Friday Night Sulfites

I’ve been in the wine business for a couple of decades now.  Throughout my tenure, the most frequently asked questions concern sulfites in wines.  Following are the top five sulfite questions with my answers.  Hopefully they answer questions you have about sulfites.

What are sulfites?

Sulfites are sulfur dioxide, SO2.   Sulfites occur in wines both naturally and through addition; they are a preservative for the wine.  Sulfur protects the wine from the damage oxygen causes.  It also helps prevent organisms from growing in the wine. Winemakers also use sulfites during the winemaking process to initially stop fermentation after the grapes are picked. They want to be able to control when fermentation starts with their correct yeasts.

Why do sulfites give me headaches?

There are numerous people who believe that sulfites cause them headaches.  Though this does happen in a very small percentage in the population (The USDA states that .4% of the population, about one million people, is highly allergic to sulfites), what actually causes the headaches are histamines.  Histamines are a whole different ball of wax. 

Do you have any wines without sulfites?

No.  In reality, sulfite free wines don’t exist, but wines without sulfites added do.  Though there are a couple of wineries that work very hard to offer wines without sulfites added, but the problem is they don’t last on the racks and fall apart very quickly.

Do you have any organic wines because I am allergic to sulfites?

Organic and sulfites are two different things.  Organic has to with the way the grapes are farmed.  This has nothing to do with sulfites in the wine.  In America, the law allows wines to contain up to 350ppm (parts per million) of sulfites.  Organic wine laws limit the use of sulfites to a maximum of 100ppm. When all is said and done, most organic wines contain less than 40ppm of sulfites.  So organic wines do have less sulfites, but nonetheless, they do have sulfites.

Which wines contain the most sulfites?

Though the correct answer to this question varies, there is a general rule of thumb that can be offered.  Dessert wines contain the most sulfites, and white wines contain more sulfites than red wines.

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