You’ve likely heard something about wine sulfites before, but what exactly are they and are they cause for concern? Here’s what every wine drinker needs to know.
What Are Sulfites & Are They Harmful?
Sulfites (SO2, or sulfur dioxide) are commonly used in the winemaking process as a preservative, and are always present in wine to some degree.
“Grapes have very miniscule amounts of naturally occurring sulfites in them, so some extremely small level can always be present, but not to the degree that it would likely adversely affect the consumer,” says Deider Heekin, a winemaker at La Garagist Farm and Winery in Barnard, Vermont.
The purpose of using added sulfites is to help ensure that wine tastes the same once consumed as when bottled. While the sulfite level will vary with the type of wine (red wine, for instance, usually has fewer sulfites than white), there is so such thing as a totally sulfite-free wine. Even if you see a wine bottle labeled as such, it can still often contain at least a low level of sulfites, explains Michael Christian, a consulting winemaker at Los Pilares, which is based in San Diego.
Still, some people pursue “sulfite-free” wines as a way of avoiding the adverse effects sulfite consumption can cause. For one, there’s the dreaded wine headache we’ve all experienced after a night out — but of course, this is also due to the fact that wine contains alcohol, and several other factors can contribute.
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A sulfite allergy or sensitivity can develop later in life and for those who are especially sensitive, drinking wine that contains a significant level of sulfites can lead to other unfortunate side effects, such as stomach pain, swelling, and even hives.
Luckily, there are ways to limit your sulfite intake — like cutting down on dried fruit, which contains far more sulfites than wine. But if you specifically want to steer clear of sulfites in the glass, there are a few things you can do.
How to Avoid Sulfites in Wine
Here are three tricks and products that are designed to help make your wine-drinking habit a more sulfite-free experience:
Read Your Wine Label
When shopping for wines with lower sulfite levels, “we strongly recommend that customers read the labels and do some research before purchasing a wine,” says David Kim, the director of food and beverage operations at Nordstrom. “The United States requires labeling for sulfites in wine above 10 parts per million (PPM — or 10 mg/L), so all wines that contain sulfites will state that on the label.”
Check for this indicator each time you shop for wine, and you’ll never have to guess about whether you’re consuming sulfites again.
Seek Out Natural Wines
Natural wines, at their purest form, are those that are made without any additives or processing aids. They’re made from organically farmed grapes and intervention during the fermentation process is kept to a minimum.
natural wine at restaurants and wine shops, you’ve likely had at least one bartender or store staffer tell you that the term “natural wine” doesn’t mean anything since there are not currently no set standards when it comes to what makes a wine “natural” or not.If you’ve actively been seeking out
Regardless of how that lack of regulation makes you feel, there is one big positive about natural wines — besides their uniquely raw flavors and organic ingredients — and that is that they are usually lower in sulfite content than conventional wine.
“Adherents to the natural wine movement use very little added SO2. So, their wines will have very low levels of it,” Christian says.
Heekin agrees with Christin and says: “Many natural wines are made this way and list that on the bottle.”
Related Reading: What Is the Difference Between Natural and Organic Wine?
If you haven’t tried natural wines or are unsure about how to shop for one with lower sulfite content, “you can ask for information and selection help from a small, local wine shop, or a knowledgeable sommelier at a restaurant,” Heekin adds.
Shop for Wine-Clarifying Products
There are also handy products that can help you to live a more sulfite-free life. To help you get started shopping, here are five of our top picks:
“For sulfite concerns, we recommend the Ullo Wine Purifier, which aerates wine in addition to removing sulfites,” Kim says. That’s because this tiny device is designed using Üllo’s trademarked Selective Sulfite Capture technology, with an adjustable wine aerator that’s small enough to attach to a single wine glass. Also available from Bed, Bath & Beyond.Buy Now
This wine filter wand by PureWine has nearly 1,000 reviews from satisfied Amazon customers who gave this product a 4.3- out of 5-stars. It’s designed to “remove histamines and sulfites” in as little as three minutes. It’s also a small, portable product. So, you can take it with you to parties when you aren’t sure what types of wine will be served.Buy Now
Want to treat your friends to sulfite-free wine? Pour the entire bottle into this stylish hand-blown decanter by Üllo — and your wine will be instantly purified. You can find other versions, including this curvy carafe, or a more streamlined shape and size that’s the perfect thing for those who travel often, especially since it comes with a handy travel bag for carrying.Buy Now
A budget-friendly option, this handy wine aerator from Vinvoli provides the oxygen needed to soften sulfites and gives even cheap wines the crisp taste you’re after.Buy Now
Finally, if you’re still skeptical about natural wines, and whether paying a few extra dollars for them is worth it, check out this book, “Wine, Unfiltered: Buying, Drinking, and Sharing Natural Wine,” by Katherine Clary. In it, Clary takes a deep dive into what makes a wine natural and tackles tricky questions, such as “What is the difference between organic and biodynamic wines?” Perfect for both new and seasoned wine drinkers, this book will answer all of your natural wine questions.Buy Now
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