What’s the Significance of Sulfites in Wine?

Recently, I was asked by a friend if I could recommend any sulfur-free wines. She drank a couple of these types of wines in Europe and really enjoyed them, but she was having difficulty finding similar wines in the area. I’ve heard of sulfites in wine, but to be honest, I’ve never really researched it to learn more. After I was asked the question, I thought it’d be a great topic to explore for my next post.

“Contains Sulfites” can be seen on many wine labels, but what does it all mean? Sulfites is a term for Sulfur Dioxide (SO2). Side note: Never thought I’d be blogging about chemistry terms! Relatively low levels of SO2 occur naturally during wine fermentation, but many winemakers add SO2 to their wines as well. SO2 works as a preservative during the winemaking process and helps keep the wine fresh for when the consumer is ready to open and drink it. The FDA requires that all wines (in addition to all foods) that contain 10+ parts per million of SO2 clearly state “Contains Sulfites” on the label. The FDA regulates this process to protect people who may be allergic to sulfites. In the research that I found, people with asthma seem to be more likely than most to suffer from the intake of sulfites.

Another question that seems to be relevant to the topic of sulfites and wine is the link between sulfites and wine headaches. The research I found on this didn’t seem to make a direct correlation between sulfites and headaches. Other causes for the headaches could include histamines and tannins, both are more common in red wine.

If you’re trying to stay away from sulfites, sweet white wines should be last on the list. Sweet white dessert wines, blush and semi-sweet white wines all contain higher levels of SO2. Dry red wines offer a lower sulfite content, followed by dry white wines. As stated above, low levels of SO2 occur naturally in wine so you can’t cut it out completely, but organic wines are produced without added sulfites, so in the end, wines labeled as “Organic” may be your best option.

Sulfites in Wine: The Myths, the Facts and the Truths
Wine Sulfites
Histamine Effects of Drinking Wine
FDA Code of Regulations Title 21

One response to “What’s the Significance of Sulfites in Wine?

  1. Pingback: What's the Significance of Sulfites in Wine? | vine2vino | Which Wine Is Sweet·

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