Why does wine have sulphites in....
Why do wines contain Sulphites? Chiefly for longevity and presentation. Sulphites are hard to avoid in wine, given that some occur even naturally. However, Sulfite exposure, for those who have sulfite allergies, is a serious, even life-threatening matter.
See our selection of Sulphur free wines here
The way many of our Customers minimise this exposure to them is by drinking mainly organic wines. Organic Wines will frequently contain None, or definitely smaller amounts of Sulphites.
If winemakers didn't add Sulphites, their wines would be unstable to a degree most wouldn't be comfortable with, as they are making wines for aging over the long term. They also asssit in maintaining the colour. Most do what they can to minimize the concentration to under 100 parts per million (the average American wine is around 350 ppm). Still, every top winery in the world uses small amounts of sulfites in the winemaking process and sulfites have been used since Roman times in wine. Fortunately, sulfite allergies are rare, and wine contains minuscule quantities of sulfites compared to other common foods.
Important fact #1: If you (other than wine) eat quite normally, and wine (particularly young, red wine) gives you headaches, you almost certainly are not allergic to sulfites.
Sulfur occurs in many foods, including (according to WebMD):
- Baked goods
- Soup mixes
- Canned vegetables
- Pickled foods
- Dried fruit
- Potato chips
- Trail mix
- Beer and wine
- Vegetable juices
- Sparkling grape juice
- Apple cider
- Bottled lemon juice and lime juice
- Bottled Tea
- Many condiments
- Fresh or frozen shrimp
- Maraschino cherries
- Dehydrated, pre-cut or peeled potatoes
Particularly common sources of sulfites are dried fruit, potato chips and french fries, and condiments. Three ounces of dried apricots, for example, contain 175mg of sulfur dioxide. By contrast, a four ounce glass of Tablas Creek (at 100ppm of sulfites) contains about 12mg. Even a glass of wine with average sulfite levels would contain about 40mg of sulfur dioxide. You'd need to drink half a bottle to get the same sulfites as that handful of apricots.
Headaches, on the other hand, are not mentioned in the literature on sulfites, but are common reactions to an excess of histamines. Many more people have sensitivities to histamines, which are common in pollen as well as many other plant materials. Reactions to histamines include headache, itchy eyes, runny nose and flushed skin... the common effects of hay fever. It's less well known that histamines are also common in the skins of grapes. This explains why many people are sensitive to only red wines (which spend time in fermentation next to grape skins) or only to young wines (histamines break down over time in bottle).
Important fact #2: as with seasonal allergies, sensitivities to the histamines in wine can be treated with an over-the-counter antihistamine such as Benadryl or Claritin.
So why does the government mandate that wines display "CONTAINS SULFITES" on the back of nearly every label, but make no mention of histamines, when histamine reactions are much more common than sulfite allergies? Essentially, histamine reactions are not particularly dangerous. Inconvenient, sure, but not life-threatening. However, from the number of questions I get, it's clear that the government-mandated warning has convinced lots of people that they're allergic to something they're not, and obscured the easy steps people could take to minimize their reactions.
Why do lower priced Wines give me headaches?
I'm not sure of the answer for. A suspicion would be that most cheap wines are made from mass-produced grapes, which are probably more heavily processed and contain higher residues of pesticide and other chemicals than many more expensive wines. Another possibility is that many cheap wines are made with additives like oak powder or oak extract, and oak contains tannins that might not be resolved in the same way that they would be had the wine actually spent time in a barrel (which also releases oak tannins, but more gradually and at the same time as it provides exposure to oxygen).