Cheers Wine & Spirits

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Wednesday, 8 April 2020
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Phil 2014/1/15


The deal with sulfites in wine
Those little words “Contains Sulfites” on the bottom of a label often stir up concern. What’s even more confusing is that the US is one of the only countries (along with Australia) that require bottles be labeled. So what gives? How much sulfites are in wine and how do they affect you? Time to get to the bottom of sulfites in wine and how they’re not as bad as you might think.
Are sulfites in wine bad?
Not for most people. Sulfites aren’t the cause of red wine headaches. There are some notable exceptions to this rule.
About 5-10% of people with asthma have severe sulfite sensitivity and thus the US requires labeling for sulfites above 10 parts per million (PPM). Sulfur is on the rise as a concern among humans as a cause of health problems (from migraines to body swelling) because of its prevalence in processed foods.
How much sulfur is in wine?
It depends.
Depending on the production method, style and the color of the wine, sulfites in wine range from no-added sulphur (10-40 PPM) to about 350 PPM. If you compare wine to other foods, it’s placed far lower on the spectrum. For example, many dry red wines have around 50 PPM.
·         Wines with lower acidity need more sulfur than higher acidity wines. At pH 3.6 and above, the sulfites needed is much higher because it’s an exponential ratio.
·         Wines with more color (i.e. red wines) need less sulfur than clear wines (i.e. white wines)
·         Wines with higher sugar content tend to need more sulfur to prevent secondary fermentation of the remaining sugar.
·         Wines that are warmer in temperature release free sulfur compounds (the nasty sulfur smell) and can be ‘fixed’ simply through decanting and chilling the wine.
Why are sulfites in wine?
Very simply, sulfites are a preservative to wine, which is a volatile food product (ever open a wine and it’s bad by the next day?). Wineries have been using sulfur around wine for a long time, as far back as the Roman times. Back in Roman times, winemakers would burn candles made of sulfur in empty wine containers (called Amphora) to keep the wines from turning to vinegar. Sulfur started to be used in winemaking (instead of just cleaning wine barrels) in the early 1900′s to stop bacteria and other yeasts from growing. It also helps in the extraction of pigments in wine, making red wines ‘redder’.
Can I smell sulfites in wine?
Very sensitive tasters have been noted to smell sulfites in wine at around 50 PPM. What’s interesting is that the warmer the wine, the more molecular sulfur it releases. This is why some wines have a nasty cooked-egg aroma when you open them. You can fix this issue by decanting your wine and chilling for about 15-30 minutes.
Should I be concerned about sulfites in wine?
If you have sensitivity to foods, you should absolutely try to eliminate sulfites from your diet. Eliminating wine could be necessary. Perhaps start your sulfur witch hunt with the obvious culprits (like processed foods) before you write-off wine.
Sulfur used in Roman wines mentioned in: Beckmann and Johnston et al. A History of Inventions and Discoveries (1846)
Phil 2010/8/25
Tags: tasting   wine course  


