Frequently Asked Questions
Listed below are some frequently asked questions and our answers.
If you have a question relating to wine, just ask, and we will give you an answer - if we know it. Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
What do I do if a wine is faulty?
If you think a wine is faulty, for example badly corked, fizzy when it shouldn't be or cloudy, please inform us as soon as you can. We will either replace it or refund it as appropriate. Please note that tartrate crystals can sometimes accumulate in the bottom of bottles or on the underside of corks. These are naturally occurring and are not a fault. Similarly sediment also occurs as wines age. If you spot any sediment in the bottom of the bottle (sometimes it might coat the inside of a bottle where it has been lying down), then decant the wine carefully and discard the last little bit (or use it for the gravy!). Quite a few wines are bottled with a little carbon dioxide to keep out oxygen. This may give them a slight spritz when they are first opened and this is nothing to worry about.
What is a corked wine?
Wines affected by cork taint smell of musty damp cardboard, undergrowth and (unpleasant) green leaves and the fruit aroma is very subdued. There are varying degrees of cork taint from just a whiff which seems to dissipate after a few minutes, to out-and-out corkiness. True cork taint comes from a chemical compound called TCA (trichloroanisole) which is perceptible at very low concentrations and some people pick it up more than others. It can be down to the quality of the cork itself, it could be a problem with a wooden barrel, it could even be introduced by wood preservatives in the structure of the winery itself. There are also other wine faults that are frequently blamed on cork. So it's not as clear-cut as you think. Some say as many as one in twenty bottles are corked to some extent. The industry as a whole is working hard to eradicate this problem and one of the solutions has been the introduction of the screwcap. Screwcaps work well for aromatic, dry white wines for early drinking (and are very handy for picnics!). The jury is still out on oaked whites and reds which improve with age and we think these are still better with a cork closure. Cork is also a totally natural and renewable resource.
What is sulfur/sulfur dioxide/sulfites and why is it added during the winemaking process?
Sulfur is a naturally occurring substance, making up 0.5% of the earth's crust. At room temperature it is a yellow, brittle, solid substance and when burnt in air, creates sulfur dioxide gas which has been used as a preservative and disinfectant since ancient times. Sulfites are also produced by micro-organisms and are present at low levels in many foods even where none has been added eg. bread. All wine contains some sulfites as a natural by-product of fermentation.
During winemaking sulfur dioxide is added to inhibit oxidation and bacterial spoilage. Those winemakers who use none at all put their wines at risk of spoilage during bottling, shipment and ageing. Within the EU maximum permitted levels of total sulfur dioxide in the finished wine are 160 mg/l for dry red wines, 210 mg/l for dry white and rosé and sweet red wines, and 260 mg/l for sweet white and rosé wines. Certain very sweet wines can contain up to 400 mg/l (more sulfur is needed when there is residual sugar present to prevent it from fermenting). To put this into context maximum levels for fruit juice made from concentrate are higher than this. Levels of sulfur additions have been reduced over the centuries and nowadays, quality winemakers use only the minimum necessary.
How much sulfur dioxide does wine contain compared to other foods?
Many foods naturally contain or have sulfur added, such as fruit juices, sausages, jams and processed foods. Studies have shown that on average a glass of red wine contains 10 mg of sulfur dioxide. 56g (two ounces) of dried apricots typically contain 112 mg of sulfur dioxide. Did you also know that the human body produces around 1000 mg of sulfur dioxide a day?!
I have heard sulfur dioxide in wine causes problems for asthma sufferers. Is this true?
High doses of sulfur dioxide are said to affect a small proportion of very sensitive asthma sufferers and this is why we are now seeing 'Contains sulphites' or 'Preservative 220' on wine labels as part of allergen labelling. If you suffer from asthma and are affected by sulfur dioxide in foods like dried apricots and fruit juices, then you may be affected by some wines. Dry red wines have less sulfur than white and sweet wines. Wines certified as organic will have lower sulfur levels as well. So your best bet is to find an organic dry red wine that you like.
Is it true that (red) wine causes headaches or allergic reactions?
Obviously, you will get a headache if you drink too much alcohol full stop! So quality not quantity is our motto. Unlike white wines, red wines have been fermented on the grapeskins and therefore contain a wider range of constituents. However this area is under-researched and although there are low levels of histamines and sulfur dioxide in all wines, generally they are not enough to provoke an allergic reaction unless you are particularly sensitive (see above for sulfur dioxide). Organic wines have lower levels of sulfur dioxide and this may help some people. However, there is no denying that some people cannot drink any alcohol or certain types of wines. The only advice we can give is to find wines that you can enjoy by trial or error.