Contains sulfites

Boordy Vineyards Icons of Maryland Riesling

Old school cartoon Oriole looks happy about this wine, but he is dying inside.

Old school cartoon Oriole looks happy about this wine, but he is dying inside.

Appelation: “American”, grapes are sourced from WA state.
Varietal: Riesling
ABV: 11%
RS: 3%
Price Point $12
Notes:
Looks: Pale yellow, a bit darker than a typical riesling from NY would be.
Nose: On the nose it is definitely not a NYS riesling. Very floral, perfumey. A bit of fruit cocktail comes in as well, but the major player in this nose is sulfur dioxide, aka sulfites, which kind of smell like when you first light a match. Wow. It burns my nose.*
Palate: Brazen acidity. Like “yeah, I’m acidic, what are you gonna do about it, punk?” So much sulfur that I can taste it on the palate and all the fruit is gone. Sweet, acidic, sulfurous. Yikes. As it goes down it feels like it will give me heartburn the next day. Blech.

Rating: 1 cork cork Maybe I am just sensitive to it, but i definitely wouldn’t want any more of this.

I went to Baltimore this weekend for an a cappella reunion concert. While picking up some plonk for the afterparty (André anyone?) I decided to review some MD wine. Boordy Vineyards is the largest winery in Maryland, a state that could be considered an up and coming wine region. Unfortunately, I didn’t look carefully at the bottle and ended up grabbing a wine made with grapes grown in Washington state. When I was there I thought I remembered them mentioning riesling vines, but upon further research it was that they had torn them out. Oh, well.

I have toured the winery and it is one of those “party” wineries. It is a fun atmosphere and they give a pretty informative and fun tour. So if you’re between Baltimore and the PA line, I recommend that you stop by.

As for this wine, a little sugar can be used to cover up some faults, but the SO2 is so profound in this wine that not even the 3% RS could save it. Sometimes you find this sulfite heavy-handedness in Mosel rieslings, as well as occasionally here in the Finger Lakes. I would avoid this one, though the label is nice. It’s got a Baltimore oriole on it.

*Science!
Sulfur dioxide, commonly called “sulfites” on the label, is an antioxidant and antimicrobial agent that has been used for making wine pretty much since wine was first made. SO2 irritates your nose, causing a trigeminal response (see the Jameson post for further discussion of trigeminal response), a burning sensation in the nose. In certain individuals, it can irritate the lungs and cause an asthma-like response. This wine likely has lots of sulfites added because residual sugars can bind SO2, rendering it inactive. If a wine has high residual sugar, chances are it will have higher SO2 to curb microbial activity. Sulfites are the most important preservative and rest assured they will keep coming up again and again in this section.

Addendum:
I didn’t want to get into the whole equilibrium thing, but yes, sulfites exist as molecular SO2 (the actual antimicrobial agent), HSO3-, and SO3–. At wine pH (3.5 or so), most (~95%) of the SO2 will be found as HSO3-. This means that to have enough molecular SO2 for microbial stability, you need to add about 20x more (usually people use potassium metabisulfite). THEN molecular SO2 can associate with ketones and aldehydes, including sugars, so you’ve got to add even more! Problem is the legal limit (US) is 350 ppm (total, free and bound), and the detection threshold is 2 ppm as molecular. And if you have oxygen pickup on your bottling line, then you’ve probably already lost it all! My theory is that the reason this was so overwhelming was that it had a combination of high RS (better add more SO2!) and high acidity, so probably a lower pH (though not necessarily), so more of that extra SO2 was available as molecular, and more went up my nose. I see too much SO2 as a winemaking mistake and it really puts me off a wine. I even tried this a couple days later after it sat in the fridge for a while and it still had biting SO2.

Thanks to Vinogirl for her comment.

Published in: on 21 April 2009 at 5:27 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Science? And SO3 and SO4?

  2. I didn’t want to get into the whole equilibrium thing, but yes, sulfites exist as molecular SO2 (the actual antimicrobial agent), HSO3-, and SO3–. At wine pH (3.5 or so), most (~95%) of the SO2 will be found as HSO3-. This means that to have enough molecular SO2 for microbial stability, you need to add about 20x more (usually people use potassium metabisulfite). THEN molecular SO2 can associate with ketones and aldehydes, including sugars, so you’ve got to add even more! Problem is the legal limit (US) is 350 ppm (total, free and bound), and the detection threshold is 2 ppm as molecular. And if you have oxygen pickup on your bottling line, then you’ve probably already lost it all! My theory is that the reason this was so overwhelming was that it had a combination of high RS (better add more SO2!) and high acidity, so probably a lower pH (though not necessarily), so more of that extra SO2 was available as molecular, and more went up my nose. I see too much SO2 as a winemaking mistake and it really puts me off a wine. I even tried this a couple days later after sitting in the fridge for a while and it still had biting SO2.

    SO4– (sulfate) is oxidized SO3– and can show up during fermentation, but I don’t think it has too much aroma/antimicrobial impact, so not so important in wine.

  3. Don’t be shy with this stuff. There are those of us out there that can handle the truth🙂

  4. in this case, lazy is a better word than shy. besides, i can’t blow all my science up front! SO2 is a topic worthy of quite a few posts!


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