The Practice of Tasting Wine
This installment of the Cheers Wine & Spirits wine course focuses on
different aspects of Tasting wine. Most of the time we just enjoy drinking wine, it doesn’t matter that we identify specific tastes or odors; Looking for “hints of lemon” or “odors of truffle and roses” never crosses our mind. Justsitting back and relaxing is perhaps the best way to enjoy wine. However to learn about wine and share your experiences with others, it is necessary to dig a little deeper. That’s what Cheers’ wine course is all about. So join us as we explore the practice of tasting wine. By all means grab a bottle of your favorite wine and start practicing. It’s also a good idea to grab a pad of paper and a pen to take notes.  So here we go with one of the best aspects of the wonderful world of wine, TASTE!
How to Taste Wine
There is no right or wrong approach to tasting wine (except not trying it at all).
Anyone can be a good taster. Don’t be intimidated by people’s fancy descriptions or so called “expert” opinions. Wine tasting is as individual as people’s opinions on food. Just as some people like white zinfandel and some people like big bold Cabernets, some people like spicy food and others do not. Some people love wine that is inexpensive and some appreciate the nuances of bottles that are more expensive. Some folks like chocolate ice cream, others like strawberry… you get the idea, again there is no right or wrong way to taste wine!
There are however some rules of thumb to follow to get the most out of your tasting. First pour the wine in clear glasses that are made for wine. They don’t need to be fancy, but drinking wine out of a plastic cup does change things, so glass is better.  We’ve highlighted a couple more rules of thumb into a series of “phases”. At Cheers we believe that you get the most from tasting wine if you spend a fair amount of time on each phase exploring all components of the wine so let’s dive right in:
Phases of wine tasting
First impression
Swirl: To get a good impression of your wine's aroma, swirl it in your glass for a solid 10-12 seconds (this helps vaporize some of the wine's alcohol and release more of its natural aromas)
Why do we swirl? Let’s look at it from the wine’s point of view; it’s been cooped up in this skinny bottle and now it’s lying comfortably in a big wide glass… IT’S FREE! It’s now ready to express itself, ready to release all the smells and tastes that it has to offer. It’s gonna strut its stuff It’s ready to serve its purpose in life, to be TASTED! Let’s give it a little time in the glass to get to know it.
Look: Check out the Color and Clarity what do you see?
Take a good look at the wine. Tilt the glass away from you and check out the color of the wine from the rim edges to the middle of the glass (it's helpful to have a white background – a paper, napkin or a white tablecloth works great).
What color is it? Look beyond red, white or blush. If it's a red wine is the color maroon, purple, ruby, garnet, red, brick or even brownish? If it's a white wine is it clear, pale yellow, straw-like, light green, golden, amber or brown in appearance? What do YOU see?
Still Looking; Move on to the wine's opacity. Is the wine watery or dark, translucent or opaque, dull or brilliant, cloudy or clear? Can you see sediment? Tilt your glass a bit, give it another little swirl - look again, is there sediment, bits of cork or any other floaters? An older red wine will often have more orange tinges on the edges of color than younger red wines. Older white wines are sometimes darker, than younger white wines.
Smell: Breathe the wine in, fill your nose this is important! Stop here for a moment and think of a fragrance that takes you back to a memory long ago. For instance when I smell a gardenia, I am instantly taken back to my grandmother’s garden in Florida. I can remember specifics of that place vividly. That is the power of our sense of smell!
Our sense of smell is critical in properly analyzing a glass of wine. Again; To get a good impression of your wine's aroma, swirl your glass for a solid 10-12 seconds (this helps vaporize some of the wine's alcohol and release more of its natural aromas) now take a quick whiff to gain a first impression.
Still Smelling; now stick your nose down into the glass and take a deep inhale through your nose. What are your second impressions? Do you smell oak, berry, flowers, vanilla or citrus? A wine's aroma is an excellent indicator of its quality and unique characteristics. Swirl the wine and let the aromas mix and mingle, and sniff again.
Taste: This is what we’ve been waiting for!
Finally, take a taste. Start with a small sip and let it roll around your mouth. There are three stages of taste: the First Impression, the Development Phase and the Finish.
First impression stage, this is the initial impression that the wine makes on your palate. It is comprised of four pieces of the wine puzzle: alcohol content, tannin levels, acidity and residual sugar. These four puzzle pieces display initial sensations on the palate. Ideally these components will be well-balanced one piece will not be more prominent than the others. These four pieces do not display a specific flavor per se, they meld together to offer impressions in intensity and complexity, soft or firm, light or heavy, crisp or creamy, sweet or dry, but not necessarily true flavors like fruit or spice… WOW, that’s a lot of information for a first impression, however that’s what wine does (especially young wine) it fills the senses. Don’t get too bogged down here you know what they say about first impressions… go ahead and take a few notes about how the wine “hit you”
The Development Stage is next, also called the mid-palate or middle range phase; this is the wine’s actual taste on the palate. In this phase you are looking to discern the flavor profile of the wine. If it’s a red wine you may start noting fruit – berry, plum, prune or fig; perhaps some spice – pepper, clove, cinnamon, or maybe a woody flavor like oak, cedar, or a detectable smokiness. If you are in the development Phase of a white wine you may taste apple, pear, tropical or citrus fruits, or the taste may be more floral in nature or consist of honey, butter, herbs or a bit of earthiness.
