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Wines and sulfites: a necessary marriage.

Wines and sulfites: A necessary marriage

For years, winemakers have relied on sulfur dioxide toprevent oxidation and the growth of microorganisms in their valuable grape nectars. Today the treatment is used on just about all wines, worldwide, according to University of California at Davis enologist Cornelius S. Ough. But concern in recent years over life-threatening reactions to these preservatives by some asthmatics has led many people to question whether sulfiting agents like sulfure dioxide are absolutely necessary (SN: 12/13/86, p. 374). Now, in the March/April JOURNAL OF FOOD SCIENCE, Ough and Edward A. Crowell conclude that there's no way a decent wine can avoid them.

The Davis researchers made 60 batches of wine from eighttypes of university-grown grapes -- evertyhing from white riesling to cabernet sauvignon. One-third of the prefermented juice from these grapes was treated with sulfur dioxide, another third with nitrogen to prevent oxidation and a final third with aeration -- to deliberately promote oxidation. Half the wine made from each of these juices was then treated with sulfur dioxide before bottling.

A year later, samples of the wine made from each were servedto a panel of skilled tasters and evaluated. According to the researchers, the judges found "wines with no sulfure dioxide treatments were definitely inferior in quality." Ough says they tended to be an unattractive brown in color, carried an oxidized "acrylic-like" aroma and had an "off" taste. The best wines resulted from sulfur dioxide treatment of both the prefermented juice and wine, though treatment of just the wine was often enough to salvage an otherwise objectionable batch of oxidized juice. Even use of sulfur dioxide in the juice only -- prior to winemaking -- was better than none, though Ough notes that such early treatment "tends to be fairly ineffective as an antioxidant and preservative."

Though vintners today tend to use as little sulfur dioxide asthey can get away with, Ough says, the role of their antioxidant will be assuming increased visibility. A new federal rule requires that all alcoholic beverages bottled after July 9, including wines, must be labeled as having sulfites if they contain more than 10 parts per million of the preservative.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Jun 27, 1987
Words:359
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