Wine Without Sulfites: What You Should Know

Regardless of your relationship with wine and how much or little you know about the (delicious) beverage, we are pretty confident that you have heard about sulfites. They are the scapegoat for many things, from allergies to hangovers; they are the compounds that naturally occur in the human body, some food, and most importantly, wine. Sulfites can be created synthetically and used as a preservative. Because of the latter, sulfites are the subject of an ongoing debate about whether or not these compounds are detrimental to your health. 

We're guessing the following questions are swirling around in your brain: should I stop drinking wine with sulfites? What are sulfites really? Are there wines out there that are better for my health? We get it; these are the questions we also had and led us to write this blog post. Here is everything you ever wanted to know about sulfites, so next time you pick up a bottle of wine, you are making the most informed decision! 

What Are Sulfites?

Sulfites are preservatives that are very frequently utilized in the winemaking process to maintain a wine's natural freshness. Sulfites, also called sulfur dioxide, are chemical compounds that comprise sulfite ions. They are naturally in various food sources, including black tea, peanuts, eggs, and fermented foods. In wine and other alcohol, when yeast and sugar come together to produce CO2 and consequently alcohol, minimal amounts of sulfur dioxide are also created in the process. Therefore, every wine will have minimal amounts of it. To slow spoilage and prevent discoloration, these compounds are added to soft drinks, juices, jams, jellies, sausages, and dried or pickled fruits and vegetables.  Due to their antimicrobial attributes, these compounds also prevent bacterial growth, prolonging wine and other products' shelf life. 

In general, they are safe to wine lovers. Because they are a naturally occurring byproduct of fermentation, sulfites are in nearly all wines. Without sulfites, wines would oxidize very quickly and, therefore, ruin the wine's freshness and flavor. 

Understandably, some wine drinkers are opposed to sulfites in wine because they perceive them as an unnatural addition. The key word here, however, is perceive. But, as we've shared, sulfites can also be a natural byproduct of yeast metabolism that occurs during fermentation. So, even if winemakers do not use sulfites to preserve and protect their wine's flavor, sulfites are likely naturally present.

Most people safely enjoy foods and wines with sulfites without any adverse side effects. Research suggests that sulfite affects some people more than others. The FDA estimates that only one percent of the population is sensitive to sulfites. While some may tolerate sulfites without worry, others may experience unpleasant side effects. These allergic reactions include hives, swelling and stomach pain. Although only one percent of the population is sensitive to sulfites, many people believe the myth that sulfites cause hangovers. However, what many do not realize is that many of the foods they eat daily are packed with sulfites. 

How Do Sulfites Affect Your Wine?

As previously mentioned, synthetic sulfites affect wine by working as a preservative and repressing bacterial contamination. Many winemakers employ sulfur dioxide to eliminate yeast and bacteria. They essentially prevent wine from oxidizing, which would destroy a wine's taste, texture, color, and appearance. 

On a bottle of wine, you can tell if it has sulfites based on the sulfite declaration. The statement is required where sulfur dioxide or a sulfiting agent is detected at a level of 10 or more ppm (aka parts per million) measured as total sulfur dioxide. 

Is Wine Without Sulfites Better For You?

Sulfites are not the nicotine of wine, regardless of what people want you to believe. Additionally, sulfites are naturally occurring, therefore, it is impossible to find a sulfite-free wine. The truth is, you cannot really remove sulfites easily from natural wine. There is no current process, fining agent or additive that removes sulfites from wine. However, to be classified as certified organic wine and consequently, have the USDA organic seal, organic wine cannot include added sulfites. This wine category must also be made with organic grapes and organically grown grapes still may contain naturally occurring sulfite levels less than 20 parts per million.

You are likely enjoying sulfites in many of your favorite foods without being aware of it. If you are concerned about added chemicals in your wine, in our opinions, sulfur should not be one. Rather, wine is packed with added yeasts, gelatin and more. If you are interested in having wine that does not have any of these ingredients or added substances, shop for wines that are low-intervention. These types of wines use very few chemicals and tend to use natural sugars and yeasts. 

Which Has More: Red Wine or White Wine?

In general, if you believe you are part of the one percent who suffers from adverse effects of sulfites and sulfite allergies, you should consider staying out of the frey and limiting your consumption of wine. Red wine has significantly lower concentrations than white wine. Low-sulfite wines include certain Beaujolais, red Burgundy, Pinot Noir, and other low tannin varietals. 

Natural Sulfites vs Added Sulfites

There are two types of sulfites: natural and added. Natural is precisely what their name suggests; they are naturally occurring. As explained, in wine and other alcohol, when yeast and sugar come together to create CO2 and eventually alcohol, minimal amounts of sulfur dioxide are also created in the process. The amount of sulfites created during the natural fermentation process is incredibly small, but we can't say any wine has no sulfites. The typical range is around five to forty parts per million. In American, wines can contain up to 350 parts per million, which clearly, is significantly larger than the amount produced naturally. 

Added sulfites maintain freshness and preserve wine from oxidation and undesired bacteria and yeasts. Without added sulfites, an expensive vintage wine would be considered disgusting instead of the treasure it is today. 

So, in summation, we do not believe sulfites are anything to worry about and highly suggest cheersing away….especially to our Bev girls. Learn more about our different wines here!