] or one of several other related compounds) occur naturally in wine, extra sulfites are commonly added to finished wine in order to increase its in-bottle stability. White wines especially are susceptible to chemical changes on-the-shelf that can cause the wine to develop off-colors and objectionable odors. This creates a relatively unpleasant wine experience. As you can see from this, there’s really no such thing as a truly “sulfite-free” wine.  To obtain that, you would have to put the wine through a process that would remove the sulfites. According to Professor Roger Boulton, Ph.D., University of California at Davis, Department of Viticulture and Enology, even if no sulfur dioxide is added to wine, fermenting yeasts will produce SO2 from the naturally occurring inorganic sulfates in all grape juices. Thus, says Boulton, it is impossible for any wine to be completely free of sulfur dioxide.

While most enologists acknowledge that the addition of some SO2 is necessary, advances in technology and in our understanding of the processes going on in fermentation have now made it possible for winemakers to achieve their goals of bottle-stable wine with minimal additions. Some winemakers reject this notion and do not add sulfites to their finished wine. These wines are typically marked with the letters “N.S.A.”, which stands for “no sulfites added”. It should be noted, however, that it is not necessary for a wine to be free of sulfite additions to qualify as organic. Both American and European organic winemaking standards allow for the addition of strictly regulated amounts of SO2.  In the U.S., ordinary wines can contain up to 350ppm of sulfites. Organic winemaking standards, as adopted in 2000 by the USDA, limit the use of sulfites to 100ppm in all finished products. However, most organic wines contain less than 40ppm of sulfites.

Sulfite sensitivity is relatively rare.  In sulfite sensitive individuals, the presence of SO2 can cause nausea or diarrhea and precipitate asthma attacks. But sulfites are not limited to wine. In fact, the presence of sulfites ranging from 6 to 6000 ppm is found in products such as fruit juices, dried fruits, fruit concentrates, syrups, sugar, jams, gelatins, cake toppings, shellfish, baked goods, pizza dough, frozen and dehydrated potatoes, processed vegetables, cheeses, as well as in many prescription drugs. Headaches, which are frequently, unfairly blamed on sulfites, are not a typical symptom of sulfite sensitivity.  If you can consume the products in the list without a headache resulting, then it is very unlikely that sulfites are to blame.

That some people get headaches from the consumption of wine is undeniable.  But most folks who do get headaches point the finger more strongly at red wine than at white wine.  White wines tend to have more sulfites than red as they are more susceptible to off-colors, etc.  So, again, if you’re looking at sulfites as a headache cause, the likelihood of them being to blame is small.

Vineyards that choose to create organic products without going through the certification process use organic grapes may still add sulfites to increase the longevity of the wine. Wine Gourmet offers both certified organic wines and practicing organic wines from vineyards that only use organic grapes for production. Organic wine producers believe organic wine to be better for both the environment and the consumer. We can’t argue otherwise and, because many of you are asking for organic wines, we want to have them on our shelves.

In addition to an abundant selection of organic products, Wine Gourmet reduces the shop’s impact on the environment by recycling boxes when consumers purchase 6 or more bottles of wine, also by encouraging the use of eco-bags and by using recycled paper bags for smaller purchases.

Soon, we may even stop wearing shoes.

Published in: on June 3, 2009 at 2:20 pm  Leave a Comment