A decade ago, if you wanted to find a wine made with no added sulfites, you would have had very limited choices, and those choices would be mostly limited to artisanal wines from small growers with radical stances on agriculture (and just about everything else).
Things look different in 2016, and the “Sans Sulfites Ajoutés,” or “SANS,” collection from Southwest France’s “Les Vignerons de Buzet” cooperative is a case in point. Comprising three budget-priced wines (white, red, and rosé), the series was launched with the 2012 vintage.
A Forward-thinking Co-op
Co-ops don’t always have the best reputation, sometimes being associated with mediocre wine and old-fashion methods of production, but Buzet is a shining example of what a progressive organization can achieve. Innovations range from the reintroduction of rare plants and birds to aid biodiversity, to bee protection schemes and a 50 percent reduction in sulfur levels. A string of environmental and sustainability awards seems well deserved.
Make no mistake; this is a behemoth of an organization, made up of almost 200 growers and 1,870 hectares of vines (4,621 acres)—94 percent of the entire Buzet appellation, to be precise. Buzet is one of several Southwest appellations both geographically and historically in the shadow of Bordeaux (others include Bergerac and Gaillac). The region’s stock-in-trade is good value Bordeaux blends (both reds and whites).
Like most co-ops, Les Vignerons bottles under a proliferation of different brand names and chateaux labels, so many may be unaware that they’ve ever consumed some of its output. SANS has rather fetching minimalist labels, and no geographical information apart from the AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée).
What’s in the SANS?
I enjoyed the wines, with the red (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc) particularly over performing—bright, charming cassis fruit, soft but not asinine or overly sweet, and ripe without being over the top. If you’ve tasted a lot of no- or low-sulfur wines, you may notice a slightly sweet, fleshy aroma on the nose, which for me is associated with the lack of sulfur. It’s not a negative, just a small “no so” (aka: “no sulfur”) calling card. I particularly enjoyed this wine chilled. The tech sheet warns that it won’t keep after opening, but I ignored this and found it survived perfectly well for a few days in the fridge.
The white SANS, a Sauvignon/Semillon blend, is like the red—youthful and fresh tasting. There’s ripe apple fruit and a dry, nutty finish. The wine went through malolactic (secondary) fermentation, resulting in a generous, mouth-filling texture.
The 100 percent Merlot-based rosé was a perfectly fine rosé, but after tasting the other wines in the range, seemed to lack the same punch. The tech sheet mentions that this also went through malolactic fermentation—unusual for a rosé, and perhaps the cause of what I perceived as a lack of crispness.
Anyone expecting the wildness or idiosyncrasies of a “vin naturel” should look elsewhere. Apart from the lack of sulfur inputs, these wines are made in a conventional manner, with selected yeasts, filtering, and fining. That said, they don’t feel excessively manipulated—just good honest juice for unpretentious occasions.
Les Vignerons told me the range was introduced “to meet an up-and-coming trend in wine consumer demand today,” and one assumes this market is probably a health-conscious one concerned about sulfur levels causing headaches or allergies. The wines are vegan- and vegetarian-certified, with pea protein used as the fining agent.
For extra environmental credibility points, Les Vignerons chose Nomacorc’s Select Bio as its closure. Overall, these wines are recommended not just for environmentally conscious consumers but also for wine lovers in general. They’re great value at an attractive price.