The Finish is appropriately labeled as the final phase. The wine's finish is how long the flavor impression lasts after it is swallowed. This is where the wine culminates, where the aftertaste comes into play. Did it last several seconds? Was it light-bodied (like the weight of water), medium-bodied (similar in weight to milk) or full-bodied (like the consistency of cream)? Can you taste the remnant of the wine on the back of your mouth and throat? Do you want another sip or was the wine too bitter at the end? What was your last flavor impression – fruit, butter, oak? Does the taste persist or is it short-lived?
After you have taken the time to taste your wine, you might record some of your impressions. Did you like the wine overall? Was it sweet, sour or bitter? How was the wine's acidity? Was it well balanced? Does it taste better with cheese, bread or a heavy meal? Will you buy it again? If so, jot the wine's name, producer and vintage.
For something as seemingly simple as taking a sip of wine it sure SEEMS complicated however it really isn’t we want to encourage you to begin the practice of tasting wine because the more you do it the more articulate you get about different aspects of wine, and by doing so you will be able to articulate what you experience with others that enjoy wine. The biggest thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to taste wine, IT’S YOUR MOUTH! However there is value in taking your time and exploring how wine affects your senses.
Wine Vocabulary
Sometimes it’s difficult to articulate what you are experiencing when you are tasting wine; we have assembled some words that may be helpful. Some of these words may seem weird but they all have been used to describe wine. Use these words as a guide but don’t feel you have to match one of the words to “get it right”. Perhaps by looking at this list as you taste it may trigger something that makes you say, “I thought I smelled wet animal hair, but was too embarrassed to say it…” there is no right or wrong you will smell and taste something, go ahead and put it into words. Here’s the list:
Red/Black Fruit Raspberry: Strawberry, Cherry,Blackcurrant / Cassis, Redcurrant, Blackberry, Jam
Tropical Fruit: Banana, Lychee, Melon, Pineapple, Citrus Fruit, Lemon, Grapefruit, Orange
Tree Fruit: Apricot, Peach, Apple, Pear, Quince
Dried Fruit: Raisin, Prune, Fig
Vegetal: Grass, Straw, Bell pepper, Eucalyptus, Menthol, Mint, Beans, Asparagus,
Olive (Green/Black), Tobacco
Caramelized: Honey, Butterscotch, Chocolate, Syrup/Molasses, Roasted hazelnut
Earthy / Woody: Moldy cork, Musty, Mushroom, Cedar, Coffee, Oak, (smoke/toast/vanilla)
Floral: Rose, Geranium, Violet, Blossom, Acacia
Chemical: Sulfur, Wet animal hair, Petrol/Diesel/Kerosene, Plastic, Rubber, Tar
Soap, Fishy
Biological: Yeast, Milk/Lactic Acid, Sweaty, Mouse/Horse
Spicy: Licorice / Aniseed, Cloves, Black pepper, Thyme
Others: Butter, Wet Cardboard, Almond / Walnut, Leather, Musk, Farmyard
The Flavor wheel
This flavor wheel provides a visual primer that may help you articulate flavors, use it as you taste wine, we find it to be helpful to guide us to words that don’t spring to mind. Thanks to the good folks at for permission to use this helpful visual aid.
Variations on Wine Tasting
Once you have practiced tasting wine you may try a different type of tasting. There are many types of tastings but we’re going to focus on a few that we feel are the most effective:
COMPARITIVE TASTING: A tasting in which you taste three or more examples of wines using a particular grape variety. For example; trying 3 Chardonnays, one from Australia, one from Napa Valley, and one from France.
TASTING BY VARIETY: Here you taste a variety of grapes, vintages and styles. Usually starting with whites and ending in reds from least powerful to more full bodied.
HORIZONTAL AND VERTICAL TASTINGS: A horizontal tasting compares wines from a specific region and vintage for example three Napa Valley 2004 Cabernets, one from Franciscan, one from Honig, and one from Mondavi. A vertical tasting compares different vintages of the same wine such as three Cabernets from Alexander Valley Vineyards, 2001, 2004, and 2005 vintages.
BLIND TASTINGS: Trying wines in which the label is covered so you are unaware of the winery, grape variety, vintage, etc. Not knowing what the wine is makes it fun for beginners and experts alike to rate the wine by pure taste only. Guessing grape variety or where the wine is from is fun too.
Make it a party!
These tastings make a fun evening with friends! Wine tastings as limitless as the wonderful world of wine, so stop by Cheers pick up a few bottles and host a tasting party use this wine course as a guide!
We hope this episode of Cheers Wine Course on wine tasting has been helpful, and informative please leave any thoughts, comments or discoveries here. Thanks for participating and stay tuned for the next installment of Cheers interactive wine course!
As always
Mike 2010/4/25


You’re on your way to a wine shop looking for a wine to serve for the Holiday.  Your brother-in-law is into wine and you need to pick a good wine so you don’t look like a fool.  You enter the store and scan the shelves and are immediately overwhelmed.  There are so many wines at so many prices.  Which to pick?


Although this may not be your experience, this is a very common occurrence for those new to wine.  At Cheers Wine & Spirits we want to make this easier for you.  Through this course you will learn enough to be confident in making your own wine choices, or feel comfortable enough to ask one of our staff members for help.


So let’s start with the basics!!


Mike 2010/3/30
Have you ever gone to a big box store just to get lost in the stacks of limited wine selections stacked next to the tubs of mayonnaise? Have you ever shopped at one of those so called “Wine Expert” stores only to have the “so called expert” batter your self esteem? Have you ever looked on the web just to be overwhelmed by the giant waves of information?
Don’t worry, those days are over! Cheer’s Wine Course is here!!