“Excuse me: do you carry any sulfite-free wines?” This question assuredly agonizes wine stewards/sommeliers, tasting room staff and winery owner all over the globe and can inevitably crush a relationship between buyer and seller more readily than a ton of zinfandel during harvest. There is a prevailing (and significantly inaccurate) sphere of reasoning behind why many prospective buyers ask this question: they suffer from a barrage of allergic and pseudoallergic reactions to red wine, or that they are victims to red wine headaches (or RHWs), which are falsely attributed to the sulfites in wines (which recalls the entire “gluten fallacy” associated with foods which we won’t go into here). Let’s dispel the myths and clear the headaches caused by these mistaken notions.
The Firm Facts:
Sulfites are Necessary (and Natural): A wine sulfite occur naturally in wines, but can be introduced to wine to stop fermentation, but are moreover it’s used as a preservative to prevent spoilage and oxidation. SO2 (sulfur dioxide) is introduced to prevent your vaunted valdigue from turning into vinegar. This practice dates back our Roman winemaking forebears, when these toga-clad vintners would burn candles made of sulfur in empty wine containers (amphorae). As we note below, sulfites occur as a natural part of the fermentation process.
Both White and Red Wines Contain Sulfites: Sulfites are generated during fermentation naturally. Some winemakers may add more sulfites to white wines in order to prevent spoilage. Red wines (especially Bordeauxs) have the benefit of tannins, a characteristic inherent in a grape that help wines age (and make them delicious).
Sulfites Can Aggravate Asthma Symptoms: OK – this we’ll admit, but this instance is extremely rare: about 5 out of 100 people that suffer from asthma (that’s 5%) caused by sulfites. However, in these unique circumstances, your doctor may suggest eliminating wine and other foods containing sulfites altogether.
The Feared Falsehoods
Sulfites Cause Headaches: There is no definitive medical evidence that proves sulfites are the perpetrators. You can blame your headache on the wine’s alcohol – not the sulfite. Before embarking on a fanatic inquisition to dispel those headaches, and you still believe sulfites are at fault, begin to with your food: wine contains ten times less sulfites than dried fruit.
Sulfites Exacerbates Allergies: This is probably the most common myth. Your body naturally generates sulfites at about 1000mg per day. A normal glass of wine (four oz.) contains a miniscule 10 mg. So, no, the sulfites are not the culprit.
Organic Wine Contains No Sulfites: Wrong! Though organic winemakers may not add sulfites to their vintages, all grapes create and contain sulfites during the fermentation process. Additionally, organic wines have an increased tendency to turn into sour faster than you can say “syrah.”