What are sulphites and should I avoid them?
Join our Director of Hydration, Iain, as he breaks down what a Sulphite is and whether we should be keeping them out of our wine…
One thing we often get asked at Twisted Cellar is what exactly are sulphites? More importantly, whether or not sulphites can leave you with a banging hangover the next day? Hopefully this post will shed a little light on this subject, possibly debunking some common-thought myths in the process!
So, what are sulphites?
Sulphites are chemical compounds that are found naturally in all sorts of food sources, including black tea, dried fruit, eggs, peanuts and fermented foods – it can also be used as a preservative to prevent spoilage. When talking about wine, sulphites most commonly refers to the addition of Sulphur Dioxide (SO2). Naturally occurring as a by-product of grape fermentation, SO2 can also be used as a preservative by a winemaker to ensure their product reaches the consumer the way they would like it to. SO2 can prevent spoilage, maintain a wine’s freshness and keep any microbes at bay that may give your wine funky off-notes that can occur without the addition.
Can sulphites in wine cause hangovers or headaches?
Wine is a fermented fruit juice, of which a natural by product is alcohol – unsurprisingly this is the main cause in a hangover, not sulphites! Some people get headaches only from red wine and some get them just from, say, a very cheaply made, Chilean or Australian wine – this can often be due to a lot of other compounds that are formed in wine e.g. tannins, histamine, tyramine, and flavonoids – that naturally occur and can all be contributing factors. Most people can safely consume the sulphites found in wine with minimal risk of adverse side effects, but this is not to say that certain people don’t have sensitivity to sulphites – Sulphite sensitive people may have a similar reaction to those with a food allergy, which is why sulphur dioxide is one of the main allergens highlighted by the Food Standards authority. Sulphites can trigger asthma, rashes and symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction. Many people who have asthma may also have a sulphite sensitivity as it has to do with histamines and all sorts of other complex science.
How do I tell how much sulphur is in a bottle of wine?
Vineyards must have the levels of sulphur dioxide present on the label – this is a directive employed under strict EU law. All wines contains sulphites. Unfortunately, it’s unavoidable – but that doesn’t mean that if you have a sensitivity you can’t drink wine – most wines contain around 10 milligrams per litre – a pretty miniscule amount. Organic and biodynamic organisations will often go a step-further & have even further restrictions on the amount of SO2 allowed in wines that carry their emblem. Decent natural wines will have levels less than half those imposed by the strictest organic organisations & why we thoroughly support the natural wine movement here at Twisted Cellar. However large-scale commercial made wines, found in most supermarkets & off licences contain from ten to twenty times that amount, as well as a host of other artificial nasties that may lead to that ‘fuzzy-head’ feeling the next day!
What wines to drink if I have a sulphite sensitivity/allergy?
White wines and rosé wines are more prone to oxidation, as such have less skin-contact (where tannins & flavonoids are found) than their red counterpart, & therefore tend to be given larger doses of SO2 to prevent spoilage – however if you insist on drinking white, the dryer the better. Red wines do not usually need added sulphur dioxide because they naturally contain antioxidants, acquired from their skins and stems during the fermentation process, but again try to avoid the mass-produced, high volume, low-end wines.
We think the best solution is to start with increasing the quality of your wine – it’s all about enjoying the whole experience a little more – look for the mark “no added sulphites” – low intervention wines, natural or organic/biodynamic wines. Wines that have character & are made with passion, letting the terroir speak for itself, and minimal human intervention as possible. These will be low in sulphites & often have much more life & vivacity, and in the end just taste better! Twisted Cellar have a great range of wines that are deemed as low-sulphite, natural or minimal intervention – check them out online here.