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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Sulfite Remover to Lower the Chemical Levels in Wine

A disposable filter could be the perfect answer for those who don't like preservatives in their glass. By | http://www.wine-searcher.com/

A chemist from Chicago has created a system to remove the added sulfites from a bottle of wine, and hopes to finance its production on Kickstarter next month.
The pretentiously named Üllo uses a small disposable teabag-like pod filled with a food-grade plastic designed by James Kornacki, a recent PhD graduate in organic chemistry from Northwestern. It's intended to remove sulfites without taking out any other compounds.

Each pod works for an entire bottle, but can be used only once. Kornacki hopes to sell the pods for $2.50 each if he can get the manufacturing costs low enough. He hopes to put the system out by early next year if he can get the $100,000 he's asking for on Kickstarter. He has already raised $185,000 from angel investors to develop his prototype – which I taste-tested on Friday.
Sulfites are naturally occurring in wine, and are also added to almost every wine. They are important for preserving fresh flavors for the months or years that may pass between the wine being bottled and opened. But a few people are sensitive to them (1 percent of the US population, according to Kornacki), and many more are leery of them because they mistakenly believe sulfites cause red-wine headaches.
"Sulfites are unfairly demonized," Kornacki told Wine Searcher. "That comes from the warning label on the back of the bottle. There are two camps on sulfites. One is very dismissive of sulfites as a problem. The other says it's the devil."
The obvious market for the Üllo would seem to be people who are actually allergic to sulfites. But Kornacki said that two independent California labs, ETS and Signature Wines, "confirmed a reduction in free sulfites to less than 10 ppm in the random wines they sampled." Thus it sounds like for people who could actually suffer a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction, treating a wine with the Üllo might not be safe enough.
"Üllo's goal is to restore the sulfite level to what is naturally occurring, which is always less than 10 ppm, but also not zero," Kornacki said. "I don't believe people should have artificial chemicals in your food. When its job as a preservative is done, when you open the bottle, then you can take it out."
Kornacki had tested the effects of Üllo with laboratories, friends, and winemakers, but said I was the first wine journalist to try it. I tested it on two Russian River Valley wines, a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir, both 2012 vintage. I tasted blind against un-Ülloed wine as a control.
Both Ülloed wines definitely smelled and tasted different from the controls, though it's worth noting that the Ülloed wines were also decanted while the controls were not. The un-Ülloed Chardonnay smelled and tasted more intense and I noticed more secondary characteristics that I associate with age. I also preferred it. Maybe I have come to like the taste of sulfites?
"Üllo has a bigger impact on whites because there's less going on in white wine," said Kornacki, who said he is not a wine expert.
I preferred the Ülloed Pinot Noir to the control; it tasted fresher and had lighter red fruit. The un-Ülloed Pinot tasted flatter and had a murkiness to it.
Kornacki says in his early tests, about 80 percent of people notice a difference in the white wines and of those, about 75 percent prefer the Ülloed. "With reds, it's 50-50 for preference," he said. "I don't want the result where everybody prefers the purified. That would mean we're changing wine in a predictable way. And taste is subjective."
Kornacki said that the material in the Üllo pod is an ion-exchange resin similar to those used to debitter orange juice and refine sugar. The idea is similar to a home water filter, which removes negatively charged ions.
"The difference is the water filter will take out every negative ion," Kornacki said. "It wouldn't be something you'd want to drink. We modified it to be selective for sulfite ions. The process is similar to the way lactose is taken out of milk."
Kornacki said he's been thinking about it since he was 12 years old, "when my aunt turned away wine at a Christmas party. That was unusual in my family. She said: 'My doctor said I can't have it because of the sulfites.' Even at that age I was interested in chemistry. Once I got in the PhD chemistry program, I wanted to use organic chemistry in a practical way."
But Kornacki, who is living off his partner's wages while he tries to raise money, has not yet tried the Üllo on his aunt. "She lives a few hours away," he said. "I've got to make that drive."