Increasingly restaurant wine lists are showing more inclusions of natural wines with their minimal and non-intervention philosophy. Within these include organic and biodynamic wines and the subsets of low sulphur wines and the rise and rise of orange/amber wines – including amphora and wine egg fermented wines. Low sulphur and no preservative added wines are as close to “clean” wines as possible. Sulphur naturally occurs in grapes as it does in many foods. But it is the added parts per million, free sulphur used as a preservative/antioxidant used in conventional winemaking for centuries that have people seeking out these alternative wines.
Finding them is another thing. Inkwell Dub Style No 1 in McLaren Vale is a smart juicy fruit driven organic, natural preservative free drop and CRFT Little Hill Shiraz from the Barossa is also a biodynamic low sulphur possibility. Moon Marsanne and Chardonnay from Victoria’s Nagambie Lakes is biodynamic, organic, natural and low sulphur. Adelaide Hills’ BK Wines produce a delicious textural Ovum Pinot Gris made naturally in a ceramic wine egg. And recently, Organic Hill with its organic and preservative free 2016 Shiraz received ‘Best Value Buy’ under $20 and ‘3 stars’ in Winestate’s Wine of the Year magazine.
Technically older wine that is aged under the porosity of cork will deliver less of a sulphur hit compared with those under the more bulletproof screw cap.
The rise and rise of saké ticks the ‘pure’ boxes. This is rice wine with an alcoholic content around the level of a red wine. The combination of polished rice, pure water, natural Koji spores and yeast is pure. No preservatives, with a spectrum of flavour profiles through the various grades and regional origins of the sakés and the rice type.
By the very virtue that spirits are distilled in a still means they produce ‘clean’ alcohols anyway, but fanciful back stories of the sum of the parts lead the charge in marketing hype. Absolut Vodka boasts no sulphites or preservatives and Blind Tiger Organic Gin flags no added preservatives while being organic. The rise of organic brews is probably more about the consumer feeling better about the ecological foot print of their drink than any discernible sensory or health benefits. But the health rigor can go out the door when it comes to the mixers used for mixed drinks. Take tonic water for instance. The inherent quinine bitterness cloaks the surprising sugar content in a gin and tonic. Bar tender favourite, Fever Tree tonic has half the calories of Schweppes – and if you want ‘natural’ stevia to sweeten your tonic, Ledgers Tonic is less than half of Fever Tree.
And of course there’s ‘The French Paradox’ that identifies the presence of resveratrol and other antioxidant flavonoids that are the natural compounds lurking in red wine that might hold heart and blood vessel health benefits. But further clinical studies suggest you would need to drink a bit over 3 litres of wine to reap those benefits. But wait – the Wine Doctor might have the answer. Dr Philip Norrie GP and a Ph D wine health research fellow, markets REW Barossa Valley Shiraz via his Wine Doctor website. One bottle of this Resveratrol Enhanced Wine (REW) has as much resveratrol as 15 – 20 bottles of unenhanced red wine.
But ultimately if it’s about avoiding alcohol side-effects, drink in moderation and drink quality. Read the label and read between the lines.