I know that in the “Mondovino”, in front of a certain type of customer, proclaiming that the product is “without sulfur” is a strong marketing argument. Why not after all, there are many more, just as minimalist: is it more ridiculous to judge a wine according to its dose of sulfites rather than according to its price or the size of the producer’s car*? It is all a question of opinion, of political choices, “having a Rolex or not by the age of 50”: let us respect other people’s ideas.
I do not accept the “without sulfur” marketing argument when it is harmful to wine. I was discussing this in a very civil manner this morning with Antonin Iommi-Amunategui, a committed blogger. A while ago he chose to stress the visibility of a report by the National Agency of Health & Safety on what the French people ingest. This twenty-pages long report has a few lines stating that a “small proportion of adults (3%) ingest a daily dose of sulfites in excess of the admissible amount, particularly due to the consumption of wine (about 70% of the sulfites) and some other alcoholic beverages.” The agency suggests “continuing efforts already in place to reduce the exposure to sulfites and to lower high consumption of alcohol.” All well.
Under the pen of Antonin Iommi-Amunategui, it becomes: “One million French people overdose on sulfites because of wine”, which is much more worrying, especially on a website that addresses itself to the general public. We begin to shiver when we read, further down, in bold characters “Sulfites are a toxicological risk”. We are somewhere between Seveso and Fukushima.
There are many reasons why I don’t want wine to be harmed, neither by SO2 nor by anything else; I love it too much. I don’t particularly wish to defend sulfur; I am happy to fight wrong clichés but I am not attracted to martyrdom or to Iranian-style debates with people whose background is in Humanities. I only wish to repeat what I said to Antonin Iommi-Amunategui this morning. It seems to me that if we reduce wine to its possible detrimental effects on health, the boomerang effect will soon hit us back. Beyond this story of sulfur, somehow anecdotal, is it the role of wine amateurs to add water to the mill of Prof Got (author of a notorious report on road safety) and his clique of hyper-hygienists? Will they not use this as an opportunity to explain to us that wine is poison (…”told you so, told you so”…). They will not just mention a few micro ounces of sulfites; they will speak of full ounces, ounces of toxins, of the alcohol contained in each bottle and of the many deaths that occur every year. “Look", they will add perfidiously, "at all the cirrhosis, the cancers of the liver, even amongst winemakers!” They will not be wrong since, before sulfites do, alcohol will have killed us much earlier!
Yes, Antonin, I am convinced that selling wine or a category of wine whilst making common cause with the hyper-hygienists is a slippery slope. Let’s not fight the wrong battle.
* Or helicopter, which would be less common
** We should then also speak about alternatives to sulfur which can at times be just as lethal.