Sulphites in Wine
A compound made up of a range of sulphur compounds including Sulphur-dioxide. Sulphites appear in wine in two forms: natural and added. Natural sulphides exist in every single bottle of wine you will drink in your lifetime, as it is a naturally forming compound produced during fermentation.
For the wines with added sulphites added to them, the winemakers do it for the purpose of longevity. Wines only last for several decades if they have a compound within them to fight off the unwanted bacteria and yeasts forming over the years. Even the compounds added into the wine are natural, they are a simple make up of sulphur and oxygen that help battle unwanted microbes as your wine ages to perfection.
Historically, sulphites have been the pillar on which anti-alcohol campaigners stand upon. Since the 1970s, when the campaigners pushed for wine to list all ingredients and lost, there has been a growing stigma around the compound. It was in the 1980s where there was a rise in sulphur allergic reactions, all due to the amount of sulphur in preservatives (dried fruit and fast food) that the scare factor of sulphites in wine really came to fruition. FDA declared that wines with more than 10mg/l of sulphites must label their bottles with ‘contains sulphites’. With this in place wine is still on a completely separate tier to the health risks circulating at the time from which dangerous levels of sulphites (3500mg/l) in dried fruit was the focus, as wine was at an average of 80mg/l.
The concept of ‘sulphite free’ wines is only apparent with wines that have less that 10mg/l and have special permission to keep it off the label. But as many liken it to peanuts, if you are not allergic to peanuts then you would not spend time looking for items that don’t contain peanuts. Similarly for wine, there is no need to avoid it if it doesn’t cause you to have an allergic reaction.
Considered a myth, it cannot be the sulphites in wine that cause the headaches so many drinkers end up with. Research has presented the idea that it is one of two elements that causes the headaches; drinking too much and reacting to histamines. A much higher proportion of people have to take antihistamines during hay fever season than people allergic to sulphur. For those that suffer from hay fever, red wine can have a similar effect as the red winemaking processes tend to cause more histamines to form (contrastingly there is often more sulphites in white wine). For everyone else, it is considered to be the amount drunk rather than the substance that is drunk, as wine has the dehydrating effect for which water is an apt solution.