Sulfur compounds in wine are responsible for defects and virtues alike depending on the molecule

is the presence of sulfur always a defect in wine? In the 1960s the undue interest of some growers in preserving their wines as long as possible gave sulfur a bad reputation. Sulfur dioxide added in excessive quantities during the fumigation of casks and the sulfiting of harvested grapes causes painful headaches, it is true. But recent biochemical studies show that the use of sulfur is not to be rejected altogether. Chemists at the Faculté d'Gnologie de Bordeaux have discovered that sulfur is capable of both the best and the worst: Although some sulfur molecules are the source of indisputable flaws, others contribute pleasing notes of boxwood, broom, passion fruit, and grapefruit in both white and red wines.

Oenology has long seen only the negative side of sulfur compounds. There is no question that hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide are nauseating. Ironically perhaps, the attempt to eliminate these deleterious effects by improving fermentation and vinification methods led to the discovery of the positive side of sulfur compounds. In 1993, Philippe Darriet and Denis Dubourdieu discovered a molecule in Sauvignon wines having an agreeable odor that belongs to the thiol family (characterized by a group composed of a sulfur atom and an -sh hydrogen atom that is directly attached to a carbon atom). This raised the possibility that other sulfur compounds might contribute to the aroma of Bordeaux wines. Further investigation by Takatoshi Tominaga, Valérie Lavigne-

Cruege, and Patricia Bouchilloux revealed the presence of sulfur compounds in very weak concentrations.

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