Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Sulfites in Wine, Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines

“Contains Sulfites,” it says on every bottle of wine you’ve picked up lately. You may wonder what the purpose of this warning is. Is this something you should be concerned about? Or is it like the warning on your shampoo bottle that says “Do Not Swallow?” We all know that our over-protective government (not to mention the litigious nature of our society) sometimes requires us to go to extremes in labeling. However, sulfites in wine is a complex topic.

Typically added as sulfur dioxide (the same compound used to preserve dried apricots and to keep golden raisins golden), sulfites control oxidation in wine and delay microbial spoilage. In short, they prevent the wine from turning into vinegar during the aging process. At moderate levels, sulfur dioxide is tasteless and odorless in wine. At higher levels, it gives a tinny taste and can cause bleaching in reds. But for some people, notably asthmatics, it can cause severe allergic reactions. Hence, the warning!

For those who are allergic, even wines claiming “no sulfites added” can be dangerous. That’s because sulfur dioxide is a natural byproduct of yeast fermentation. In fact, enough sulfites are produced during fermentation to require the “Contains Sulfites” warning on the label, even without any sulfite additions. Any wagers on how long it will be before we have to say “contains alcohol?” -Amy Butler

Erroneous ideas about sulfites, so let’s put the record straight:

A) All wines contain sulfites. Yeast naturally produces sulfites during fermentation, so there is only a rare wine which contains none.

B) The US requires a "sulfite" warning label and Australia requires a label indicating "preservative 220," but nearly all winemakers add sulfites, including those in France , Italy , Spain , Australia , Chile , etc. So, the wine you drink in foreign countries contains sulfites, but you just are not being warned about it when purchased abroad.

C) Sulfites do not cause headaches!!! There is something in red wine that causes headaches, but the cause has not yet been discovered (Many people seem to connect their headache with the sulfite warning label, but sorry there is no connection). If you think sulfites are causing your headache, try eating some orange-colored dried apricots, and let me know if that induces a headache. If not, sulfites are not the likely culprit.


Morgen said...

I love your blog! Thank you for dispelling the myths of sulfites, but if someone is truly allergic to sulfites what is the solution? I had someone on a tour who was allergic to sulfites and he said that organic wines (meaning no additional sulfites are added) and white wines were the safest bet. Is this true and do you have any advice for our allergic friend? Heaven forbid that he forgo wine all together!

Amy said...

Hey Morgen! Unfortunately most people who think they are allergic to sulfites really aren't. If they were, it would be pretty obvious...they'd stop breathing. I should think that the only solution would be not to drink wine...and to avoid dried fruits, salad bars, certain jams, and tons of seemingly harmless cosmetic products. White wines, unfortunately, can require more sulfites in processing, since they contain fewer natural antioxidants. Sorry dude, it's probably the histamines in the red wine, not the sulfites.