How are sulfates and sulfites related?

Sulphites in wine: the whole unsulphurized truth


The debate about sulfites (i.e. sulfur) in wine has gained momentum again. Opinions to and fro, wine lover Daniel Münster brings the facts together for us.

Sulfur is the devil's stuff, at least the Bible tells us. But does that also apply to wine lovers with the devil's stuff? After all, the ancient Greeks already used sulfites to preserve food, what can be so harmful about them? In particular, the discussion about natural wine, the “vin naturel”, has rekindled the discussion about sulfur in wine. Objective clarification is necessary!

No, dear wine friends, the reference to sulfites in wine is not a warning, but required by the EU directive on food labeling, as sulfur can cause allergic reactions in a few people.

Why does the label “contains sulphites” appear on the label?

To do away with one prejudice: The reference to the sulfur contained in wine is not a health warning. Rather, the information serves to indicate a substance that can trigger allergic reactions. The naming of allergenic ingredients has been required across the EU by the food labeling directive since 2005.

Sulfur in wine does not cause headaches. The hangover and headache comes from excessive consumption.

Will the sulfur in wine give me a headache?

Unfortunately, I have to disappoint overly critical wine lovers at this point. No, sulfur per se is not harmful to health and does not cause headaches or migraines - here the trigger is usually in the excessive consumption of the delicious droplet! Health effects are only seen in 10 percent of people classified as asthmatics. A pure sulfur allergy is very rare and only occurs in 1 percent of the population in the United States, for example.

Is there wine without sulfur?

Another clear answer: no. Sulfur is produced naturally when the wine is fermented, so that there is no wine that does not contain any sulfur. It is a different matter with the added sulfur, which is also added to make the wine more durable, among other things. This leads to the subtlety that there is unsulphurized wine, but none that is sulfur-free. It is not uncommon for even wines to which no sulphite has been added to exceed the limit of 30 mg / l and consequently have to have the “contains sulphites” on the label.

How much sulphurized wine can I drink?

Until you drop if you really want to. It shouldn't be the sulfur. Alcohol is still the most dangerous ingredient. A dry red wine contains around 20 to 100 mg / l sulfite. For comparison: a serving of dried fruit is worth 500 to 3,000 mg. The protein in our diet alone produces around 2500 mg SO2 per day in our body. Now convert this amount into red wine liters of 100 mg sulfite! This does not include the sulfur dioxide that we absorb with the air we breathe.

Why is there sulfite in wine at all?

Sulfur has an antimicrobial and antioxidant effect. The sulphite prevents the wine from fermenting further, it protects it from too rapid oxidation and thus increases its shelf life. Sulfur thus also preserves the taste of the wine and its sensory properties. Without the addition of sulfur, even a top Bordeaux from the legendary 1961 vintage would look like a layered wine vinegar! What a diabolical idea!

In general, you can add more sulfites to white wines than red wines. Simply because red wines naturally contain more sulfites, which protect against oxidation. It can also be said in general that wines with more residual sugar can also have a higher sulphite content. Here again for the reason that the sugar contained carries the risk of secondary fermentation. Even the legal requirements take this into account, in that, for example, a white wine with less than five grams of residual sugar / liter may contain a maximum of 200 mg / l sulfite, whereas a Beerenauslese may contain up to 400 mg / l sulfur.

Producers of a “vin naturel” aim not to add any sulfur at all. However, this does not say anything about the quality of a wine.

What does that have to do with "vin naturel", with organic and biodynamic?

Again, every wine contains sulphites, which are naturally produced during fermentation. The whole sulphurous debate therefore revolves solely around the additionally added sulphite. Measured against the legal requirements and the requirements of organic and biodynamic cultivation, the following sulfur quantity theory can be formulated:

Conventionally produced wine contains sulfur up to the legally stipulated maximum amount. Organic wine is based on maximum values ​​that are below those of the law. Biodynamically produced wines even fall below these limit values ​​again. The makers of a “vin naturel”, on the other hand, pursue the goal of not adding any sulfur at all. However, equating the sulfur values ​​of a wine with its quality would be far too short-sighted. That too is the truth, and nothing but the unsulfurized truth.

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