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lundi, 28 janvier 2013

NATURAL WINE

NATURAL OR AUTHENTIC WINES:

 AT LAST THE REAL DEBATE CAN BEGIN


Claude Gilois

A TOP FRENCH TASTER SPEAKS OUT AGAINST NATURAL WINES IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS

 

In an uncharacteristic outburst, Michel Betanne, arguably the number one wine critic and taster in France, revealed to the Italian review Gamberro Rosso his true feelings about what are now known as  ‘Natural Wines’.  It was more like an attack from the First Panzer Division than the Charge of the Light Brigade so strong were his words:

 

‘I wish all the Italians passionate about wine  do not have to suffer what France has endured: an invasion of bad wine, the so-called natural wines.   Natural wines are easy to recognise; the reds stink,  and all the varieties and terroirs end up resembling each other because the bad yeasts that are used cannibalise the good ones.   The whites - if  possible - are even worse; oxidised more or less right from the start, they are stillborn’.

 

NATURAL WINE: A RESPONSE TO THE EXCESSIVE MANIPULATION OF BRANDED WINES?

 

Let’s be quite frank about this, Michel Bettane’s outburst says loud and clear what many people have been thinking for some time; even if you have to qualify his statement, as all Natural Wines do not show aromatic deviations to the extent described by Michel Bettane, although they are on the whole readily identifiable and indeed Michel Bettane tones down his words in other declarations.

 

Too many wines elaborated and sold under the natural classification are only marketable by specialist wine shops and bars and there is, in particular in Paris, a well organised network of such outlets.

 

Natural Wine started as a counter culture movement born in reaction to the use of excessive technology and all kinds of substances to enhance and manipulate wine.

 

There is no doubt that Australian and American wine producing companies have played a key role in the manipulation of the transformation of a natural product, in an attempt to ‘brand’ a product with consistent quality and taste  to retain their customers.  A position, of course, out of touch with the reality of winegrowing and winemaking  but which has worked very successfully in many cases. However, the final product was no longer wine but the first version of a ‘premix’ based on wine. So the backslash is hardly surprising but is the correction of the excess going too far?   

 

WHAT IS NATURAL OR AUTHENTIC WINE?

 

For many years, a definition did not exist as such and the natural wine movement was a loose association of like-minded winemakers, distributors and importers, but there is no doubt that the movement is gaining momentum.  

Today, it is more structured and organised and has its own commercial fairs and promotional events and possesses an informative Internet site though no contact name, telephone number or mail address are provided.  Contrary to conventional wine making and to the newly created Bio Label, the Natural Wine charter does not allow reverse osmosis, flash pasteurisation, and the inputs of cultured yeasts, enzymes, acidification, ascorbic acids, potassium sorbate, chaptalisation and chitosan, a product made from shellfish. None of these are actually essential to make good wines and indeed a great number of the best producers do not use them. More contentious is the utilisation of sulphur dioxide. It is not that the Natural Movement banned this substance but imposed the use of low concentration in the wine.  While the new label defining a Biological Wine allows concentration of sulphur dioxide of ≤ 100 mg/litre for the reds and ≤ 150 mg/litre for the whites, the standard operating procedure of the ‘Naturalists’ limits the usage of sulphur dioxide to ≤ 30 mg/litre for the reds and ≤ 40 mg/litre for the whites. The problem is: is it possible to make wine without aromatic deviations with such low concentration of sulphur? This is really the heart of the debate.

 

chassez le naturel1.jpg

WHY SUCH FOCUS ON SULPHUR DIOXIDE:

IS IT A PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE?

 

It is a common belief that sulphur dioxide is innocuous. This is totally untrue and is why  every bottle of wine sold in the USA since 1987 and in the European Union since 1995 must carry the health warning ‘contains sulfides’.  The danger  of sulphur dioxide was revealed in the early 1980’s  in the USA and  was   known  as the ‘Salad Bar Syndrome’.  Between 1982 and 1985 twelve deaths were registered  which prompted  the FDA to investigate the problem.  Ten deaths were attributed to the sulphur dioxide used to preserve salad (hence the name Salad Bar Syndrome). The other two deaths were attributed to the consumption of beer and wine[i].  Another 850 people were intoxicated and suffered allergic reactions of which 80% were attributed to salad treated with sulphur dioxide which led to it being banned in the use of preserving salad.

 

Since 1985, the FDA has set up a voluntary reporting system to control the adverse reaction to sulphur dioxide due to food and drink.   In the ten years that followed, the FDA registered 1097 adverse reactions, of which several were fatal[ii]. 70% of hypersensitivity to sulphur dioxide occurs in the asthmatic population where its prevalence is estimated to be 5% - 10%[iii]. The other cases could be due to an antibody reaction to sulphur dioxide. The most common symptoms are breathing difficulties, headaches, vomiting, vertigo, diarrhoea and tachycardia. Anaphylactic shock [1] and angiodema[2]are the two most serious complications.  

 

Furthermore, the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) established by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is 0,7 mg per kg of body weight hence between 42 mg and 56 mg for a person weighing between 60 to 80 kg. If we work within the norms of the European Union, it 2 to 2.5 glasses of red wine per day, less for the whites and far less for the sweet wines.   This is not much for regular consumers of wine.

Can you imagine the scandal if this was about water consumption?

 

NEXT WEEK: 
 
WHAT ARE AROMATIC DEVIATIONS AND HOW DO THEY OCCUR?

IS IT POSSIBLE TO MAKE A WINE WHICH IS WITHOUT DEFECT AND ALSO RISK-FREE FOR HEALTH?

 


[1] A sudden, severe allergic reaction characterised by a sharp drop in blood pressure, urticaria, and breathing difficulties

[2]  A highly complicated disorder that is marked by swelling under the skin and gives rise to lethal complications.

[3]Acceptable daily intake or ADI is a measure of the amount of a specific substance , originally applied for a food additive,  later also for a residue of a veterinary drug or pesticide in food or drinking water that can be ingested (orally) on a daily basis over a lifetime without an appreciable health risk. (Source Wikipedia)

[i] [1]ANASTASIA TOUFEXIS, PATRICIA DELANEY/WASHINGTON AND MELISSA LUDTKE/LOS ANGELES. Tossing Sulfites Out of Salads. Monday, Oct. 14, 1985

 

[ii] Dr. Russell Blaylock quoted in: Sulfites: a hidden danger in your food. Sharon Graham

[iii] AF Gunnison and DW Jacobsen. Sulfite hypersensitivity.  A critical review. CRC Critical Review in Toxicology, 17: 185-214 (1987).  

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