Sulfites have a bad reputation and are often blamed for allergies, headaches, hangovers and every other negative effect from drinking wine. Let’s talk about what they are, why they are in wine and how to avoid them.
What are sulfites?
Sulfites are naturally occurring compounds in the human body, certain foods, and wine. They can also be created synthetically to use as preservatives. They can reduce browning on fruits and vegetables, prevent the growth of yeast and bacteria in wine, and stabilize the potency of medications.
What wines have no sulfites?
Sulfites are a natural by-product of the fermentation of grapes into wine, so finding a wine that has no sulfites at all is close to impossible. The vast majority of sulfite-free wines typically have tiny amounts of sulfites, but generally not enough to have any impact on the human body.
Aside from the natural sulfites resulting from the fermentation of grape juice into wine, sulfites are traditionally added to wine to act as a preservative and to prevent the formation of wine-loving bacteria. Wines labelled as sulfite-free or low in sulfites have minimal to no sulfites added by the winemaker.
Is organic wine sulfite-free?
Not necessarily. Many organic wines have less sulfite content than non-organic ones, but it’s not a guarantee from brand to brand. So, check if it has a sulfite-free label.
What are the side effects of sulfites in wine?
Sulfites do not impact the majority of wine drinkers. People with allergies to sulfur or with certain forms of asthma may have issues with sulfites. Allergies to sulfites are uncommon. So, headaches, hangovers or other unwanted reactions could be caused by other compounds in wine, such as histamine or tannins.
Labelling for sulfites
In the United States, wines bottled after mid-1987 must have a label stating that they contain sulfites if they contain more than 10 parts per million (ppm). In the European Union, an equivalent regulation came into force in November 2005. In the United Kingdom, bottles of wine that contain over 10 mg/L (ppm) of “sulfites” (or sulfur dioxide) are required to bear “contains sulphites” on the label.