IWC and Australian wine regions, Sulphur alchemy

Confusion abounds


From an article in

One will find that most of the 66 wine regions in Australia lie in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wells [sic]. Western Australia comes in a close second.”

The flippancy and lack of understanding made me smile, but that’s common among overseas wine writers. What do consumers think? Can we blame them for not understanding Australian regions? Are they too complex to make sense? Are there too many of them? We have:

  • VIC: 6 zones, 20 regions, 2 sub-regions
  • SA: 8 zones, 18 regions, 3 sub-regions
  • NSW: 8 zones, 15 regions, 3 sub-regions
  • WA: 5 zones, 9 regions, 6 sub-regions

Queensland has two regions. Tasmania, the ACT and Northern Territory are each considered a region. There are also the GIs Australia and South East Australia, and the states such as South Australia, Victoria etc.

Wine Australia and others, such as the First Families of Wine, bang on about regionality and they are in part right to do so. But it doesn’t appear there is an easy way forward.

Last week it was announced Australian wines had been awarded 80 gold medals at the International Wine Challenge (IWC). It’s a grand total and we should all be proud of the result. What annoyed TKR was the IWC didn’t say which regions the wines came from. The closest it got was to mention the states. This week the trophies were announced, with Australia picking up 27. A few were identified by region, but most just carried the state identification. Here’s the list as it appears on the IWC website:

  • First Creek Winemaker’s Reserve NSW Chardonnay, 2013
  • Domaine Naturaliste Sauvage WA Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, 2014
  • Woody Nook ‘Gallagher’s Choice’ WA Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013
  • Stefano Lubiana ‘Estate’ Tasmania Pinot Noir, 2014
  • Lindeman’s Ben Ean Vineyard, Rare Release, Hunter Valley Shiraz, 2014
  • De Bortoli Black Noble, NV
  • Bird in Hand SA Montepulciano, 2014
  • Hill River Clare Estate Riesling, 2013
  • Vasse Felix ‘Heytesbury’ WA Chardonnay, 2014
  • All Saints Estate ‘Rare’ Muscat, NV
  • Mr Riggs McLaren Vale Shiraz, 2013
  • McLeish Estate Cellar Reserve NSW Semillon, 2007
  • Sidewood Estate Mappinga Shiraz, 2013
  • Penfolds Bin 14A Chardonnay, 2014
  • Lindeman’s Coonawarra Limestone Ridge Shiraz Cabernet, 2013
  • McGuigan The Shortlist SA Riesling, 2010
  • Morris Cellar One Classic Liqueur Muscat, NV
  • Morris Old Premium Rare Liqueur Topaque, NV
  • Peter Lehmann Margaret SA Semillon, 2010
  • McWilliam’s 1877 Hilltops Shiraz, 2014
  • Tolpuddle Vineyard Tasmania, Chardonnay, 2014
  • Penfolds Bin 389 SA Cabernet Shiraz, 2013
  • Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz, 2013
  • Wolf Blass Gold Label Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014
  • Saltram Single Vineyard Moculta Road SA Shiraz, 2010
  • Woodstock Old Fortified SA NV Made with Shiraz, Grenache
  • Tamar Ridge Tasmania Riesling, 2014

We would have preferred to have seen it presented like this:

First Creek ‘Winemaker’s Reserve’ Hunter Valley Chardonnay 2013
Domaine Naturaliste ‘Sauvage’ Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon 2014
Woody Nook ‘Gallagher’s Choice’ Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Stefano Lubiana ‘Estate’ Tasmania Pinot Noir 2014
Lindeman’s ‘Ben Ean Vineyard, Rare Release’ Hunter Valley Shiraz 2014
De Bortoli ‘Black Noble’ Riverina Fortified Semillon NV
Bird in Hand Adelaide Hills Montepulciano 2014
Hill River ‘Clare Estate’ Clare Valley Riesling 2013
Vasse Felix ‘Heytesbury’ Margaret River Chardonnay 2014
All Saints Estate Rutherglen Muscat NV
Mr Riggs McLaren Vale Shiraz 2013
McLeish Estate ‘Cellar Reserve’ Hunter Valley Semillon 2007
Sidewood Estate ‘Mappinga’ Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2013
Penfolds Bin 14A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2014
Lindeman’s ‘Limestone Ridge’ Coonawarra Shiraz-Cabernet 2013
McGuigan ‘The Shortlist’ Eden Valley Riesling 2010
Morris ‘Cellar One’ Rutherglen Classic Muscat NV
Morris ‘Old Premium’ Rutherglen Rare Topaque NV
Peter Lehmann ‘Margaret’ Barossa Semillon 2010
McWilliam’s ‘1877’ Hilltops Shiraz 2014
Tolpuddle Vineyard Tasmania Chardonnay 2014
Penfolds ‘Bin 389’ South Australia Cabernet-Shiraz 2013
Penfolds ‘RWT’ Barossa Valley Shiraz 2013
Wolf Blass ‘Gold Label’ Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Saltram ‘Single Vineyard Moculta Road’ Barossa Valley Shiraz 2010
Woodstock ‘Old Fortified’ McLaren Vale Shiraz-Grenache NV
Tamar Ridge Tasmania Riesling 2014

