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Sulfite levels in wine


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#1 BeeZee

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Posted 26 October 2011 - 02:55 PM

Wine contains sulfites...how much is never spelled out on the label, just that they exist. I have a problem with sulfites in large quantities, and it's been russian roulette with drinking wine. I thought it was just bad (for me) with red wine, so I switched to white...then had a major problem after drinking one glass of white recently.
I'm really reluctant to just give up all wine, forever. Are there any thoughts about what types of wines might be lower in sulfites?
"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast" - Oscar Wilde

#2 ScoopKW

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Posted 26 October 2011 - 04:56 PM

Sulfites are a byproduct of fermenting grapes. Any wine claiming to be sulfite-free is using "creative math" to do so. Much like the pan-release spray made from canola oil and propellant has no fat*

*Adds a trivial amount of fat.

More sulfites are usually added to wine, because otherwise it has the shelf life of a pear. If you're deathly allergic to sulfites (you're comparing it to playing russian roulette, after all), I would give it up entirely.
Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

#3 &roid

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Posted 26 October 2011 - 04:57 PM

Generally speaking it goes: sparkling>white>red in terms of sulphite content.

My mum has a pretty bad sulphite allergy so we've spent a lot of time hunting for drinkable wine for her, there are an increasing number of producers who are able to give you what you need. Stellar vineyards in south africa do a few different varieties which are available in the UK pretty readily (not sure how easy they would be to get in the US though).

Oddly enough, I'm on holiday in NJ at the moment and just bought an organic Pinot Noir from Mendocino, CA at a Cape May liquor store. It is labelled as "no detectable sulfites" so you should be good with it. It's from Pacific Redwood (www.pacificredwoodwine.com), not had a look at their website but I guess they may well do other varietals in the same style.

I think the biggest issue I've found is that all the sulphite free wine I've had tastes different to "normal" wine. It's not that it's bad per se, I've just not found one that tastes like a nice normal savoury, tannic red (the sort of thing I normally go for). I'll admit I've had limited experience (say, fewer than ten different wines) so there may well be plenty of others out there, but so far I've not really found them.

Last thing, I've read that having no sulphites makes wine have a much more limited shelf life, if you're buying a large number you may well do better to fridge them all and just warm up the reds to serve.

#4 highchef

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Posted 26 October 2011 - 06:15 PM

Or, make your own?

#5 ScoopKW

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Posted 26 October 2011 - 06:36 PM

Homemade wine usually has MORE sulfites. Those that occur naturally in the fermentation process, and a bunch more added because most home vintners are not going to get the kind of shelf life a commercial vintner will get.

Even if OP makes his/her own, it's going to have SOME sulfites in it. There's no getting around this.
Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

#6 highchef

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Posted 26 October 2011 - 07:04 PM

I stand educated.

#7 ScoopKW

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Posted 26 October 2011 - 07:34 PM

http://ecowine.com/sulfites.htm

This is a good read for those who are adverse to sulfites.

(Incidentally, I put sulfites in the same category as MSG. So few people actually effected that it is almost a non-issue. I read somewhere that sulfites have an effect on one in every 100,000 people. I blame the "headaches" most people experience on the alcohol, not the sulfites. Just drink less, and the headaches will usually clear themselves right up.)

But, OP could be one of those 1-in-100,000, so he/she should know there are sulfites in all wines. (A few sulfite-free wines have been produced by mutated yeast, but the wine has the lifespan of a mayfly.)

EDIT -- People who really are allergic aren't experiencing mere "headaches" -- hives, respiratory problems, and cramps of the "Please just shoot me" variety. Not trying to minimize a sulfite allergy. Just pointing out that there are a lot more people who claim to be allergic than actually are, always with symptoms of "headaches whenever I drink a lot of wine."

Edited by ScoopKW, 26 October 2011 - 07:56 PM.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

#8 KatieLoeb

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Posted 26 October 2011 - 10:39 PM

Agree with ScoopKW. More people claim to have allergies than actually have them. And there's no such thing as sulfite free wines. It's nonsense. The sulfites exist as part of the process. Can't be removed. There are more sulfites in a children's tiny snack sized box of raisins than there are in an entire case of wine. If you can eat raisins you can drink wine. If you drink too much wine you will have a headache. End of story.

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#9 ScoopKW

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Posted 27 October 2011 - 06:03 AM

Agree with ScoopKW. More people claim to have allergies than actually have them. And there's no such thing as sulfite free wines. It's nonsense. The sulfites exist as part of the process. Can't be removed. There are more sulfites in a children's tiny snack sized box of raisins than there are in an entire case of wine. If you can eat raisins you can drink wine. If you drink too much wine you will have a headache. End of story.


Just pointing out, the raisins have more sulfites IF they have been treated with them, or with sulfur dioxide, as part of the packaging process. Take a bunch of grapes, dry them in the sun, and the resulting raisins will be quite low in sulfites. But that chemical compound is an integral part of the grape. Live it and lump it.

