While it makes sense, and the current focus is on avoiding sulfites, the rush to reduce them to zero could be premature.
Take a closer look at the trend towards low sulfite and see if we need to include any tradeoffs.
We’ll discuss the benefits of low-sulfite wine and its taste and smell.
Wine and Sulfites
Let’s start by defining a sulfite. Sulfites contain sulfur and are used as antimicrobials and preservatives.
Sulfite refers to sulfur compounds, such as sodium bisulfite and sodium sulfite. Sulfur Dioxide is a gas that is commonly found during and around winemaking. It is not technically a sulfur compound but is often lumped into the same category.
Although they are often misunderstood (right up there with tannins), sulfites do more to improve your wine than you may think.
What are the effects of sulfites in wine?
Sulfites can be used to enhance the flavor of food as well as preserve it. Sulfites are useful in wine.
Sulfites in wine stop the browning process. This will also help to preserve the color and flavor of the wine.
Sulfites can also prevent wine from spoiling, as they inhibit bacteria growth. They also inhibit the growth of specific yeasts that can affect the taste and smell of the finished wine.
Organic Wine, Sulfites, and Labeling Laws
Depending on the winemaker’s preference, wine might only have a high sulfite level if sulfites were added during fermentation.
After adding sulfites to the wine, it may have a high concentration. It could even be more than 100 parts per million. Engagements can be much lower without any added sulfites: around ten parts per million.
Labeling laws for sulfite are changing in the European Union. The EU requires wine to add a label that says “contains Sulfites” or “contains Sulphites” when levels exceed 10mg/liter. In the US, the FDA requires that any food containing more than ten parts per million of sulfite must be labeled sulfite.
If you’re not a sulfites fan or have an allergy or sensitivity to them, look for organic wine. These tend to be lower in sulfites. These wines are produced in the EU using organic grapes and yeast. They also contain less sulfites than other wines of this type.
US divides organic wine into two classes: “made from organic grapes,” where only organic grapes are allowed, and sulfites must be kept under 100 ppm.
If you are in the US and want to avoid sulfites but still drink organic wine, be aware of the stricter standards.
Sulfites found in Red, White, and Sparkling Wines
The wine determines the sulfite level in red, sparkling, or white wines. As a rule, dry wines have a lower sulfite level than sweeter wines.
In general, the more sugar there is in the wine, the higher the sulfites. In some white wines, the winemaker will stop the fermentation process before consuming the sugar. The remaining sugar then attracts bacteria and sulfites. Tannins can also act as preservatives in wine and eliminate the need for sulfites.
Sparkling wines often have a lower sulfite level than reds or whites. Sparkling wine needs a lot of carbonation to achieve that bubbly effect. The fermentation of sugar also requires yeast. Many sparkling wines have fewer sulfites because too many would overwhelm the yeast.
What is causing your wine headache?
The potential headache factor is one of the most common concerns people have with wine. Many people blame sulfites for wine headaches.
Some people are sensitive to sulfites. This number could be as high as 1-2%. Most of these allergies appear to be related to asthma. If you have asthma, it is essential to check the sulfite levels in your food.