Sulfites in Wine: Are Sulfites Bad for You?

The question of the decade is: are sulfites bad for you? In this video I’m going to share with you why sulfites in wine are not necessarily a bad thing.

Sulfites Transcript

You got a headache, because you drank too much!

Hi, this is Wine Dine Caroline, and you’re watching Learn Wine With Caroline. I’m a wine educator with over a decade of experience in the wine trade and a fancy wine diploma, and today I’m going to tell you about sulfites in wine. Want more of my awesome wine tips and tricks? Like this video and subscribe to my channel to get notified when I release my weekly video. Also, follow me on Instagram at Wine Dine Caroline.

I hear about sulfites constantly. “I’m allergic to sulfites.” No, you’re not. “Sulfites give me a headache. Sulfites are this. Sulfites are that,” blah, blah, blah. Okay, let’s break it down.

What are sulfites? Sulfites are inorganic salts that act as antioxidant preservatives. They occur naturally in many things, including our own bodies, and all fermented food, but they’re also added to many things for many reasons. They are antimicrobial and antioxidant. Let me repeat that again. They occur naturally in fermented things. That means that all wine, whether it has added sulfites or not, contains them.

History of Sulfites

They’re also one of the oldest chemical tricks in the book. Sulfur dioxide, or SO2, has been used as a wine preservative as far back as the ancient Greeks. They noticed, as they lined their vessels with tar, that the wine was more stable and eventually ended up, basically, fumigating their amphorae before adding the wine as a way to stabilize the stuff before long journeys across the sea.

The Romans would burn sulfur candles in barrels. And wine making equipment has long been cleaned with SO2. Let’s also remember for a second that wine is a human product. It’s halting the inevitable transformation of sugary grape juice fermenting into vinegar. It wants to be vinegar and it’s our job to stop it. Bacteria and yeast desperately want to turn that juice into something nasty. And on its own, wine is very unstable.

What does contains sulfites mean? Well, in America, it means that it has between 10 milligrams per liter and 350 milligrams per liter. In Europe, the upper limit is 210.

Red wines need the least amount of sulfites, because tannins, the compounds responsible for that chewy astringent vibe, are stabilizing. Rosés and whites need more than reds, because they don’t have the tannins. And sweet wines need the most, because they still have available sugar that the yeast really wants to get into.

How much sulfites go into a bottle of wine is also dependent on where the wine is going. Mass produced wines that get shipped all over the world, in whatever condition, are going to have a much higher sulfite content than smaller production wines that have simpler distribution channels.

Volume definitely matters here. The truth is that any good wine maker is using sulfites sparingly, just enough to stabilize the wine throughout key moments in the wine making process. Wine is inherently unstable and it spoils really easily without human intervention.

Wine Sulfite Allergies

Okay, now let’s talk about why you aren’t allergic to sulfites. If you can eat a dried apricot without your throat closing up, you’re not allergic to sulfites. If you are part of the 1% of people that actually are allergic to sulfite, apologies, sucks to be you they’re in everything.

Sulfites also don’t give you a headache. Most people get headaches from red wine, which contain fewer sulfites. And sulfite allergies don’t present as headaches, they’re more allergies with hives, and swelling, allergy stuff. You got a headache, because you drank too much.

This is a big topic and it’s really controversial. There are, probably, heavily beer as tipsters screaming at the screen right now about how sulfites are evil, but they’re wrong. Please put a pick of your wine tattoo in the comments, Troy. I’m not here for your let’s make wine undrinkable vinegar again agenda, okay? Look, additives in wine are a legit problem.

Labeling regulations are incredibly flawed and there’s a ton of poison in our wine. I will dive more deeply into this another time, so make sure to like this video and subscribe to my weekly videos, so you can catch me when I talk about additives that you actually should be worried about. But for now, try to find smaller production wines and calm down about sulfites. Cheers.

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