This is not the first time I have posted about Or Haganuz and its sulfite-free Cabernet wine. They have been making this wine for many years now, I remember as early back as 2009, maybe earlier.
We have spoken before about sulfites when I posted an article, about the then ONLY Kosher Sulfite Free wine that I knew of. The Bashan Winery is a lovely small winery in the Galilee that only produces sulfite-free wine.
So what are Sulfites? They are nothing more than a preservative for wine. They were added into wine staring in the last century or so. Before then people got along fine without using them – why? Because sulfites occur naturally in wine. The extra sulfites one may add allow for the wine to stay on the shelf or in the cellar longer. So most winemakers that bottle organic wine will say that white wines should be drunk within the year and within the day of opening it. Red wines have a bit more life to them – 5 years or so, as sulfites are far more prevalent in red wines.
Many wineries have wines made from organically grown grapes – this is a trend that many wineries are trying to push, in ways as part of the whole natural wine story. Also, because organic grapes are more than just a selling point, it because organic grapes are good for the vines, the vine workers, and ultimately, the customer.
When we talk about sulfite-free wine, it does not always mean organic wine! In the USA, the rules are VERY simple, you CANNOT add any preservatives in ANY manner – as described here, (sorry the data is in a PDF) on the USDA website if you wish to put the word Organic on the wine label. An organic wine means ZERO SO2 was added to the wine at any time in the processing of the wine. The wine will still have sulfites unless they were fined out because sulfites occur naturally in the grape skins. Also, the wine must be made from organic grapes and many other requirements. The U.S. differs in what it defines as “organic” wine from the EU or other countries. In the E.U. they can call a wine organic, as long as:
- These include: maximum sulfite content set at 100 mg per liter for red wine (150 mg/l for conventional)
- 150mg/l for white/rosé (200 mg/l for conventional),
- with a 30mg/l differential where the residual sugar content is more than 2g per liter.
Please note – that this is not additive sulfite count/numbers, but rather that TOTAL amount of sulfites allowed in the wines. Again, sulfites occur naturally in grape skins, so if you macerate your wine for 2 months (or something long like that anyway), you will get a fair amount of sulfite in your wine without ever adding any actual SO2 into your wine, manually. Also, sulfite is a naturally occurring byproduct of the fermentation process.
So why all the buzz around sulfites in wine? Because some people are supposedly allergic to the sulfites. What is the percentage of people with this ailment? The USDA describes it as 1/100 as stated here, far fewer people than the percentage of folks who think Cilantro is the Devil’s spawn (I am one of them by the way, Cilantro hater, not Sulfite hater).
So, when my local Rabbi, who says he is allergic to Sulfites asked me to look at options, I told him the only kosher mass-produced “no sulfite added” option out there is the Or Haganuz Elima.
So, when I had the opportunity to taste the recent vintage, I was happy to do so, so that I could decide for myself if this wine was drinkable or not. When I tasted it I was shocked, for a couple of reasons. First of all, it was Or Haganuz, come on, their wines are undrinkable by default. They are classically built Israeli wines, oak monsters, with unbearable tannin structure, and date juice drove. So, when I tasted the Elima, I was shocked that it was a well-balanced wine, with good fruit focus, and to boot, it had no added sulfites. Now, from the structure of the wine, I can tell they macerated this wine for a good amount of time. How long, I have no idea, but they “added” sulfites by extracting all the sulfites they could from the grape skins as they could. Now, I am no doctor or professor, but well before reading the back label of the bottle, I could tell you this wine was macerated for a long period of time. Sure, enough the back label says exactly what I had surmised from my palate, that they had used a method of winemaking developed by Dr. Arkady Papikian (a consulting winemaker in Israel), which used a long maceration process and then a long and cold fermentation. Both of which, as stated above create natural sulfites. I have no idea if naturally occurring sulfites cause people with allergies, fewer issues, but my Rabbi, who says he is allergic to sulfites has no issues with this particular wine.
Please NOTE – this is NOT an organic wine, it does not use the word organic, nor does it advertise as such. It simply states that they did not add in sulfites to this wine, at least in an unnatural manner anyway.
The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
2016 Or Haganuz Elima – Score: 90 (no added sulfites)
This wine is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Cabernet Franc.
The wine is a classical new world wine, very ripe, and concentrated, still the lack of sulfites do not affect it to me. This wine has no added sulfites – but a sulfite-free red wine does not exist, as all red wines have naturally occurring sulfites.
The nose on this wine is ripe, with nice green notes, garrigue, and good notes of earth and spice, with anise galore, menthol, some black fruit, and hints of red berries. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich and layered, a wine that will sell well for those that like wine like this, it is well balanced with good acidity, tobacco galore, with rich smokey meats, blackberry, cassis, and ripe juicy dark plums, all wrapped in good tannin and a nice fruit structure. The finish is long and green, with foliage, sweet dill, and nice green and red fruit on the long linger. Nice! As the wine opens the chocolate emerges.