Following the last Blog on Vegan Wines I have also been asked recently about low and no sulphur wines. So I thought I would provide a little background to Sulphur in wines and try and dispel some of the myths surrounding it.
What are Sulphites and why are they used?
The term sulphites is a term used for Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) a commonly used additive in winemaking and most food industries and is used for its antioxidant and antibacterial properties. In winemaking it impedes or kills unwanted yeasts and bacteria and protects the wine from oxidation and maintains the wines freshness.
How Much Sulphites Are in Wine?
The quantity of sulphites that a wine can contain is highly regulated, and any wine containing more than 10 parts per million (ppm) of sulphur dioxide must state on rear label ‘contains sulphites’.
There are a number of myths relating to Sulphites in wine:
1. They cause headaches. Although there is a common perception that the SO2 in wine causes headaches there is no definitive medical research on the relationship. The wine contains other compounds such as histamines and tannins that are considered more likely to be responsible for the headache effect and of course the alcohol content.
2. Red wine has extra sulphites – Thus It Causes Headaches. In the EU, the maximum levels of SO2 that a wine can contain are 160 ppm for red wine, 210 ppm for white wine and 400 ppm for sweet wines. The reason that red wines contain less sulphites is because they contain tannins which in itself is a stabilizing agent and because of the fermentation process less SO2 is required to protect the wine during winemaking process.
3. Wine should be avoided because it contains sulphites. Wine contains about ten times less sulphites than most dried fruits, which can have levels up to 1000 ppm. So, if you regularly eat dried fruit and do not have any adverse reaction you are probably not allergic to sulphites.
Apart from the potential allergic reaction of redness on the face and neck, many are against sulphites, as they believe them to be an unnatural addition. It is I believe a valid view, but sulphites are a natural by-product of the yeast metabolism during fermentation. So even if you do not add any additional SO2, your wine will still contain sulphites.
Scientific facts suggest that sulphites are probably not the culprit for the well-known phenomenon of red wine headaches. As mentioned previously, alternative reasons are histamines, the alcohol content itself, and tannins and the latest evidence points to the latter:
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