Are sulphites really the evil of all wine?

Let’s look at the facts and you can decide.

Fact 1: Sulphites are used in food and drink as preservatives to prevent microbial spoilage and oxidation.

Common products containing sulphites (the EU have labelled them as E220–E228, depending on their form) include dried fruits, preserved food (tinned and frozen), condiments, jams, syrups, grains (noodles, pasta, rice), snacks, skimmed milk, instant tea and wine. Various countries have regulations on the maximum permitted content in these products. Foods that contains the most sulphites are dried fruits, processed fruits and vegetables and tinned seafood (up to 3,000ppm). EU law states that the maximum total sulphites in wine should be 160ppm for red wine, 210ppm for white wine and 260ppm for sweet wine.

Dried fruits contain sulphites

Fact 2: Most winemakers try to use the minimum amount of sulphites.

Sulphites (in the form of sulphur dioxide) are needed to preserve the wine, but their use can be minimised by better vineyard management and selection of grapes. Unhealthy and rotten grapes require higher doses because they are more prone to bacterial spoilage.

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Fact 3: All wines contain sulphites.

Natural wine producers might not use added sulphites to preserve their wines, but they are naturally produced anyway during the fermentation process of grape juice. EU law states that organic wine may contain up to one-third of the sulphites as in conventional wine, and biodynamic wine producers are allowed to use sulphites in winemaking.

Fact 4: There are people who are allergic to sulphites.

However studies indicate that less than one per cent of the world population are affected – and it’s even rarer for people to have a severe reaction.

Do sulphites give you a headache?

Fact 5: There is no definitive conclusion that sulphites cause headaches.

Headaches are more likely caused by the overconsumption of alcohol. There is also a compound in wine – histamine – that could cause headaches. However, histamine is only found in red wine, so, if people are allergic to it, they are likely to suffer from headaches by drinking red wine, not white wine.

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Fact 6: Both Old and New World wine producers use sulphites.

Sulphites preserve the freshness and fruitiness of wine and prevent it from turning into vinegar, so both Old and New World wine producers (over 99%) use then within the regulatory limits. Only a very small handful of producers don’t use added sulphites at all, but their wines might be prone to spoilage and oxidation.

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So you can decide if you want to have a delicious wine or vinegar with your meal next time!

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A marketer turned winemaker, I make, promote, judge, write about and drink wine.

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