Worth Reading This Week: Turn it down, already! I’ve got a headache from all these allergenic additives in my organic wine!

A weekly roundup of interesting wine news on the blahblahsphere:

Loud music makes alcohol taste sweeter, and may help explain why we drink too much in bars, according to a British study reported in the Daily Mail. The researchers concluded that the music distracts us so that we lose track of how much booze we’ve swilled. I dunno, if I was in the bar pictured here, I think I’d be distracted more by those women than whatever music was playing. But this does raise an interesting question for wine critics – does music influence our perceptions of wine? Let’s get some writers together, crank up the hip hop and the Mozart, and see if one group prefers New World fruit bombs while the other likes those dirty Euro wines.

The Academic Wino reports on another study in which new, extra-sensitive detection methods succeeded in measuring small amounts of egg white proteins in bottled wine. Egg whites are commonly used to “fine” wines by attracting impurities as they float down through the liquid (think of the “boat” of whipped egg whites used in clarifying consommé). But the egg whites supposedly aren’t in the finished wine. The implications of the study are significant, as egg white proteins are allergens, and many countries require any allergen content to be labeled. This article does not, however, raise the question of other additives commonly used in winemaking. How many of those reach our glasses? Velcorin, for example, is a rather nasty substance added to wine to counter brettanomyces, those yeasty beasties responsible for the bandaid-barnyard flavors that ruin too many wines. Velcorin is approved for use in wine by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because it breaks down into harmless chemicals in wine. But do we really want to risk drinking its residue, especially when careful winemaking and sanitation would eliminate the need for using such drastic treatments?

The National Organic Standards Board last week rejected a petition that would have allowed certain wines containing small amounts of sulfites to be labeled as “Organic.” This simplification would have removed the need for the confusing “made with organically grown grapes” designation. Alder Yarrow and W.Blake Gray are stinging in their criticism of the board’s ruling. After all, why would we want to make wine more understandable for consumers?

Trying to figure out what to buy the wine lover on your holiday list? Never fear, The Wine Curmudgeon – my buddy Jeff Siegel – offers helpful do’s and don’ts for wine gift giving in his annual holiday guide.

About Dave McIntyre

Wine columnist for The Washington Post, co-founder of DrinkLocalWine.com, and blogger at Dave McIntyre's WineLine (dmwineline.com).
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4 Responses to Worth Reading This Week: Turn it down, already! I’ve got a headache from all these allergenic additives in my organic wine!

  1. Steve Shaffer says:

    With respect to Velcorin (or more correctly DMDG) versus “sanitation” in the winery:
    Brett is very hardy yeast, for instance it will happily consume cellulose as a nutrient source, it has repeatedly been shown that it will alter shape to slip (or be pushed) through a .45 micon “sterile” filter with no damage to its cellular structure. There is almost no possibility of eliminating brett in a finished wine without DMDG, the best one can hope for is to keep the population low enough that it does not develop to objectionable levels before the wine is consumed. So as a winemakers we are left with several poor choices, – sterile filter, high sulfites at bottling, and wait for the wine to sufficiently recover from filter shock (if it ever really does) ,or release the wines and hope no one puts it down for long enough to notice, or use DMDG at levels much lower (orders of magnitude) than any other beverage industry.
    It might be worth spending a little time researching Velcorin and understanding how it works and where it has been applied. If you’re worried about DMDG don’t buy soda, or fruit juice.

  2. Kris Curran says:

    Hey Dave, It is actually DMDC: DiMethyl DiCarbonate. And it breaks down into some pretty nasty stuff in your wine…like Methanol and Ethyl Methyl Carbonate. You are NOT allowed to, according to the ATTB, use it on a wine with any infection over 500 cells/ml; nobody has those levels in a winery (unless it is brand spanking new!) so legally would have to filter the infected wine prior to dosing with DMDC, which sort of defeats the purpose. And very few winemakers would “worry” about 500 cell/ml, or less, of spoilage organisms unless they know they don’t run a tight ship. So people are DMDC dosing illegally out there, and dosing more than the legal limit of 200ppm or less AND winemakers (unless you have a 2 million dollar lab that can check for residual methanol in the bottled wine, which legally has to be under 300ppm!) are not checking the residual methanol in their wines to make sure they are under legal limit! Add this to the fact you do not have to put this on your label and WILL NOT have to put “DMDC” on your wines’ ingredient list when that day arrives in the industry, leads one to be very cautious as to what one drinks. I personally stick to wines that I make or wines made by winemakers who i know do not use DMDC. The headache and ocular pressure (read white lightning) associated with high levels of methanol are not worth the best, highest scoring, wine in the world. And Steve, I think you are talking about Brett being able to get through a .45 micron “nominal” pad (plate and frame), which is not the same as a .45 micron sterile filter…unless someone did not bubble-point test the sterile columns.
    And you can use DMDC and still say “sustainable”, “organic” and “biodynamic” on your wines as these monikers pertain to vineyard practices and not what happens in the winery (except Organic Wine – and I think they have not ruled on the use of DMDC yet in the winery). Please let me know if I am wrong on that point – I would be very pleased!

  3. Kris,
    Lets talk real numbers on methanol before trying to blame Velcorin. The typical background level of methanol in red wine is about 140mg/liter (whites are usually half of that), the US legal limit is 1000 mg/l, EU is 400 mg/l. This study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11926610) indicates that up 2000mg per day is a “safe” limit of consumption. The maximum allowable Velcorin does is 200mg/l, which produces 96 mg/l of methanol.
    Now I don’t know what your drinking habits are but I can’t really consume a bottle (750ml) of wine in one sitting. Even if I could I’d be ingesting 177mg versus 105mg… more certainly but significantly more, not likely.
    The leap from assuming that dirty wines to over dosing Velcorin is highly unlikely. Velcorin is not used for anything other than finished wine on it’s way to the final package (done inline at the time of bottling). A wine with even 50cells/ml needs to be clarified before putting it in the bottle (otherwise there will be a noticeable haze and or sediment). Filtering or treatment with enzymes (lysozyme as an example) are far more effective, less expensive, and logistically simpler. Once the precursor work is done then normal dosing with Velcorin is fine.
    Velcorin dosing is well regulated both by by the government, manufacturer, and their distributors. You can’t just walk into Scott Labs and buy a jug of it. Nor would you want to.
    As for Bret squeezing through filters: it will slip through .45 micron absolute filter (versus nominal filter sizes of .45 micron with a much larger absolute). Brett has been observed passing through .45 micron absolute crossflow units, which is particularly disturbing because the filtered wine has no competing organisms to keep the Brett in balance. Using a finer ultra filtration than .45 micron has been shown to strip flavor and color from wines.
    A better thing to be worried about in terms of headaches is biogenic amine production (think histamine causing vasoconstriction headaches). While as far as I know Brett does not produce biogenic amines, several other microorganisms found in wines do.

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