Two Little Words: “Contains Sulfites”

Have you ever noticed the statement “Contains Sulfites” on wine labels? These two words often cause so much confusion and misunderstanding. So, what’s the deal with sulfites in wine?

Sulfites, or SO2, is a naturally occurring compound produced during fermentation. It has also been used as a preservative and widely used most food industries. For centuries, sulfites have been used in wine making to enhance taste, color, and stability by preventing oxidation and bacterial spoliage.

Sulfites are not harmful to most people. Those who are sulfite-sensitive, asthmatics (constituting .25% of the population), the presence of sulfites in wine may aggravate asthma. During the 1980s, the American public became increasingly concerned about the presence of sulfites in wine. To alert those who are hypersenstive, a law was passed declaring that all US wines must bear “Contains Sulfites” on their labels.

However, the rampant myth that sulfites in wine cause headaches is just that, a myth! The medical research is not definitive on the relationship between sulfites and headaches. There are many other factors, such as tannins and (of course!) alcohol, that are more likely connected to the headache effect than sulfites.

If you looking for sulfite-free wines, you will come to find that there is no such thing. The next best thing is organic and biodynamic wineries that use natural winemaking methods which exclude the additional of sulfur dioxide during fermentation. If you are sensitive to sulfites, inquire about organic wineries at your local wine retail shop. For the rest of us, we can drink easy knowing that sulfites are not the big bad thing that labels make them out to be!