We hear a lot about the benefits of “clean eating,” and we’re here to tell you there are also clean wines! Clean wines encompass various wines, including low-sulfite, low-sugar, organic or vegan wines. Like anything else, it’s essential to be mindful of added chemicals or preservatives! We compiled a complete guide to understanding what makes a wine “clean” and the benefits of enjoying your favorite wine without synthetic additives.
Many people have sensitivities to sulfites. A low-sulfite wine will contain minimal or close to zero sulfite, but since this is a naturally occurring compound, there is no such thing as “sulfite-free” wine.
Sulfites are inorganic salts that contain the sulfite ion and act as a preservative for food and beverage products. Examples of sulfites include sulfur dioxide, sodium bisulfites, and metabisulfites. Don’t be fooled by their names as they are pretty powerful human-made chemicals. They are used to reduce browning on fruits and veggies, preventing yeast and bacteria growth. Many prepackaged foods have added sulfites, while other foods have naturally occurring sulfites. Some examples of natural sulfite foods include black tea, eggs, and fermented foods.
Wine also contains sulfites. Sulfur dioxide is a natural byproduct of the fermentation process during winemaking. As a result, no wine is completely sulfite-free, as this is a natural process in the vinification process. However, you can find wines made without added sulfites (synthetic sulfites).
You may be wondering - how do sulfites affect wine? Synthetic sulfites added to wines act as a preservative, making the wine last longer and defend against bacteria. Many winemakers use sulfur dioxide to prevent the contamination of bacteria and oxidized wine (ruining the appearance, color, texture, and taste).
Why You Might Want to Avoid Sulfites
Sulfites can irritate the respiratory tract and cause an allergic reaction in some people. This can be triggering for those with asthma and can cause headaches or migraines in some people.
There are naturally occurring sugars in wine; however, some particular wines have added sugars. In the form of glucose, sucrose, or fructose, sugar needs to be produced in alcohol fermentation. The yeast metabolizes sugar into ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide.
With wine, the riper the grape, the more sugar in the fruit there is to convert to alcohol. When the grape is not ripe enough for winemakers, which frequently happens in colder areas like Oregon, Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Long Island, winemakers use a cane or beet sugar before it ferments, a process called chaptalization. If it’s not the temperature, some wines are meant to be sweeter than others. Sugar is popularly added to sparkling wines, depending on how sweet the wine needs to be.
Our Low-Sugar Wine Recommendation
For wines to receive organic certification, they must go through a series of requirements. They must exclusively use organic grapes, but they also ban synthetic chemicals in the vineyard and modified organisms (GMOs). Instead of farmers using herbicides, producers let the vineyard solid grow between rows or mechanically turn over the soil.
The second phase of producing wine is the fermentation of the grapes into wine. During this process, winemakers cannot use chemicals (sulfites, GMOs, etc.) during fermentation. The ingredients must and not exceed five percent of the total wine to meet United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations to receive an organic wine certification. Sulfites are not permitted to be in the wine for organic certification in the United States. Also, organic wines omit the use of coloring agents. Coloring agents are added to wines to enrich the color; these additives, such as Mega Purple and malic acid, are among the most popular. Remember to double-check the label as wines that are “made with organically grown grapes.”
Our Organic Wine Recommendation
Try our 2016 Cottonwood Creek Organic White Blend, a vibrant and fruit-forward blend certified organic by the CCOF, which signifies 85 percent organic ingredients and naturally occurring sulfite levels!
Vegan wines prohibit the use of any animal products, so winemakers either leave the particles to sink naturally to the bottom of the wine or use non-animal fining products, usually bentonite, a form of clay or pea protein.
All wines are not vegan because of the ‘fining’ process and how the wine is clarified. Since many wine consumers prefer a clear wine, many winemakers use ‘fining agents' to speed up the process and precipitate any haziness in a young wine. Essentially, the fining agent acts like a magnet, attracting the molecules around it. The particles then clot together around the fining agent, making them larger and easily removed. Some of the most popular fining agents can include the following.
- gelatin (animal protein)
- albumin (egg whites)
- casein (animal milk protein)
- isinglass (fish bladder)
Although these fining agents are removed from the wine, the wine is no longer vegan, as some of these fining agents may have been absorbed into the wine.
Our Vegan Wine Recommendation
If you want to try a vegan wine, our 2019 Champbeaux Grande Réserve Marselan is perfectly spiced with hints of black pepper and violet.
Clean Wine in a Nutshell
It can be challenging to navigate which wines are vegan, organic, low-sugar, or sulfite. Many manufacturers do not make it clear whether they have specific qualifications. Luckily, Wine Insiders has an easily navigable system to locate high-quality wines for your lifestyle. Stress less with our award-winning wines at Wine Insiders.