Few subjects raise as many questions as sulfites in winemaking and there are a lot of misconceptions about sulfites. A lot of people believe that sulfites are the cause of headaches, or that they are only added to lesser quality wine, or that they are added to change the flavor of wine. Read on to discover a bit more truth about sulfites.
Unbeknownst to many, sulfites are a natural byproduct of the fermentation process. In fact, there is no such thing as a “sulfite-free” wine, even though some bottles claim to contain “no detectible sulfites.” Wines with less than 10 parts per million (PPM) of sulfites are not required to carry the sulfite warning, and some winemakers even attempt to use special filtration methods to remove as many sulfites as possible.
Can winemakers choose to add additional sulfites to wine to prevent spoiling? Yes. But some winemakers, including those following organic protocols, do not.
Many people stay away from US wine because they are led to believe that domestic wines contain more sulfites than imports. This may be because since 1987 wines sold in the US are required to carry a warning due to allergies. The same wines sold in other countries are not required to carry this warning. This sometimes creates confusion.
One of the most common questions I get about sulfites is this: Do sulfites cause headaches when drinking wine? The simple answer is that nobody can say for sure. There have been numerous scientific studies done by winemakers, retailers, advertising firms and everyone in between, but there are no conclusive answers. The fact is wine is a living, breathing product that is made from many different types of grapes in many different regions all over the world. Physiologically, wine affects everybody a little bit differently. So try for yourself, and over time, you will discover the nuances of your own body and how it reacts to different styles of wine.
Corey Phillips, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits wine consultant
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