If you have ever been sitting around the dinner table after a delicious meal and a few glasses of wine with friends or family, there is a good chance that you picked up the wine bottle and glanced at the label on the back. Those of you with an inquisitive mind and a thirst for knowledge have probably read the words “May Contain Sulphites” and wondered to yourself, what are sulphites.
Sulphites are a chemical ingredient that is added to wine during the wine making process that cleans and sterilizes the equipment. This is called potassium bisulfite. If the equipment was not properly sterilized, harmful bacteria would get into the brew and destroy it. Well, not destroy it completely, but it would end up as vinegar, which would be disastrous to any wine maker that is trying to be profitable.
Sulphites in wine are also a preservative. Wine without sulphites in them have a much shorter shelf life. Some winemakers prefer to not use sulphites during the fermentation process but instead will wait until their wine is complete to add them as a preservative.
Another use for this chemical is to stop the fermentation process. Adding it to any batch of wine or beer will kill off the yeast that is necessary to convert sugar into alcohol. This creates a sweeter wine that is more commonly known as a dessert wine.
Wine with sulphites in it is not dangerous to healthy people, it can however, be harmful to people who are allergic to it. Generally the amount of it is so low that any allergic reactions to sulphites are not life threatening.
Wine makers are required to add the “Contains Sulphites” warning whenever the sulphites in their wine are over 10 ppm (parts per million), which is an extremely low amount.
Some people are more taste sensitive than others and will generally avoid wines with sulphites in them because it tastes more like a freshly struck match than they would like.
One common myth is that red wine contains more sulphites and causes headaches. The truth is that red wines contain less than their white wine and dessert wine counterparts. What causes headaches while drinking red wine is the tannins that are present. Tannins are found in the skins and seeds of the grapes that are left in during the wine making process. Tannin causes the dry feeling on your tounge while drinking red wines.
If you are looking for wines without sulphites, you can always ask your local wine merchant. They will most likely have a vast knowledge about the subject and be able to lead you in the right direction. If not, it is time to find a new wine merchant.