One of the things we get asked a lot is if we sell sulphite-free wines. It is a relevant question, but the answer is that sulphite-free wines remain a fringe phenomenon in the market. The addition of sulphites to wine is a historic practice and it remains a virtually universal aspect of wine-making. They are anti-oxidants and the truth is they are useful little fellas. The unfortunate thing is that a small proportion of consumers take adverse reactions to them, which include wheezing or coughing and particularly bad hang-overs. That being the case, we thought we might take the time to address this issue.
Sulphites are a form of sulphur dioxide (S02), which are used in wine as a preservative, to prevent oxidation and keep your wine lovely and fresh. This compound is actually produced naturally in the fermentation of grapes so, as a matter of fact, all wines include at least a little sulphur. Most sulphur is contained in the skin of the grape, so red wines, which are fermented with the skin of the grapes included, contain more natural sulphur than white or rosé wines. This is a useful fact for those looking for low-sulphite wines, as red wines require less added sulphur and are thus less likely to cause a reaction. Another useful tip is that champagne, and other sparkling wines which are bottle fermented, depend on naturally generated sulphur rather than added sulphites and are therefore also less likely to cause a reaction.
What is the difference between added sulphites and natural sulphites? Apart from the sulphites which occur naturally being an organic product of fermentation, the crux of the issue lies in quantity. Added sulphites always exist in addition to the sulphites already present in the wine. The more sulphites there are in your glass, the more likely you are to react to them. The EU has a stated position on sulphites, and has issued directives in accordance with their stance. If a wine sold in the EU contains more than 10mg of sulphites per litre of wine, it must state on the label that it contains sulphites. That means that wines which label themselves ‘sulphite-free’ may in fact contain up to 10mg/litre (which will account for those sulphites occurring naturally). Moreover, the EU has set an upper limit for sulphite content, which is 200mg/litre.
In practice, few people suffer a reaction to wines containing less than 20mg/litre. But the EU directives leave a lot of scope for variation. The EU also has a recommended daily intake which works out at approximately 60mg for the average female. To put this in perspective, that equates to two small glasses of white wine; it is also equivalent to four dried apricots (dried fruits, like apricots and raisins are routinely treated with S02 to act as a preservative. Like we said, sulphites are actually quite handy).
But what can you do to minimise your sulphur intake and, if you are more susceptible, avoid the incumbent coughing, wheezing and headaches? Keep an eye out for our next blog when we will tell you more!