Additives in wine?

Posted by Jay Lee and edited by Peter Koff MW on 17th Sep 2018

Wine is, by definition, made from grapes. Although not always true, generally no water is added. Grape juice has a very high percentage of water. Furthermore, alcohol, which is a liquid, is produced during fermentation.

However, certain additives are permitted in wine, generally for reasons of stability. One of the most important is sulfur dioxide (SO2).

SO2 has been used for more than 2000 years, originally to prevent vinegary odors in containers. It is used to protect wine, being both antimicrobial and an antioxidant. It can also be used to clean and disinfect winemaking tools and facilities. Most of the SO2 in wine gets bound in chemical reactions leaving very little free. Higher levels of free SO2 are sometimes perceptible to tasters.

A certain quantity of sulfur dioxide is naturally produced in wine while it’s being fermented but this is generally insufficient to protect the wine. Without this protection, wine may develop unacceptably high levels of volatile acidity manifesting as vinegar, even before bottling. Some people are allergic to sulfur as they can be to peach or gluten.

If you open very young wine, typically high acid white wines recently bottled, and if you are sensitive enough, the wine may smell a bit of matches or even rotten eggs, which are the signs of SO2. In this case, aerate the wine for 20 - 30 minutes, which means you just leave the wine open to air. In most cases the SO2 blows off. Pouring the wine and decanting it accelerate the process.

Sorbic acid is often added in small quantities to off-dry and sweet wines. Sorbic acid prevents the growth of mold, yeasts and fungi and its main purpose in wine is to prevent re-fermentation in the bottle. Sorbic acid is also used in other products such as cheese, bread, ham, ointment, cosmetics, toothpaste, etc.

These additives are put into wine in carefully measured quantities. Excessive use is perceptible to tasters and detracts from wine quality and enjoyment.


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