In recent years, the world of wine has been flooded with an array of buzzwords and marketing claims that promise healthier options, better quality, and fewer additives. Terms like "clean wine", "zero sugar", and "sulfite-free" have become common in the industry, enticing consumers with the idea of a purer and healthier drinking experience. However, it's essential to take a closer look at these buzzwords and understand the truth behind their meaning and impact on the wine we consume.
The term "clean wine" often attempts to convey that the wine is made without additives or unnatural substances, but it is a marketing term only and was recently listed as a "misleading statement" by the TTB. It's essential to know that all wines go through a fermentation process that uses yeast, naturally produces compounds like sulfites, and will always leave some sugar behind. Moreover, the concept of "clean" has been used dishonestly, as there were no official regulations or certifications defining it. It's crucial to remember that responsible winemakers adhere to strict quality standards, and the label "clean" should not be a deciding factor when choosing a bottle. In fact, if you focus on purchasing wine from smaller producers, you’ll almost always be buying higher quality products with all the attributes you're looking for.
Zero Sugar Wine
The notion of "zero sugar" in wine doesn't mean that the wine is entirely sugar-free. In fact, any wine with less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving can be called “zero sugar.” But the truth is that all wines contain some residual sugars as a by-product from the grapes during fermentation.
"Dry wines" typically have very low sugar levels, but the term zero-sugar can be confusing to consumers looking for a healthy or diet-friendly option, which might not necessarily be the case. It is worth noting that many of the most popular mass-produced wines in the United States contain between 10g-20g of sugar.
Quality-produced, premium wines like Really Good Boxed Wine are technically zero-sugar wines (all of our wines are <0.5 grams of sugar per serving), but you should always consult your physician on dietary concerns and enjoy ALL wine in moderation.
Sulfites are naturally occurring compounds in wine that act as preservatives to maintain freshness and prevent spoilage. In fact, even even moderate quantities, sulfites are remarkably effective at preserving wine, with virtually no side-effects for approximately 99% of the population (it's estimated that 1% of the U.S. population has a sulfite sensitivity, and an actual allergy isn't possible).
The idea of "sulfite-free" wines has gained traction, as people believe it will prevent adverse reactions or headaches, but it's important to note that sulfite-free wines might be more prone to spoilage and may lack the desired shelf life and flavor profile. In addition, most wines will have far fewer sulfites than other items one consumes. For example, a glass of wine may contain 0.5 grams of Sulfur Dioxide, while a serving of canned soup contains 8 grams or a serving of french fries contains 3 grams. Most high-quality wine will contain between 35-75ppm, much lower than the scare-tactic campaigns out in the world today.
Want to learn more about sulfites? We wrote an entire post dedicated to this topic here.
Organic Wine and Biodynamic Wine
Organic and biodynamic wines are often associated with being healthier or better for the environment. While these wines adhere to specific farming practices, it's important to remember that they are not inherently superior in taste or quality. The organic label indicates that the grapes were grown without synthetic pesticides or herbicides, while biodynamic farming incorporates holistic practices in harmony with lunar cycles and natural forces.
While these labels don't guarantee a better wine, they do signify a commitment to sustainable farming practices and sometimes indicate more care put into the winemaking process by the winery. Looking for Sustainable, Organic, and Biodynamic wines, and choosing alternative packaging like boxed wine, cans, or even paper bottles can make an impact on the environment. After all, it is important for winemakers and wine drinkers to be good stewards of the land that grows our grapes.
Natural wines have become popular among enthusiasts looking for minimal intervention in winemaking. However, "Natural wine" is another term that is unregulated, and the definition can vary by both producer and drinker on what wines they consider to be in the category. These wines are often made with native yeasts and no or very minimal additives. While they can sound exciting and unique, not all natural wines undergo rigorous quality control, leading to inconsistent flavors and significantly elevated risks of spoilage. Unfiltered natural wines can also appear unpleasant in the glass.
It's crucial for consumers to be well-informed and have a healthy skepticism of wine buzzwords and marketing claims. The wine industry is diverse and offers a wide range of choices, each with its unique characteristics and qualities. Understanding that responsible winemakers follow strict guidelines, and not all additives are harmful, will empower consumers to make more informed and enjoyable wine choices. Always explore wines from reputable producers and trusted sources, and remember that true appreciation of wine comes from savoring its flavors, history, and the stories behind each glass.