Are sulfites in wine bad for me? This is a question wine lovers have been asking themselves for ages. The short answer is no, unless you have a sulfite sensitivity, sulfites won’t hurt you. Keep reading to learn all about sulfites and wine, including what exactly they are, how they are used in winemaking to help keep your wine nice and fresh, and how Land O Lakes Winery wines are naturally low in sulfites.
What Are Sulfites?
First things first. What are sulfites? Often referred to as sulfur and SO2, sulfites are compounds that occur naturally in some foods and beverages, including wine. They can also be added to foods and drinks as preservatives.
Sulfites And Wine
When it comes to wine, sulfites are actually a natural byproduct of the fermentation process. As a matter of fact, 6 to 40 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur dioxide (or sulfites) actually occur naturally in wine.
Sulfites in wine are created when yeast converts sugar from wine grapes into alcohol. Sulfur dioxide is also often added to wine right before bottling and/or during pre- or post-fermentation to help keep wine nice and fresh. In this instance, the extra sulfur functions as an:
- Antimicrobial, which helps to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and
- Antioxidant, which helps to prevent spoilage as well as the discoloration that can occur when wine is exposed to too much oxygen.
In other words, sulfites are the reason that 2009 Chateau Margaux won’t taste like vinegar when you finally decide to break it open. If you’re lucky enough to own one of these coveted bottles, that is.
Sulfites And Organic Wine
Okay, we know what you’re thinking. If sulfites occur naturally in wine via the winemaking process, why don’t some organic wines have “Contains Sulfites” listed on their labels?
This is because the sulfur that occurs naturally in wine is a very small amount. (Between 6 and 40 ppm) And, any wine that contains less than 10 ppm isn’t required to sport a “Contains Sulfites” label. So, that bottle of organic wine you just bought isn’t technically sulfite free.
What About Sulfite-Free Wine? That’s A Thing Isn’t It?
Much like unicorns or Santa Claus, sulfite-free wine does not exist. Like we said earlier, sulfites are a natural byproduct of the fermentation process, so all wine, even “organic” contains a traceable amount of sulfites.
Wine Doesn’t Contain As Many Sulfites As You Think It Does.
In actuality, sulfites in wine are quite low when compared to other foods. The average dry red wine has about 50 to 70 ppm, and a dry white contains around 100. Sweet wines tend to have more sulfites than dry wines because more SO2 is needed during the fermentation process in order to prevent a secondary fermentation from occurring. Plus, the maximum legal sulfite limit in the United States is actually capped at 350 ppm. So, if you’re a big fan of wines from the US, then you’ll never ingest more than 350 ppm of sulfites anyway.
There are lots of other foods and beverages that contain way more sulfites than wine. Dried fruits, for instance, typically have a sulfite level of 3,000 ppm; while most commercially-produced wines from the United States and Europe only contain between 10 and 350 ppm. Besides dried fruits, sulfites can also be found in a ton of other foods, like:
- French fries
- Baked goods
- Canned soup
- Frozen juice
- Pizza dough.
So, Are Sulfites In Wine Bad For Me?
Sulfites get a bad rap, especially sulfites in wine. But, the truth is, they aren’t harmful unless you have a sulfite sensitivity. In fact, they have been used for centuries to make wine. Plus, their antioxidant, antibiotic, and taste-free properties make sulfites ideal for cleaning wine-making equipment, like large wooden or stainless steel vats and barrels. And, like we said earlier, they keep wine bacteria free, prevent spoiling, and preserve the wine’s color. So, when it comes to wine, sulfites are actually a good thing.
About 1% of the population is said to have a sulfite sensitivity. Many of these sulfite sensitivity sufferers also have severe asthma. In fact, if you have asthma, there is about a 5% to 10% chance you could be sensitive to sulfites.
While the chances of having a sulfite sensitivity is quite low, it’s still possible. And, it could potentially be a big problem. People who are sensitive to sulfites could experience the following scary symptoms 15 to 30 minutes after ingesting them:
- Respiratory problems
- Gastrointestinal discomfort.
Sulfites and Headaches
Sulfites in wine, especially red wine, are commonly considered the culprit of headaches. However, this isn’t the case. There is no evidence that suggests that sulfites in wine actually cause headaches. If you find yourself getting headaches after drinking wine, it’s probably due to the release of histamines. Plus, alcohol of any kind is also dehydrating. And, dehydration is a major cause of headaches.
Sulfites In Our Wines
The handcrafted wines produced at Land O Lakes Winery contain about 1/5 of the sulfites of commercial wines. Our sulfite levels range from 35 to 50 ppm. We do not add any extra preservatives or sugar to our wines either. So, if you’re looking for wine that’s low in sulfites, check out our selection of delicious handcrafted wines!