In the beginning, we were truly astonished by our initial sales of sulphite-free wines. It is such a pleasure to also find ourselves helpful to people who are suffering from allergic reactions to wine. Yet they do want to enjoy a glass or two!
Let’s not waste any time here, what are sulphite-free wines (other spellings include sulfites, sulphates or no sulphite added wines, sulfite-free etc), why are they different and why are they in wine?
What are sulphites?
Sulphites or ‘preservative E220’ are additives that are used during the winemaking process to hide some faults, prevent oxygen from entering the vats and, in general, protect the winemaker from accidental flaws. In the conventional winemaking process, it is fairly usual that a significant amount of sulphites (not threatening to general health) is added.
Just to make sure that this is open to everyone – there will be a number of sulphites that occurs naturally in every wine, organic or not. If the amount is really low and normally below 10 ppm (parts per million) or less, it will be undetectable to everyone who consumes them, from wine, mineral water or any other naturally produced beverage.
For organic winemaking, the rules are very clear, the total sulphite level, which is naturally occurring and any added sulphites, must be less than 100 mg/l for red wines and 120 mg/l for white wines. It means that an organically certified wine does not automatically guarantee that the wine will not have any sulphites added.
For natural winemaking or simple practices that follow minimal intervention, call for sulphite levels not to be as low as possible. The preference is to harvest organic grapes, make the wine naturally with no added sulphites, sugars or yeasts. With wines of this kind, they will most probably only add sulphites if required at the bottling stage of the winemaking process, and usually only add 2-4 mg/l.
Why we should watch for sulphites? Learn about sulphites in wine
They are quite aggressive preservatives and scientific studies show evidence that they can trigger allergic reactions or more severe symptoms (i.e. fast heartbeat, dizziness, stomach upset). It can be even life-threatening for people with asthma. For the majority of us, these levels are not really a big deal, but the good thinking is that you are NOT allergic to sulphites. Your intolerance levels will vary, but humans could not survive if you were allergic to naturally occur sulphites.
So if you are keen on a particular wine that is not organic or made with no added sulphites, it is OK! Some studies claim that sulphites are responsible for that ‘morning after’ headache, but it is just too difficult to distinguish between low tolerance, too much wine in general and sulphites’ influence. We will leave it to you to decide!
Natural winemaking is a gamble – what if the weather turns out to be austere or there would be some interruptions during fermentation? There are no easy means (like additives or extra manipulation) how to get this wine to taste good. Yet these wines can taste differently in a good way – they can surprise and spark your imagination. You need to try a few good ones to make your own opinion!
What are sulphite-free wines?
Both red and white wines normally require some addition of sulphites – be it to prevent the wine from oxidation (predominantly whites, not to lose their delicate flavours) or to age wines well (red wines mostly as aged wines are valued more normally). Winemakers that don’t do it risk it a lot – possible faults and simply unforeseen circumstances (things happen, we all know that!). So in general sulphite-free wines are fresher, younger, not particularly destined for ageing and very expressive of the grape variety. On the less positive side, these wines can have that off-smell of a rotten egg or something similar, it could be because of a fault or a by-product (small) of fermentation (that wasn’t cushioned by the addition of sulphites). Yet for us the priorities remain the same – the wine should smell and taste wonderful.
Sulphite free wines: why do some of them have ‘contains sulphites’ on the label?
All wines contain naturally occurring sulphites, but the levels are very low – up to 20 mg/l. By EU laws only the wines that contain less than 10 mg/l do not need to include that on the label. We have referenced all wines and the ones that are listed as sulphite-free or no sulphite added have less than 20 mg/l of sulphites. Medical science from around the world has repeatedly shown that people who suffer from intolerances only start noticing it when the concentration exceeds 45 mg/l only.