Sulphites in Wine

Graph of sulphites in wine

On the label of all wine bottles you will see “Contains Sulphites”
Why Are Sulphites in Wine?
Sulphite is added to wine to help as a preservative and slow down the chemical reactions that make wine go off.
 (Ever open a wine and it’s bad by the next day?)
The process of using sulphites in wine has been around for as far back as ancient Rome. Back in Roman times, winemakers would burn candles made of sulphur in empty wine containers (called Amphora) to keep the wines from turning to vinegar. Sulphur started to be used in winemaking (instead of just cleaning wine barrels) in the early 1900s to stop bacteria and other yeasts from growing.
Are Sulphites in Wine Bad?
Not for most people.
Sulphites aren’t the cause of red wine headaches.
However, if you have asthma, there is about a 5-10% chance you have sulphite sensitivity.
The law requires wine to be labeled for sulphites if it contains above 10 parts per million (PPM – or 10 mg/L).
How Much Sulphur is in Wine?
A well made dry red wines typically has about 50 mg/l (5 parts per million) sulphites.
Wines with lower acidity need more sulfites than higher acidity wines.
At pH 3.6 and above wines are much less stable and sulphites are necessary for shelf-life.
Wines with more colour (i.e. red wines) tend to need less sulphites than clear wines (i.e. white wines). A typical dry white wine may have around 100 parts per million whereas a typical dry red wine will have around 50–75 parts per million.
Higher sugar content wines tend to need more sulphites to prevent secondary fermentation of the remaining sugar.
Very sensitive tasters have been noted to smell sulphur compounds in wine, although sulphur compounds are somewhat unrelated to sulphites. Sulphur compounds in wine, called thiols, range in flavour from citrus-like smells to cooked egg-like smells.
What’s interesting is that the warmer the wine, the more molecular sulphur it releases. This is why some wines have a nasty cooked-egg aroma when you open them. You can fix this issue by decanting your wine and chilling for about 15-30 minutes.
Should I Be Concerned About Sulphites in Wine?
If you have sensitivity to sulphites in foods such as french fries, cured meats, cheese, and canned soup you should try to keep to sulphite-free wines. Or, just eliminate wine altogether (especially if you are doing an elimination diet).
Fortunately, several natural wines do not use sulphites in processing. These wines can taste a lot different to what you’re used, but some are fantastic!
If you look at the above chart you will see that a good quality wine will contain a lot less sulphites than industrially produced wines and certainly less than the food you eat on a day to day basis.
An interesting article by Jancis Robinson about additives in wine can be read by clicking this link.