To advocates, fine natural wines taste like no other. But they have another virtue: their lack of sulphites gets rid of a surprising reaction to more commercially produced bottles.
It started insidiously, in subtle, cheek-itching ways that made me think I had developed a mild allergy to my washing detergent. But soon I was sneezing every day for no apparent reason, sometimes until 4am. By a reluctant process of elimination I realised that the problem was wine. Or, more probably, it was the sulphur dioxide compounds that act as preservatives in the wine.
Complaining to one’s doctor that Burgundy makes you sneeze was never going to garner much sympathy. Still, mine dosed me with antihistamines and explained that some people possibly lack the enzymes necessary to break down the sulphites added not just to wine but also to many foods (from dried fruit to sausages and guacamole). All wine contains naturally occurring sulphites, and it’s not simply a case of going organic to get around the problem. I did, and still sneezed. In fact, one madly expensive organic Zinfandel had my throat burning and tightening. Death by rosé. How middle-class can you get?
Organic wine might use grapes free from synthetic pesticides and fertilisers but, paradoxically, is permitted to be processed with several of the additives common to conventional wine. Even some biodynamic wines add commercial yeasts. Only natural wines are farmed organically and hand-harvested and then bottled using low or no intervention. No reverse osmosis machinery, no spinning cones and cryo-extraction, no weirdly flavoured yeasts, no snowdrifts of sugar. And only the very lowest levels of sulphites.
One woman better versed in this subject than most is Isabelle Legeron, France’s first female Master of Wine and an advocate for natural wine.