So you’re looking for wine without sulfites? Or perhaps you simply want to learn about what sulfites are, why they’re contained in wine in the first place, and whether you should be concerned about them. You have come to the right place. We have put together some details around what sulfites are, why they are harmful to some people, and some good options for sulfite free wines for those that would like to avoid them.
Is There Such a Thing as Wine Without Sulfites?
Let me just start off by saying that there is no such thing as wine without sulfites and there is no such thing as a wine that is completely sulfite free. This goes for both red and white wines. This is because sulfites develop naturally as a by-product of fermentation which is a process that all wines go through. This means they are present in each and every wine, beer, and cheese (or anything else that goes through fermentation for that matter). These are naturally occurring sulfites and are generally present in very small quantities (anywhere ranging from 6 to 4o parts per million).
In addition to the naturally occurring sulfites, many winemakers will intentionally add more sulfites to the wine to prevent it from spoiling. The added sulfites prevent oxidation (browning) and increase the shelf life of the wine, allowing it to age and develop it’s full flavor potential. This practice goes as far back as ancient Egypt. In addition to wine, Sulfites are also added to many other types of processed foods such as olives, jams, pickles, canned seafood, maple syrup and many others. An example of how wine compares to some other food types in terms of sulfite content can be seen in the image below from Wine Folly.
The FDA now requires domestic wines, beers, and spirits that contain more than 10 parts per million (ppm) of sulfites to disclose it on their label with a “contains sulfite” warning. When the threshold of 10 ppm isn’t reached, no disclosure is required on the label. These wines have generally become known as sulfite-free wines, however, this doesn’t mean that the wine is completely free of sulfites. In order for a wine to qualify as organic, it generally can’t have any added sulfites either.
Should I Avoid Sulfites or Be Concerned About Them?
In most cases, the answer is no. For the majority of people added sulfites do not present a problem and are perfectly fine to consume. If you are able to eat other foods that contain high amounts of sulfites (such as bacon, raisins, etc.) you should not have a problem. If sulfites were an issue for you and you were able to eat those foods, you would have certainly noticed it by now.
Having said that, there is very small amount of the population (about 1%) that has a sensitivity towards sulfites. Ingesting sulfites can mean serious discomfort, respiratory problems, hives, welling, and gastrointestinal discomfort for these individuals that typically starts after 20 to 30 minutes after consuming sulfites. This is why the FDA now requires wines to carry a “contains sulfites” warning label for wines, beers, and spirits that contain more than 10 ppm of sulfites.
In the video below, Rob Moshein does a good job explaining the “mystery of sulfites” in relation to allergies and whether you should be concerned about them.
Are You Sensitive to Sulfites?
If you do feel that you have some sensitivity to sulfites, there are a number of ways you can limit your exposure to them.
Option 1: Buy a Large Decanter and Aerate Your Wine
Aerating your wine will allow the excess sulfur dioxide to escape. You can do this using a decanter like the Wine Enthusiast Vivid Wine Decanter. I particularly like this one because of the broad base allowing maximum exposure to the air. Decanting your wine will not only allow the sulfur to escape, but it will also make your wine taste better. How long to decant your wine is a topic that could warrant another article, but as a general rule of thumb you would want to aerate older (10 years or more) and more fragile wines shorter (for around 30 minutes) while a younger and more vigorous wine should be aerated slightly longer (an hour or more). This is plenty of time for the excess free sulfur in your wine to react with oxygen in the air and escape the wine.
Option 2: Look for “No Sulfite Added” (NSA) Wines
The second option is to look for wines that have no sulfite added. It can often be difficult to find a good NSA wine simply due to the fact that it is a lot more difficult to age these types of wine. They are often more fragile and may spoil easily as a result of the missing sulfites. It is also recommended to consume the wine within 18 months of bottling for this reason and it is extremely important that they are stored correctly. The best selection of NSA wines available that we have found is those from The Organic Wine Company which was set up by Veronique Raskin who is an expert in the area.
Wrapping it Up…
To wrap it up, for most people drinking wine with sulfites is not an issue and should not really be a concern. You are likely consuming foods on a daily basis that have a far higher sulfite content. The best tip that we have is to simply look for wine from a reputable producer since they have nothing to gain by adding excess sulfites to the wine other than to stabilize it so that it ages nicely. Putting too much sulfites into the wine makes it taste badly, and that is the last thing a winemaker is looking for.
For the small percentage of people that do have a sensitivity for sulfites, the best way is to aerate your wine with a decanter, or look for NSA wines. Although this won’t completely eliminate all sulfites, it will significantly limit the amount that you ingest and should significantly reduce any side effects that you may usually experience when drinking wine.