Sulfites in Wine: What’s the fuss?

The label on wine reading, “contains sulfites” has been causing some concern lately, but many people don’t realize what sulfites actually are.

What are sulfites?  Sulfites, or sulfur dioxide, are a sulfur-based compound that is found in many foods.  Sulfite occurs naturally in foods such as garlic and eggs and is added to many other types of food to preserve freshness and prevent it from quickly spoiling.

Why wine contains sulfites Sulfites are a preservative added to wine to keep it fresh and maintain the color.  Sulfur has been used to preserve wine for thousands of years, with ancient Roman winemakers burning candles with sulfur in empty wine barrels to keep it fresh.  Despite its extended history, the FDA recently began to require foods, such as wine, to be labeled “contains sulfite” so people with sulfite allergies (only about 1% of the U.S.) are aware.

Misconceptions about sulfite Many people have been misled to believe that sulfite is the cause of “red wine headaches” and other allergy-type reactions.  In reality, sulfite is usually harmless and is not the cause of any reaction.  Very few people actually have an allergy to sulfite, and this allergy would most likely be noticed in other foods that contain higher levels of sulfite—such as dried apricots. Products like dried fruit contain up to 10 times the amount of sulfites wine does, and the headaches experienced by some people after drinking red wine are likely due to the dehydration caused by any kind of alcohol or pollen that had naturally settled in the skin of the grapes.  Even organic wines contain small amounts of sulfites.

In summary, sulfites are essentially harmless and should not deter from enjoying a glass of wine unless diagnosed with an allergy.  So uncork that bottle and drink up!