The results can be viewed as three trophies each for the Hunter Valley, Margaret River, Tasmania, Adelaide Hills, Rutherglen and Barossa Valley. There were two trophies each for McLaren Vale and Coonawarra, with a single trophy going to each of Riverina, Hilltops, South Australia, Eden Valley and Clare Valley wineries.

The success could be described another way. Shiraz scooped six trophies for five regions. Fortified wines took out five trophies, three for Rutherglen and one each for McLaren Vale and Riverina. The often maligned chardonnay gathered four trophies for four regions Australia wide.

Riesling trophies went to three separate regions, Clare, Eden and Tasmania. Trophies went to two cabernet sauvignon wines, one each from rival cabernet-producing regions Margaret River and Coonawarra.  Trophy-winning cabernet-shiraz or shiraz-cabernet blends came from Coonawarra, plus there was a Penfolds blend from about six South Australian regions.  The Hunter Valley picked up one semillon trophy and the Barossa Valley the other.

Not surprisingly, Tasmania picked up a pinot trophy and Margaret River got one for a semillon-sauvignon blend. More of a surprise was an Australian montepulciano getting a trophy. It came from the Adelaide Hills.

Alchemy at the counter

I was in a wine store this past weekend when I noticed small packets of SO2GO. According to the website:

SO2GO contains a measured, dilute solution of food grade Hydrogen Peroxide. Most winemakers use Hydrogen Peroxide freely in the winery as a Sulphur (preservative) removal tool in bulk wines. We have simply taken this to the next step and given the consumer the opportunity to lower the Free Sulphur Dioxide levels in their wine or Champagne. SO2GO is not a ‘hangover cure’. Many people believe they have a hangover, when they are actually ‘reacting’ to Sulphites.

“Simply add to wine just prior to drinking. It can also be added to beer, cider or any juice that contains SO2 (Sulphur Dioxide). Many people cannot drink wine due to reactions which include headaches, stuffiness, flushed face and hives. SO2GO removes sulphur preservatives, harmlessly and effectively. SO2GO will not affect the quality or flavour of your wine or Champagne.”

My science is weak so I asked around. Brand’s Laira senior wine maker Peter Weinberg:

A couple of things – hydrogen peroxide is certainly not widely used by most winemakers, I have used it I think once in 20 years to reduce the SO2 in a tank that accidentally received a double dose of SO2 and I am unaware of any widespread let alone minor use of hydrogen peroxide by other winemakers. Its use also depends on a number of things – first you need to know the level of SO2 in your wine to work out how much H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide) to add as adding too much will cause other reactions – H2O2 will preferentially react with SO2 in place of other substrates but when the SO2 has been used the remaining H2O2 will react with other wine compounds as it is a very strong oxidising agent.

“I have no idea what percentage of people react to sulphites in wine, most hangovers are directly related to volume consumed and resulting aldehydes produced as part of the bodies biochemical breakdown of ethanol.”

Clare Valley-based Taylors winemaker Adam Eggins:

“Yes and no. We have tested it here. Partial success. Peroxide is used to remove SO2 but very, very cautiously. Peroxide as you know is a very powerful oxidising compound. So the risk is you can actually oxidise what you are trying to save. The problem I have with this concept is the foundation of its use:

“It removes a small amount of harmless SO2, OK, let’s say that is a constant. Fair enough. 

“Let’s say a fresh young white wine pH 3.2 FSO2 26ppm.  Enough to give most people slight tightening of the chest. Add the SO2GO and remove 10-12 ppm. Lowered preservatives the wine might taste better. Add it to an older wine or a wine with this chemistry pH 3.5 FSO2 8ppm. Add SO2GO, it removes the FSO2 8ppm and starts oxidising the wine.

“Peroxide is a powerful oxidising compound. Is the wine better now? Possibly not. May be heading down the road to being stuffed.

“Where do you add it, to the glass or the bottle? If I were to use this I would add it to the glass.

“If you add it to the bottle and don’t finish the bottle you may send what’s left toward oxidation as the preservative is doing its job protecting the wine until you are ready to consume it.

“My gut feel on this is danger but theoretically if the right amount is added and reacted perfectly with the appropriate amount of time, it could work.

“In English you are adding bleach to food to remove the preservatives then you drink it.”

