The Healthy Option?

Week 8 has been hectic.  After the Opera night I went straight into theory day.  The morning was a full blown express train journey through cooking for vegetarians.  The flavours and smells were exciting and exotic, and the dishes just kept coming.  I’ve no idea how Rachel and Emer got it all done.

Dishes at the End of Vegetarian Demo
Dishes at the End of Vegetarian Demo

Needless to say lunch was a real success, even if I did sneak a lamb chop in there.

Ahem.  Vegetarian Day
Ahem. Vegetarian Day

The afternoon was the wine lecture, this week we had a guest speaker, Pascal Rossignol, from Le Caveau Wine Imports and Shop, Kilkenny.  The topic of the lecture was natural wines, organic wines, and bio-dynamic wines.  Pascal is originally from Gevrey-Chambertin, Burgundy, and has wine in his veins so to speak.  Still softly spoken in that Gallic way, Pascal spoke very clearly about the differences between the three sections.  Sulphur is naturally occurring in all wine, but the addition of sulphides to wine is the differentiator here.  Organic white wine is allowed a level of approx. 150 ppm (red wine lower again, 100 ppm), whereas bio- dynamic, a kind of super charged organic growing style, allows a much lower level, by EU standards.

In the United States however, they have completely gone in the opposite direction, they only allow a measly 10ppm in white wine (it can be as high as 350ppm in “conventional” wine).  Leading experts to believe that this is damaging the organic section of wine in the US, creating an even more niche market, when organic wine is so much more than the level of sulphides.  All countries monitor the amount of SO2 present in wines. Sulfur dioxide occurs naturally as a by-product of the fermentation process. Sulphites in wine have been added for hundreds of years as a preservative. Ancient Greek texts refer to sulphur as having beneficial properties in wine.

In case you are still confused, here’s some information you may find on wine labels in relation to organic wine:

  • On the US market, for a wine to be labelled ‘Organic’ and bear the USDA organic seal, it must be made from 95% organically grown ingredients. It thus may contain up to 5 % produce from conventional farming. Certification is handled by state, non-profit and private agencies that have been approved by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
  • Europe organic label
  • A European Union regulation states that only foods containing at least 95 % organic ingredients may use the EU organic logo. This Regulation allows the ‘accidental or technically unavoidable’ GMO (or GE food) up to 0.9 % in products thus labelled GM produce may notably reach fermenting grapes.
  • France organic label

    AB is a logo owned by the French state. It stands for ‘Agriculture Biologique’. Products can be labelled with this mark when they contain at least 95 percent organic components, were produced or processed within the EU, and were certified by one of the inspection bodies accredited by the State agency.

Does this help? Probably not, as we heard Maria from the vineyard in Barcelona talking about how difficult it was to attain and maintain the organic standard paperwork, almost requiring an extra member of staff.  Therefore producers may well be producing, organically, or hopefully sympathetically with the environment, but not having the “mark”.

Some of the wines tasted in the Natural/ Organic/ Bio-Dynamic Wines Class
Some of the wines tasted in the Natural/ Organic/ Bio-Dynamic Wines Class

There are four points at which sulphites are commonly used in conventional wine-making, although the winemaker may choose to make further additions if he is feeling nervous.

  • Picking: Sulphur is applied in the form of metabisulfite to inhibit the action of native yeasts and prevent oxidation. It means the grapes don’t have to be rushed to the winery.
  • Crushing: Sulphur is added to prevent fermentation from beginning with ambient yeasts before cultured yeasts can be added. Commercial yeasts are bred to be more resistant to sulphur dioxide.
  • Fermentation: Sulphur is applied at any point during fermentation, but most commonly at the end to stop or avoid malolactic fermentation. A natural winemaker has to wait for the malo to finish naturally.
  • Bottling: Sulphur is added to prevent oxidation or any microbial action in the bottled wine. In sweet wines there is the danger that fermentation will restart.

A natural wine maker would only ever use sulphur at bottling, only in white wines, and only in very small quantities. This sets the natural wine maker apart, almost grape and vine led wine making, as opposed to a commercial timeline.  I look at it like this, Natural wines are a movement, not a label.

A natural wine is one with:

  1. organically-grown grapes;
  2. harvested by hand;
  3. rushed to the winery;
  4. fermented on wild yeasts;
  5. low levels of sulphites(or none at all).
A further selection of wine tasted during the lecture
A further selection of wine tasted during the lecture

Although the prosecco was not to my taste, the wines were very pleasing on the palate, and there was certainly no feel of dirty boots so to speak.  I think these methods of production are only going to improve, both the wine, and the environment, and that can’t be a bad thing surely?

After all, it is said the best fertilizer for the soil is the farmers boots. Never a truer word was said.



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