In an attempt to make wine with no added sulphur, some new thoughts came to my mind. Are we actually getting so used to sulphur compounds aromas that we actually judge them as a quality imparting to the so-called complexity of a wine?
I must admit that we have had to burn a wick of sulphur to ensure that the barrels we use to mature the wine are “microbiologically safer”. Not having pressurized hot water or any other “high-tech” devices we used this method, which I believe is used by most wine producers.
In essence we still don’t add sulphur to the wine, as it is only to “clean” the barrel. I am thus still in line with our challenge and honestly could not see anyway to avoid it.
What crossed my mind is that getting away from sulphur smells in our winery increased my detection threshold of SO2 and I could smell it instantly when we poured the wine in the barrels although I was about 5 meters away standing-up on the press.
Moreover when I racked myself the wine in the barrel the odour coming to my nostrils reminded me of some highly rated wine that I tried at the Guia Peñin tasting a few days ago.
This is to say that most of these top wines that are rated very highly and tasted so young (mainly 2011 vintage on the market and 2012 in some cases) are so well protected during the winemaking that they mainly smell of a triangular combination of primary wine aromas, oak and sulphur.
I understand that it is a highly controversial statement but taking the argument a little further: We know that one can get accustomed to some aromas and learn to like them. Think of a truffle (Tuber melanosporum). Most of the aromas released by this mushroom are sulphur-compounds aromas, like dimethyl sulphide and we consider it as one of the greatest delicacy.
I am not saying that it is wrong, just that it could well be the signature of modern wine today and to be honest I liked it as I could recognise it and associate it with the top modern wines tried many times. Yet, clearly these are not the features of the wine, its varietal or its origin but purely winemaking.
On the other hand, can we make great wine without sulphur or a tiny amount that let the expression of varietal and origin speaks. Maybe but could we age it? I have my doubt, maybe we release the wines too early today and we over protect it as the wines travel the world and must age to be considered a great wine. Maybe we could push further the lines as small producers, adapting the winemaking to the country we sell it and being more explicit on the back label about the winemaking and ageing potential.
At least I have a few batches this year to try it out.