• World

“Fruity, With a Hint of Chemicals”

2 minute read
Maggie Beale

Ever had a glass of wine and suffered a near-instant headache? You might have been experiencing the effect of additives.

South Africa is home to many of the world’s affordable (and justly popular) white wines, but the nation’s winemakers are now denouncing a minority accused of lacing sauvignon blanc with high levels of pyrazine—a preservative that makes wine last longer on the shelf, but may not be to everyone’s taste. Johannesburg wine expert Michael Fridjohn recently published two articles drawing attention to the practice, prompting either concern or outraged denial from the country’s industry players. “Reactions from the wine trade were mixed, to say the least,” says the crusading critic.

The articles caused such a stir that a more stringent testing process, using chemical profiling, is to be introduced following this year’s first harvest. Connoisseurs can also employ a more ad hoc method of detection—excess pyrazine has a trademark note of asparagus or roasted peppers.

According to Fridjohn, the practice is not limited to South African winemakers. He cites a foreign businessman who openly offered such additives at a Cape Town wine festival last year, and comments, “I don’t think they were produced solely for South Africa’s benefit.” The good news, though, is that the country is taking action. With luck, the only future headaches for South African wine lovers will be caused by intemperate consumption, not excessive chemicals.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com