Sulfites, also known as sulfur dioxide, are a chemical compound found naturally in a variety of foods. They are also frequently added to food products as a preservative because of their anti-microbial properties.
Maybe you have heard the rumours floating around – that sulfites are bad for you, that sulfites in wine cause headaches or worse, and that they should be avoided. Or, maybe you have seen the ominous label “contains sulfites” on your favourite bottle of merlot and you want to know what that means. Either way, we have answers for you! This article will explain what sulfites are, why they are in wine, and whether you should be afraid of them (spoiler – probably not).
What Is Sulfite-Free Wine?
This would seem pretty self-explanatory – sulfite-free wine is wine without any sulfites in it, right? Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that. Sulfites comes in two kinds – natural and added. Natural sulfites are produced during the fermentation process, and are unavoidable.
Usually, what sulfite-free wine means is that it is free from added sulfites. To earn the title “sulfite-free”, wine must contain no more than 10 ppm (parts per million) of sulfites. So, despite what the organic store attendant told you, there is really no such thing as truly sulfite-free wine!
Why Are Sulfites In Wine?
Natural wine sulfites are an inevitable result of the winemaking process. However, the natural sulfites produced during fermentation are not enough to allow the wine to keep for very long – that’s where added sulfites come in. Sulfites are an anti-microbial agent that allow wine to age without losing its flavour and freshness. Without added sulfites, a 20-year-old vintage would just taste like vinegar!
Do All Wines Contain Sulfites?
As we said above, all wine contains natural sulfites. However, not all wine contains added sulfites, and this is typically what is meant when a wine is advertised as “sulfite-free”. Unfortunately, wine without sulfites will not last for long, so if you buy a bottle, it is best to drink it immediately. In addition, it is likely to lack complexity and richness of flavour, as it could not be aged before bottling.
Does Red Wine Contain More Sulfites Than White Wine?
Red wine has been accused of containing more sulfites than white wine because headaches are more common after a night of indulging in red wine. In fact, the opposite is true: because red wines contain more tannins, which protect against oxidation, they don’t require as many sulfites.
If red wine gives you a headache more often than white wine, the culprit is likely to be the tannins. This is because they spur the release of serotonin, which at high levels can cause headaches for some people. However, most wine headaches are a result of simple overindulgence and dehydration – in which case, the answer is just cutting back and drinking more water.
Should I Be Worried About Sulfites In Wine?
Sulfites are completely natural and are not harmful for the vast majority of people. What’s more, most of the sulfites you consume are probably coming from the food you eat, not your evening glass of wine!
- Dried fruits
- Canned fruits and vegetables
- Jams and preserves
- Potato chips
What do these have in common? They all contain more sulfites than wine.
What Are The Side Effects Of Sulfites In Wine?
We have established that sulfites are not inherently bad. However, if you are part of the unlucky 1% of the US population with a sulfite allergy, you may experience symptoms such as hives, diarrhoea, stomach pain, or swelling of the face and throat.
If you think you may be allergic to sulfites, get in touch with your doctor. Remember that sulfites are found in all kinds of foods, so the sulfites in wine will be the least of your problems.
How Do You Remove Sulfites From Wine?
If you are allergic to sulfites but you still don’t want to let your wine go to waste, there is a way to remove the sulfites. The answer is hydrogen peroxide, that brown bottle that your mom used for everything from disinfecting scrapes to bleaching hair to cleaning surfaces.
If you are doing this at home, it is crucial to add in just the right amount so that you do not end up with undrinkable wine. A standard bottle of wine has around 80mg/L of sulfites. This will require ¼ of a teaspoon of 3% hydrogen peroxide to remove all the sulfites without significantly changing the flavour of the wine. If the wine you have contains more or less sulfites, it will take more or less hydrogen peroxide to remove.
Where To Buy Sulfite-Free Wines
If you have an allergy or are simply determined to buy sulfite-free wines, you can easily find wine with no added sulfites at your local organic store. Wine without sulfites is also sold at many liquor or grocery stores, as well as online retailers.
Best Sulfite-Free Wines
Because they cannot be matured, sulfite-free wines will not provide the complexity and depth of flavour that aged wines do. Nevertheless, there are some lighter-bodied wines out there that are still delicious despite their lack of sulfites. If you do have a sulfite sensitivity, these are some of your best options.
Frey Agriculturist Organic Blanc: This refreshing white blend from California is the perfect balance of dry and fruity. With hints of peach, pineapple, butter, and melon, it pairs beautifully with grilled fish or light seafood dishes.
- Usual Red Blend: Usual Wines come in single-serving bottles for when you want your wine but don’t want to be tempted to overindulge. Their red blend is bright and fruity with notes of raspberry, black cherry, and fennel.
- Coturri Winery: Nestled in a tiny hamlet in the Sonoma mountains, all the wines from Coturri Winery are organic and free from added sulfites. Their blends are way above the bar when it comes to sulfite-free wine.
- Domaine Valentin Zusslin Crémant Brut Zéro: According to this Alsace winemaker, they only forego the sulfites when the grapes are at 100%, a testament to their commitment to quality. This sparkling dry wine is crisp and mineral, yet still fruity.
- Domaine Marcel Lapierre Morgon Beaujolais: Another French winemaker, Marcel Lapierre was a pioneer of organic sulfite free wine. This wine is spicy and robust, and impressively complex for a wine without sulfites.