Sulphur and natural wine

An interesting development is the reduction of sulphur or even the absence of sulphur in more mainstream wines and champagnes that do not necessarily belong to the natural wine scene. 

Natural wines is not a very satisfactory term. No wine is natural, wine is the result of decision made by the producer, what grape to plant, what work should be done in the vineyard, when is the harvest, how long should the fermentation last etc etc. In contrast to Bio-dynamic wine making which rejects the use of synthetic chemicals and adheres to Steiner philosophy and the use of his preperates in the soil and on the plants. Natural wine reject the use of all chemicals that can be used by bio-dynamical producers in the cellar. The consumer is unaware of this as the EU does not require them being mentioned on the label.

This is praise worthy yet the real problem is with sulphur. Sulphur stabiles the wines and prevents harmful enzymes distorting the wines taste. With wines where the malolactic fermentation is not desired, without sulphur there is a danger that the malolactic could start in the bottle, spoiling the wine. 

Wines without sulphur have purer aromatics, anyone who has tasted in a cellar wines from barrels that have no sulphur can confirm this.

Sulphur hinders spontaneous fermentation which is a must with natural wine. Here however hygiene is of the utmost importance and lack of it or  other failures  result in flaws in the wines. Critics of natural wines are always quick to point out these failures.

From another angle taste is a fascinating subject. What one drinker sees as a failure another drinker either does not pick it up or accepts or ignores it. I participated in a tasting of Odintals wines, I did not like them and those that did in my opinion, saw them through an ideological veil.

Obvioulsy it is a case of live and let live. Yet last year I had numerous wines and champagnes without sulphur. On opening fantastic and then within either a few hours or the next day an unpleasant vegetal aroma developed akin to Sauerkraut. When I detect this in a wine, I cannot drink it. 

With one of the champagnes by chance a friend drunk the same bottle as I did and experienced the same phenomenon. At first nice but then for him a burnt rubber aroma developed, for me more like pickled vegetables/sauerkraut aroma. Thankfully he did not by the bottle from me.

A few weeks later someone posted about the same champagne on Instagram. His wife could not drink it due to the aroma being present, he did not detect is and the champagne was for him fine.

Isabelle Legeron MW writes in Natural Wine, An introduction to organic and biodynamic wines made naturally, that when she made her own wine, she added sulphur as she lacked the courage to leave it out. I think this says it all. 

My problem is simple, if a customer in Germany buys a bottle of wine and it has a defect, cork for instance. German law dictates that I have to take it back, this applies for two years after the purchase. Can I write in my AGBs: customers who buy wines or chamapgnes without sulphur, do so knowingly and accept the fact that wine failures can occur. In knowing so they relinquish the right to return the bottles, if the failure is derived from the natural winemaking process and the producer for not using sulphur.