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The question

I suffer from asthma and can’t tolerate sulphites. I’d like to try natural wines with no additives, but my local LCBO store has never heard of them. Where can they be purchased?

The answer

It’s best to forget large retailers such as liquor boards. They move at a glacial pace when it comes to seizing on niche trends because they’re mainly focused on the high-volume booze business. Finding natural wines takes research. There is no formal certification process for the products, as is the case with, say, organically grown grapes, which means retailers are generally unable or unwilling to authenticate whether a wine is indeed “natural” or not.

According to the most basic definition, natural wines are supposed to be free of additives, including vineyard pesticides and such winery embellishments as cultured yeasts and enzymes used to control fermentation. They’re also supposed to eschew clarification and filtration. Essentially, a natural wine is wine made in the old-school fashion – simply with grapes that have been crushed, fermented and bottled.

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There is one common exception. Many natural-wine adherents make allowances for small doses of sulphur dioxide, typically added at the bottling stage, which helps to kill bacteria and protect the fruity liquid from bruising in the presence of oxygen.

If you’re mainly concerned about sulphites, don’t look to natural wines as a panacea. Not only may they contain small quantities of added sulphites, they will never be free of the compounds, which are also produced naturally in small quantities during fermentation. That’s why, even if you see a so-called natural wine on a shelf, it will likely contain a “contains sulphites” disclaimer on the back label. But, of course, better in your case to have a wine with low levels than high if you’re going to drink wine at all.

On the plus side, resources for natural-wine enthusiasts have been growing. Digital databases have begun to sprout up. One example: the Raisin app, which includes data on more than 1,300 producers. Wine bars, the hipper the better, are another good source of information. Just ask a knowledgeable sommelier or waiter. Alternatively, you could randomly call importing agents that bring wine into Canada and ask if they represent natural-wine or “low-intervention” producers. A few have put effort into the search and are well-informed, including The Living Vine agency in Ontario (www.thelivingvine.ca), Sedimentary Wines in British Columbia (www.sedimentarywines.com) and Merawine in Saskatchewan (merawine.ca).

Beppi Crosariol will once again be participating as The Globe’s wine expert on the July 2019 Globe and Mail Seine River Cruise. For details on how to reserve your cabin on this voyage down the Seine from Paris to Normandy visit GlobeNormandyCruise.com.

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Wine & Spirits newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.

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