Part of the natural wine movement is seeing wines labeled as “unsulfited”. Why doesn’t everyone do this? Because potassium metabisulfite, when added to wine, reacts with oxygen and binds it to sulfur molecules to create SO2, which helps preserve the wine and give it shelf live. In the 1990s, wineries trying to market themselves as “organic” with no added sulfites found complaints from customers and retailers, because the wines became oxidized without the KMS to produce SO2. Counter-intuitively, adding a preservative (potassium metabisulfite) keeps the wine tasting fresher, after a couple of years, than if it were bottled without any added sulfites.

This brings me to this brilliant wine, made by Gabrielle’s son Tim. The 2019 vintage was not only outstanding, it gave richly ripe fruit with well-developed tannins in the reds, that would make taking a chance on making an un-sulfited version worthwhile. Tim made both a Merlot and Cabernet Franc in this style.

Normally, reds from a Big vintage like 2019 need 18 months to two years to emerge and become drinkable with pleasure and varietal style. I tasted both wines last February/March and was very pleased, not only with the high quality and varietal benchmarks, but with how forward the fruit was at such an early stage. I finally opened it August 22nd in high elevation Bath County on a rainy night. It had improved!

Keeping Newtonian physics in mind, there is a trade-off; the wine is incredible now and into the near future, but will likely be fading out a year from now, without the preservative benefit of KMS, while other conventionally made Virginia 2019 reds will just be coming on strong and last from five to 25 years.

I have to thank Tim for showing us what’s possible in a great vintage for being able to make a fruit-forward, delicious red Virginia wine, for near-term drinking while we start enjoying the ’17s and patiently wait for the conventional ’19 reds.

****Gabrielle Rausse Merlot ’19 “Unsulfited”
Vibrant, dark ruby color (note: KMS scalps some color from red and rose wines). Nose: young, vibrant Merlot fruit; blueberry and blackberry, with garden herbs and pepper. Palate: Lively, dry, vibrant black fruits and zesty acidity with ripe tannins, fruit-forward, no oak flavor, and a hint of dark chocolate making me think of chocolate-covered cherries. Very sexy, enjoy this for another six months with Mediterranean foods.

rating scale: **** = outstanding