If it's truly a big problem, there's always beer, sake and distilled spirits. (Although cheap sakes sometimes have sulfites added. But traditionally brewed sake will not.)
Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

#10 BeeZee

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Posted 27 October 2011 - 01:53 PM

I don't want to veer into the medical, since that will get the thread tossed, but suffice to say it's not the imaginary "sulfite headache" some people think of. It's because of an interaction with the preservatives in medicine I take, which are sulfite-based, and when it hits, it's 30 minutes of bad stuff.
Interesting that &roid notes sparkling wine lower on the scale, I have had no problem with drinking Prosecco.
Thanks for your thoughts!
"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast" - Oscar Wilde

#11 ScoopKW

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Posted 27 October 2011 - 04:55 PM

Then why even risk it?

The world is full of complex beverages that don't have any sulfites at all.
Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

#12 BeeZee

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 07:53 AM

Went out to an upscale Italian restaurant the other night and gazed longingly at the wine the table was enjoying, but I did enjoy a Negroni.
The bitterness worked nicely against the other flavors in my meal. That's kind of what I need to figure out, how to find complementary flavors when I don't have the breadth of knowledge of spirit-based drinks vs. wine with meals.
"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast" - Oscar Wilde

#13 ScoopKW

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 09:12 AM

Went out to an upscale Italian restaurant the other night and gazed longingly at the wine the table was enjoying, but I did enjoy a Negroni.
The bitterness worked nicely against the other flavors in my meal. That's kind of what I need to figure out, how to find complementary flavors when I don't have the breadth of knowledge of spirit-based drinks vs. wine with meals.


Well, you can go treat it like a fun-filled journey. Or you can grumble about it, trying to compare other beverages to wine. If I were in your shoes, I'd try to find some local beer tastings. Beer is a far more complex beverage than wine -- at least chemically. And beer pairs with more foods than wine does. (For instance, I've yet to find a wine that really pairs well with chocolate. I can think of 50 beers off the top of my head that pair.)
Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

#14 arielle_j

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 09:58 PM

SccopKW's link cites Dr. Roger Boulton, who I consider to be an excellent authority on wine chemistry. I was going to make a few further comments on a wine chemist's perspective on sulfites in wine but Prof. Andy Waterhouse does a thorough job here http://waterhouse.uc...inecomp/so2.htm

and if you all can excuse a brief moment of friendly pedantry, speaking as an analytical chemist and sensory scientist of wine and food, you'd be on pretty shaky ground to call beer far more chemically complex than wine. Maybe a tie, depending on your criteria, but certainly not vastly more complex. And I find I can love beer just as much in spite of that!

I find classic cocktails like manhattan, old fashioned, martinez, sidecar, and negroni are good starting points, and newer-style cocktails like audrey saunders' madeira martinez or gin-gin mule, things with some good bitterness or acidity and some aromatic complexity, can be really smashing with food. Some of the better NY cocktail bars (if the OP gets up there sometimes) I'm thinking Pegu Club, Amor y Amargo, Death & Co, Mayahuel do a really nice job with pairings and I'm sure could make some excellent recommendations.

#15 Dexter

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Posted 12 November 2011 - 03:03 AM

Two quick notes, and I hope they are helpful:

1. All wines (and beers, and sakes, etc) contain sulfites. As pointed out above, they are a naturally occurring result of fermentation. Most wines have sulfites added to them to prevent rapid oxidation. Biodynamic and Organic wines do not have this addition, however, and may be worth experimenting with.

2. Again, as pointed out above, but with a little more depth: many people that believe they are sulfite sensitive are actually responding to a class of compound called "biogenic amines" - amino acids that have been converted. Histamine is the classic example, but there are literally about a dozen others that cause similar responses in sensitive individuals. These are a consequence of fermentation as well, but there are yeast strains that do not produce these amines in as high a quantity as others. The trick here is to avoid two groups - "wild" fermenters, and particular winemakers/brands that you have had difficulties with. The problem with the winemaker/brand approach is that it's entirely experimental, and may even vary with vintage, to some degree. Wild ferments should be avoided simply because there are multiple strains of saccharomyces working at the same time, and there's just no way to tell what's being made until well after the fact. Particular winemakers are worth noting because many of them have particular strains of yeast that they like to use, or are partial to wild fermentations when they can get away with them. Yeah, it means doing a bit of homework, but with a competent sommelier or bottle shop attendant, you should be off to a good start.

Edited by Dexter, 12 November 2011 - 03:03 AM.


#16 Don Giovanni

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Posted 22 November 2011 - 10:18 AM

I doubt it's the sulfates in wine... if so then you would have died a long time ago eating dried fruits that have 100 times the sulfate in them vrs wine...

histamine is the problem... histidine gets converted to histamine in red wine production during the secondary fermentation.. this is 99% the problem in Red wines... if the equipment is not clean your screwed...

if a wine has less than 10 PPM you will not see that it has sulfates on the label... the wine will be a risk due to bacteria... above 10 PPM you see it on a label... in the US a wine can have 350 ppm in it by law... I find that a wine produced that has 45 PPM is just fine and no need to add SO2 .... it sometime is used as a crutch out of lack of confidence..

#17 Rebel Rose

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Posted 19 August 2012 - 12:29 PM

Canned pineapple and tomatoes are much higher in sulfites, ounce for ounce, than wine. That being said, BeeZee has an interesting point that I've never considered. It must be very difficult to avoid sulfites in food and beverages when taking sulfide-based medication. Yikes.

The whole 'headache = sulfites in wine' mythology is getting old. Allergies to sulfites do not cause headaches, as was pointed out upstream.

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