Now I Know My Wine-Phabet: S is for Sulfites
In this new series called “Now I know my Wine-phabet”, I will explore letter by letter wine and what I believe are some of the most important and/or influential aspects in the world of wine. Since I am only choosing one topic per letter, many will be missed. Hopefully these posts come across as being whimsical and informative.
Ahhh Choo…sniffle sniffle…cough cough….itch itch…”Ouch my head hurts”!
Sounds like someone is getting sick. It is getting close to Halloween and the temperature is changing. Or maybe they drank a glass of red wine last night which contained…Da Da Da Da Dun! (Symphony #5)… SULFITES!
Those menacing evil sulfites, what are they!? Why do they get me sick? These microscopic creatures cause me to get allergies such as rashes and headaches. Worst of all they always ruin a good time.
If we look back in time to find their creator, or better yet, their Dr. Frankenstein; we will see that these tiny beasts have been part of wine making since the beginning. Back in the day, the Dutch would light a match stick (sulfur) inside of new barrels before filling them with fresh wine. This allowed the wine to stay preserved during shipping.
Looking deeper into these demons, we see that they actually occur naturally as a by-product of yeast metabolism during fermentation. In a nutshell, sulfites keep wine fresh.
For all those that stay away from heinous red wines which contain sulfites here is a brief low down. Red wines are regulated to have no more than 160 parts per million of sulfites. Vicious whites have up to 210 ppm and insipid sweet wines have up to 400 ppm. Those delicious dried fruits we enjoy at our local organic farmer’s markets contain 1000 ppm.
So is it really the sulfites that are causing your allergies? Maybe it is the tannins and histamines in red wine. How about this Sherlock …ALCOHOL!?
Sulfites can cause reactions in some people if they are severe asthmatics or have metabolic problems and cannot break down sulfites. But it is rare that the symptoms would occur as headaches.
If wines did not contain sulfites wines would not last. Even natural wines which do not use sulfites need to be stored below 57 degrees and drunk young, otherwise they just don’t last. So if you keep your wine on your living room wine cabinet, I recommend you not worry about sulfites. Otherwise the rancid taste of bad wine might turn you away from wine altogether.
Sulfites are not that bad. If you suffer from allergies when drinking wine it can be a result of many other ingredients. So let’s be fair to sulfites. Try drinking un-fined and unfiltered wines of a lower alcohol level and see how you do.