Arrow Fat Left Icon Arrow Fat Right Icon Arrow Right Icon Cart Icon Close Circle Icon Expand Arrows Icon Facebook Icon Instagram Icon Hamburger Icon Information Icon Down Arrow Icon Mail Icon Mini Cart Icon Person Icon Ruler Icon Search Icon Shirt Icon Triangle Icon Bag Icon Play Video

The Beagle Bugle

Contains Sulfites!

Contains Sulfites!

Almost all wines for sale in the UK have the words ‘Contains Sulfites’ on the label but is this really something to worry about?

What are they?

Sulfites are added to almost all wines to kill bacteria (which may cause spoilage) and to prevent oxidation (the wine turning to vinegar). They are a natural by-product of fermentation, so even if the winemaker doesn’t add them, there will always be a small amount in the wine.

Can I blame them for my headache?

In short, no. They're only a problem if you're allergic to them (roughly 1% of the population), but even then a headache is not one of the likely symptoms. For everyone else, the small quantities found in wine are thought to be harmless.

How do I know if I’m allergic to sulfites?

Guzzle some dried apricots and see what happens – dried fruits tend to have 5 to 10 times as many sulfites added to them.

If it’s not the sulfites then what is it?

If it’s red wine in particular that gets you, then you might have an intolerance to tannins and/or histamines. This is much more likely to be the root of the problem than the sulfites.

Alternatively it may be a result of dubious winemaking practises – too many chemicals in the vineyard for example - or some think the use of 'commercial' yeasts (bought in a bag) rather than wild yeasts (those found on the skin of the actual grape) is to blame.

With this in mind, organic and bio-dynamic wines can only be a good thing.

If they’re so harmless, why do they have to mention it on the label?

This is really a warning to the small percentage of asthma sufferers who have a severe sensitivity to sulfites. 

Anything else I should know?

If the winemaker has bunged in too many sulfites then you may well detect a dodgy eggy smell.

If you are to any extent allergic to them then there are various options:

Seek out some ‘no sulfites added’ wines.

Organic and biodynamic wines have lower sulfite levels than conventional wines.

Red wine has natural anti-oxidant properties so usually has less sulfites added to it than white wine.

You can also look out for ‘natural’ wines as these are generally very low in sulfites – it is an unregulated term though so you would need to check.



The Oxford Companion to Wine

Continue reading

Top 5 Cellaring Tips

Top 5 Cellaring Tips

We all know that many wines benefit from a bit of ageing. The ideal storage conditions are a little less clear though. If you have a vacant air raid shelter in the garden then no need to worry, if not, here’s a quick rundown of what you should aim for if you plan to keep a wine for more than a few weeks:

1). Keep the bottle on its side – this will stop the cork from drying out. A dried cork is much more likely to let air in – bad news.

2). Keep the humidity up – again so that the cork doesn’t dry out. Careful though, very high humidity will damage the label and could damage the cork as well.

3). Keep the temperature at around 10 – 15 degrees. Too much hotter than this (25 degrees +) and you will cook the wine. Freeze it and the cork will pop out. Jancis Robinson reckons that 15 – 20 is fine though.

The general consensus is, the lower the temperature, the slower the maturation of the wine, but the better the final results.

4). Avoid too much temperature fluctuation - this will contract and expand the air bubble in the wine. A contracting air bubble will draw air into the wine (if it's on its side), an expanding air bubble will push wine out.

For this reason there is now a theory that the best way to store a bottle is actually at a slight angle. This means that the air bubble is partially in contact with the cork so that when it expands, air is pushed out of the wine, not liquid…

5). Keep the bottles away from direct sunlight – this also spoils the wine. This is why wine bottles are often made of dark glass.

Obviously these conditions are far from easy to achieve, but there’s the theory anyway. If you’ve got a spot under the stairs, bunging in some insulation and a bowl of water could be a good first step…

Continue reading

More bounce to the ounce?

Alcohol levels in wine have been steadily creeping up over the last 30 or so years. For some this means more bang for your buck, for others the 12.5% - 13.5% 1980’s standard is sorely missed. The good news though is that the rise has largely resulted in better wines, if a bit stronger.

Climate change has played a small part (hotter weather = riper, more sugary grapes = a higher alcohol wine once all the sugar has been fermented), but the main reason is the modern trend of delaying the harvest until the grapes have reached ‘phenolic ripeness’.

This means hanging on until the tannins, colour and flavour of the grape have reached optimum levels, rather than just harvesting when the sugar level is correct. This extra time on the vine inevitably leads to more sugar, and therefore more alcohol. The payoff though is that the wine will have softer tannins, deeper colour and more intense flavour.

Although this extra alcohol will obviously give the wine a bit more clout, it shouldn’t be particularly noticeable to the taste. Well-made wine is all about balance and a good wine maker will make sure that the alcohol is in balance with the other elements of the wine. It is quite possible for a badly made, unbalanced wine to taste too alcoholic even if it only clocks up 11% abv. 

Continue reading



Roussillon is on the French Mediterranean coast, wedged between the Languedoc to the north and the Pyrenees to the south. It is one of the hottest places in France, with a scorching 325 days of sunshine a year (on average), and has dramatic, rocky countryside dotted with ruined Cathar Castles.

Until recently it was best known for its Fortified wine production (the likes of Maury, Banyuls and Rivesaltes - often delicious, semi-sweet wines at about 15 – 18% abv), and what dry wines there were, were largely made at the co-operatives.

The last decade or so though has seen a boom in domaine produced wines and as a result quality has gone through the roof. 

Style-wise, the reds are mainly Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre dominated, and thanks to the blazing sunshine, they are rich, juicy and fruit-driven.

The whites can be made from a number of varieties, Maccabeu, and the Rhône varieties Marsanne and Roussanne all featuring heavily. The heat can lead to low acidity, but if this is managed properly, they are often well balanced, wonderfully fragrant and very fine drinking.

Banyuls vineyards (in the extreme south of Roussillon) go right to the cliff edge.

Roussillon Appellation guide:

Côtes du Roussillon AOC – entry level reds and whites, good value and often very good quality.

Côtes du Roussillon Villages AOC – the next level up in terms of quality, with stricter wine making and vine growing rules. The grapes have to come from the villages included in the AOC regs.

Côtes du Roussillon Les Aspres AOC – top drawer Roussillon from the best villages in the region.

Côtes Catalanes IGP – A more relaxed qualification that allows the use of international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot alongside the traditional local grape varieties. These wines can be very high quality and allow adventurous winemakers the increased freedom to make their wines in ways not allowed by the more traditional Côtes du Roussillon AOC rules.

Continue reading