There is a lot going on in this field. In April South Australian start-up company Vinnovate ( picked up first prize in the Brancott Estate Winexplorer Innovation Challenge.  The company’s aim is to put the peroxide in a compartment in a screwcap. If the drinker has an SO2 allergy they press the preservative-free button on the screwcap and the sulphur is apparently dealt with.

In the US start-up company StiQit is seeking funding for its take on the subject. It has a type of swizzle stick that one swirls around a glass of wine

One method that receives some backing is the Üllo wine purifier ( which works using a filtration method. As sulphur is used to keep wine fresh from maker to drinker it can make sense to remove it before the wine is consumed.

Üllo appears to use a filter that fits into a glass or special Üllo decanter.

Adrian Coultar, from the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI), sent the following:

“Hydrogen peroxide is formed naturally in wine when it comes in contact with oxygen, which always happens in the course of making wine and even during storage after bottling. Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is an oxidising agent and can oxidise many wine components, but the most common reaction is with ethanol to give acetaldehyde (a compound that contributes strongly to ‘oxidised’ aromas and flavours in wine).

“Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is commonly added to wine as both an antioxidant and antimicrobial agent. It reacts very quickly with H2O2 to inactivate it, effectively stopping its ability to oxidise wine components.

“If H2O2 is added to wine, it will mainly react with the free sulfur dioxide present. However, if sufficient free sulfur dioxide is not present, the added hydrogen peroxide will oxidise other wine components, and could cause the wine to smell or taste ‘aldehydic’ or ‘oxidised’.

“The amount of H2O2 that could be added to wine to remove sulfur dioxide without causing oxidation of other components will depend on the amount of free sulfur dioxide in the wine, something that will vary greatly from wine to wine.

“In addition, if H2O2 is added to a wine and removes most of the free SO2 present, the wine will become susceptible to oxidation. This means that the wine might appear oxidised the next day if it is left for 24 hours.

“Regarding the health implications of SO2 (which may or may not be relevant to your query), I have included an excerpt from Stockley and Johnson (2015) below:

“An adverse reaction from ingestion of sulfur dioxide is more commonly an intolerance rather than an allergic adverse reaction. Although the most common symptom is asthma (bronchospasms and wheezing), foods and food additives are not common triggers for asthma (National Asthma Council of Australia 2005). Furthermore, adverse reactions to sulfite compounds in non-asthmatic and non-sensitive individuals are rare (Bush et al. 1986). The results of clinical studies have been equivocal and hence direct evidence is limited (Halpern et al. 1985, Dahl et al. 1986). Furthermore, some individuals report reactions to red wines only, others to white wines only, some to both red and white wines and some to specific brands or types only. It has since been clinically demonstrated, however, that sulfur dioxide will generally only cause an adverse reaction in sulfite-sensitive asthmatics, which comprise approximately 1.7% of all asthmatics. Steroid-dependent asthmatics are most at risk of an adverse reaction. The threshold for an adverse reaction varies between 5 and 200 mg/L sulfur dioxide (Taylor et al. 1986) where foods containing greater than 100 mg/L sulfur dioxide may elicit no reaction in some sulfite-sensitive individuals. Usually the minimum threshold is considered to be 10 mg/L (Hefle and Taylor 2002, Taylor et al. 1986), which reflects existing Australian and international legislation stipulating that ‘added sulfites in concentrations of 10 mg/kg or more’ must be stated on the label of a food product such as wine.”

I think the science shows there is a vast amount of confusion re sulphur in wine, and some of the gadgets advertised to remove it are just that: gadgets.

2 thoughts on “IWC and Australian wine regions, Sulphur alchemy”

  1. The real challenge is the minimise or eliminate sulphite in wine making. As one who took on this folly back in 1994, I would not attempt it other than with wine that stays in tank with fully protected ullages. Necessarily these styles must be complete ferments in terms of both yeast and MLF bacteria. Unless well handled one ferment may interfere with the other so this is a game for the competent, not the lazy.

    The generation of sulphite in wine relates to ‘difficult’ ferments. In our experience there is a tiny amount produced in ‘easy’ white ferments and none at all in red ferments on skins.

    Nothing reduces the need for sulphite like clean swift ferments to near zero sugar levels followed by a speedy MLF employing hand picked grapes that are in excellent condition that remain so all the way to the crusher being transported in small perforated containers with a minimum of delay.

    Of course most if not all organic certifications enable the use of sulphites in wine making. The ‘gold standard’ is not organic but ‘free of preservative’ in the added sense.

    Every winemaker should attempt the production of wine without sulphite to learn about the limits of what’s possible under the regime that he/she employs. He can then make an educated guess about how he can use less sulphite and finish up with a good result.

    As for adding stuff……no thanks.

  2. Regarding the medals the above mentioned wines in the International wine challenge won, I would like to know whether the wines presented had sulphites in them or not.

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