1) WHAT ARE SULFITES?
Sulfur dioxide (whose chemical formula is SO2) is a preservative that has been used in wine for over 200 years. Its main function is to prevent the development of undesirable micro-organisms (such as those that make the wine turn to vinegar) and oxidize the odors. Once you add it to the wine, the sulfur produces some salts and sulfites. There are many foods that use it (mustards, sausages, vegetables), but it is often indicated by a number, for example, E-220, E-221, or E229. Although we’ve spent our whole lives using sulfur dioxide, as of November 2005 the European regulations require us to specify on a wine label that it “contains sulfites.” This is due to the fact that, although its use is limited and it is used in small concentrations, some people are allergic to this compound and must avoid it. In just the same way, “contains gluten” is mentioned on packaging to alert those with celiac disease.
2) WHAT ARE ORGANIC WINES?
These wines come from grapes grown on the principles of organic farming, that is, showing great respect for nature and conservation. Therefore, synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and herbicidal minerals are not permitted in the cultivation of the vines. There are also a number of limitations when producing the wine (such as using fewer sulfites), but basically, the winemaking is carried out similarly.
Organic wines have similar organoleptic properties as those of conventional wines (there isn’t a difference when tasting them), but working the vineyard like this puts special emphasis on sustainability and respect for the environment. More than 5% of Navarra vineyards benefit from this system of organic cultivation, which is particularly valued by European and U.S. markets.
3) WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A ROSÉ AND A CLARET?
Although rosé wines from the Navarra D.O. are produced only by the method of bleeding (discussed in its corresponding chapter), traditionally these wines have been called “Clear” or “clarets.” In fact, however, a claret wine is made by mixing white and red grapes or even coloring a white wine with a red – meaning that a rosé from Navarra will never fall into the category of claret. But tradition is tradition, and it is difficult to change the name to which people are accustomed.
4) WHERE DOES THE YEAST COME FROM?
You know that wine is created through the transformation of sugars into alcohol, and that yeast is responsible for this transformation. But where does yeast come from? Broadly speaking, the yeast may have three different origins:
a) Those which come from the field and are found in the waxy layer that covers the skin of the grapes.
b) The natural yeasts that are found throughout the winery and multiply spontaneously in the tank when we fill it with grapes.
c) Selected commercial yeast, which arrives freeze-dried and is added to the tank when the grapes arrive too cold or too ripe, or the winemakers seek any special transformation (for example, a wine with specific aromas).
Every winemaker has their own preferences, so there are those who obtain good results with the yeasts brought in by their grapes and which exist in their cellar, and also those who prefer to direct the fermentation by adding specifically selected yeasts to ensure a certain outcome.
5) WHY DO SOME WINES HAVE SEDIMENT?
Before, when a bottle had sediment (“dregs”), it was dismissed due to misunderstanding as poor quality, with the claim that it was chemical. However, the first thing to keep in mind is that sediment has a totally natural origin. We find two types:
a) The heavier sediment, which comes from salts in the wine. This is because the grapes have an acid, tartaric acid, which is very soluble, but they also have potassium, calcium and more. When grape seeds break during winemaking, all these components are put in contact, forming slightly soluble salts called bitartrate or tartar. Their appearance is crystalline, rather like grains of sugar on the bottom of the bottle, although if tested, they almost always have a sour taste.
b) The lighter sediment, looking somewhat like pasty, colored flakes. When a red wine is just made, the pigments and tannins are small, lightweight particles. Over time, they join up with each other and form long chains, which are heavier and fall to the bottom.
To prevent sediment from appearing, the wine can receive various treatments before being bottled (it can be stabilized, cooled, clarified, etc.). These processes are always done on simpler wines. The higher the quality of a wine, the less it is treated, because these treatments always entail some loss of body and aromatic complexity.
If you have a great wine that contains sediment, always decant it before serving. Although natural, sediment is not at all pleasant to drink.