One hears a lot about organic wine and wine with low sulfites these days. However, both terms can mean different things depending on where the wine was produced and even to some extent the interpretation of the winemaker.
The advent of organic wines is an inevitable evolution in the trend towards more natural foods, produced without pesticides and artificial fertilizers. Low sulfur wines help to mitigate the headaches, nose irritation and even asthma associated with higher levels of sulfites in wine. While adding sulfur to white wine is often necessary, red wines can be produced with no sulfur being added.
What is low sulfur organic red wine?
Organic wines are those made using only natural growing methods. What is meant by an "organic" wine varies by the wine's country of origin. In the United States, an "organic" wine must be made of at least 95 percent organically grown ingredients. In the European Economic Union, an "organic" wine must be made of at least 95 percent organically grown ingredients and have no more than .09 percent genetically-modified foods in their mix. Other regions of the world have their own definitions.
A wine labeled "100% organic" (as opposed to simply "organic") cannot have any added sulfites or sulfur derivatives in the United States or in the European Economic Union.
Although sulfites occur naturally in wine to some degree, sulfur (usually in the form of metabisulfite) is commonly added by wine growers to help kill unwanted yeast and bacteria as well as to inhibit oxidation, a process that can compromise the color and the taste of the wine. Winemakers also frequently add sulfur to hurry along the fermentation process and during the bottling process to prevent any microbial activity and to prevent fermentation from re-starting in very sweet wines. Even a "natural" winemaker will generally add a very little sulfur to white wines at bottling.
Cellaring low sulfur organic wine
Though there is a common perception that a wine made without added sulfur cannot be cellared for any period of time, this isn't necessarily true. A well-crafted wine can be stored for an extended period of time. However, organic wine has no preservatives and is much less forgiving of sunlight, humidity and temperature fluctuations. If you are interested to investing in organic red wines, and there will likely be more and more excellent organic wines produced in the years to come, it's wise to also invest in a temperature-controlled area where you can keep the wine at a constant temperature and humidity level, away from sunlight.