Sulfites in Wine

by Ms. S on July 22, 2010

This section contains notes from our due diligence on this topic.

Sulfites in wine have an undeserving bad reputation amongst consumers due to complaints of asthma and allergic reactions.  Sulfites are preservatives that prevent oxidation and premature spoilage.  To get the health facts on sulfites I asked Andrew Fisher of Astor Wine & Spirits to explain their story.

The first and most important fact to note is that sulfites are naturally occurring in wine.  As Mr. Fisher explained, “sulfites are to wine as salt is to food.”  There are no “sulfite free” wines because there is no wine without sulfites.  Sulfites can be added at different times of harvesting and winemaking.  If a vineyard avoids adding further sulfites then there can be “no sulfite added.”  According to Mr. Fisher, red wines tend to have the least amount of sulfites because tannins are a natural anti-oxidant.  White wines tend to have more added sulfites than reds and sweet whites have the most.

Fisher was adamant about the inclusion of sulfites in wine, “if you have a problem with sulfites, you should not be drinking wine.”  He went on to explain that if the techniques in winemaking are not good, then one adds sulfites.  This is where adding sulfites gain a negative perception, “the commitment to not adding sulfites to compensate for mass harvesting, poor grape treatment, sloppy cellar conditions is essential.”  Sulfites are an anti-oxidant and an anti-microbial which are both good things to have in wine.  However if you handle grapes perfectly, then a lot of sulfites are not necessary to add.  Fisher said that over the past 3 years, the amount of sulfites used in Australian wines has gone down every single year.

In the U.S., organic wine focuses on how many parts per million of sulfites there are in the wine.  Few producers refuse to add any sulfites. Fisher’s advice, “think of sulfites as salt in food—necessary, but dangerous and harmful in excess.”

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