What are Sulfates in Wine?

Sulfites can be found in every wine you drink. This is a natural process. During the fermentation process, thousands of chemicals by-products are created, and sulfites are one of them. Nevertheless, the difference here is that sometimes winemakers will add sulfites to protect and preserve the wine from yeast and bacteria invasions. For some people, they can experience stuffy sinuses and headaches after a couple of glasses of wine because of an allergy to sulfur. 

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What Are Sulfites? 

Sulfites, otherwise known as sulfur dioxide or SO2, are common in the wine industry. This is because sulfite is a type of chemical compound that occurs at low levels naturally during the wine fermentation process. Winemakers may also add it to preserve and protect the color, flavor, and character of the wine. Sulfur dioxide has both antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, which makes it one of the top allies available to vineyards, as it will impede wine oxidation, preventing it from fermenting its way to becoming vinegar. 

How Much Sulfur is in Wine? 

There are different amounts of sulfur in each wine. For example, dry red wines often tend to have low levels of sulfur, yet white dessert wines can have high levels of the chemical. In the United States, 350 ppm is the maximum legal level of sulfite. Most of the wines that are on the market today average at around 125 ppm. If you are wondering what level of sulfur dioxide occurs naturally without chemical additives, it would be somewhere between the 10 and 200 ppm mark.

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Why Are Sulfites in Wine? 

Sulfites are used in the food industry – not only when it comes to creating wine – to enhance flavor and preserve food. They are especially critical when it comes to the winemaking process because they can improve shelf life, appearance, and taste. In particular, they can stop the wine from browning, which is a process that can result in the changing of the flavor and color of the wine. Some research shows that these additives can help to block the growth of bacteria to stop spoilage and contamination from taking place.

What is in The Labels? 

The FDA requires that all wines in the United States – both imports and domestic – that contain 10+ ppm of sulfur dioxide have a label that states that the wine contains sulfites. The purpose of this label designation is to alert people who are allergic to sulfites. Individuals with asthma tend to be the most susceptible to having a sulfite allergy. Signs of sensitivity to sulfite include dizziness, abdominal pain, nausea, broncho-constriction, skin flush, headaches, and nasal congestion. 

Which Wine Has The Lowest Sulfite? 

If you have an allergy to sulfite, you will obviously want to make sure you choose wines that have low sulfite levels. It is advisable to look for organic wines. This is because they are created from grapes that are grown organically and do not have any chemicals added to them during the winemaking process. This includes sulfur dioxide, as well as any other chemicals. The wines that create the highest amount of sulfite include sweet white dessert wines. After this, semi-sweet white wines and blush wines come in at a close second. Dry red wines also have the lowest sulfite levels. 

What is The Connection Between Sulfite and Headache?

a woman with a hangover 

There has been a lot of debate regarding the connection between headaches and sulfites. A lot of people believed that tannins, histamines, and of course, alcohol, are the culprit to headaches. However, some believe sulfite plays a crucial role in causing a headache after drinking wine. We’re all different, so it would be advisable to try and switch to organic wine and see if you notice any difference in terms of headaches. If you do, the sulfite could very well be to blame for the headaches you were experiencing, and so switching to organic wines would the best solution for you.

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Should I Be Concerned About Sulfites in Wine?

grapes, cheeses, and wine glass

If you are sensitive to sulfites found in foods like canned soups, cheese, cured meats, and french fries, then it’s highly advisable to look for wines that do not contain any sulfite. As mentioned above,  organic wines are the best route to go down, as you can ensure that any extra chemicals have not been added.

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Overall

Sulfites occur in wines naturally, but there is no denying that they have a variety of benefits to the point that some winemakers will add more sulfite to protect the wine they sell. If you are sensitive to sulfite or have an allergic response to it, you will definitely want to consider the amount of sulfite present within a bottle of wine. For most people, this won’t make a difference, but for some, it really does matter. Take into account what was mentioned above about the labels, and you can use this to find the perfect wine for you. 

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