Sulfite Free Wines

Monday, July 23rd, 2007 at 12:00 am

wine bottlesA sulfite-free wine does not exist. All wines contain sulfite. With that out of the way we can fully discuss the issues that surround the presence of sulfite in the wines we drink. First off, sulfite or sulfur dioxide is a naturally occurring by-product of fermentation. The human body itself produces sulfite at 1000 milligrams per day. Although present during the fermentation process in wine making, more sulfite is intentionally added to the wines to act as preservatives to prevent oxidation and spoilage. The same additive is used for preserving dried fruits and dried potato products.

Generally, sulfite is not hazardous to humans as long as it is properly handled, of course. Problems only occur with people who have no natural enzymes to break down the compound but even that is a rarity. Often, to induce life threatening reactions to the human body, sulfite must be taken in at extremely high levels. Sulfites in wine are usually not enough to induce such responses like asthma or allergic reactions. According to some surveys, wine whether from the US or from European vineyards contain on the average 80 mg/L of sulfite.

Nevertheless, the US Food and Drug Administration or FDA reports that sulfite reactions do occur but stresses that it only affects about .25% to .4% of the population. And in reported sulfite reactions cases, the people involved are extremely sensitive and are not only allowed to drink wine but to eat most processed foods as well.

We can never stress the importance of sulfite in wine making. Aside from keeping the wine from oxidizing, adding sulfite into the wine prevents contaminations from film yeast, mould, and acetobacter or vinegar bacteria to develop which can render the batch of wine undrinkable. It is common for freshly squeezed grape juice to spoil because of the presence of bacteria and wild yeast on the skin of the grapes.

Sulfites work in two stages. By adding sulfite into the batch of wine, the yeast, mould and bacteria that are present are killed outright. Then the sulfite will block any attempt of surviving organism to reproduce. Without sulfites, you will need to drink your wine as quickly as possible since the possibility of spoilage is pretty high.

Also, another misconception that needs to be corrected is the assumption that the sulfite in red wine causes headaches. The so called Red Wine Headache or RWH phenomenon has been attributed to the presence of sulfite in red wines. However, experts pointed out that white wines contain even more sulfite and yet are not known to cause headache-like symptoms. Bio-amines present in fruits are being eyed as one of the possible culprits for these wine induced headaches, but to this day, the exact cause of the red wine headaches has not yet been discovered. 

There have been a number of researchers that aim to replace the use of sulfite in wine making. One recent study has used ozone to preserve grapes instead of sulfite.


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