The Truth Behind Sulfites

We’ve had a number of customers now ask us about sulfites in wine.  Are they naturally occuring?  Can a wine really be sulfite free?  Am I allergic to them?  So we’ve decided to tackle some of these questions.
What are Sulfites?
Sulfites are compounds that contain the sulfite ion, which is the base to sulfuric acid.  They occur naturally in wine in small amounts. 
Why do winemakers add more sulfites to wine?
Winemakers can add sulfites for wine for a number of reasons, but the main reason is wine preservation and prevention of oxidation.  An oxidized wine has a stale taste and aroma and can even appear a brownish, copper color.  The additional sulfites are crucial to preserving a wine’s structure and taste during its life and can extend its age.  Wines without added sulfites are not meant to age and should be drank relatively soon.  On average wines without additional sulfites last at most 18 months.
Are some wines really sulfite free?
No.  Like we said all wines have some sulfites that occur naturally.  In the United States, in order to advertise a wine as ‘sulfite free’ the level of sulfites in a wine has to be less in 10 parts per million (ppm).
I have a reaction, headache, etc. to red wine.  Is it the sulfites?
Some people are allergic to sulfites.  However if you have a reaction because of sulfites it would happen when you drink any wine – red or white.  A good test to see if you are truly allergic to sulfites is to eat something with high natural sulfites (dried apricots – have ten times more than wine).  If your reaction to sulfites is high you should consult your doctor and possibly avoid wine together.  However, the majority of people have a reaction because of the added sulfites in wine.  In this case, you need to search out wineries that have ‘no added sulfites’ on their label – organic wines are a good start.
But for the majority of us, sulfites are not the cause of the problem with drinking red wine.  Some other culprits?  Tannins are found more heavily in red wine and can cause allergies, if you have the same reaction to a strong tea as red wine this is why.  Many people are allergic to histamines, which are also found in wine.  If you have a histamine allergy, you would also have strong reactions to strawberries, tomatoes and ripe fruit.  Cogeners, imperfections in lower end wines (think $2.99 from certain big chains), can cause a large headache than other, well-made wines and alcohols.
Lastly, the most important and common cause of this problem?  (This is what we have experienced quite a few times).  How you drink the wine.  Often a greater headache than normal is caused by reduced water or food intake during the drinking.  We suggest drinking a glass of water in between every glass of wine.
The previous article is the opinion of Decanted, we are not doctors.  If you do believe you have an allergy to wine, please visit your doctor. 

Posted on March 22, 2010, in Wine and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

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