Wine Life

Why do wine bottles all say “Contains Sulphites”?

Those inclined to study the back labels of things may have noticed that just about every bottle of wine contains the warning “Contains Sulphites.” In fact, along with the alcohol percentage and the warnings against abuse, the law requires wines to point this out to anyone who might be drinking the wine. Sulphites have become a hot topic in recent years and have shouldered the blame for everything from headaches, blocked sinuses to debilitating hangovers. Wineries are now even beginning to market wines as being “Low Sulphite Content,” and “Sulphite Free.” So what’s the deal with sulphites, then?

Sulphites are a naturally occurring by-product of the fermentation process. Their role is to ‘arrest’ fermentation. but they also serve a role as a preservative.

This hasn’t stopped some producers from creating sulphite-free wines. The irony is that any sulphites in the wine are removed after the wine has been made! This is a chemical process, far too complicated for me to understand, but it means  you are ultimately buying a wine that is more processed and more chemical than a regular, sulphite-containing wine. Many producers are making ‘organic wines’  – wines with “no added sulphur”. If you are dead-against sulphites, then this classification of wine is the least fiddled with, and by far the most natural.

The important thing to note is that sulphur is generally required to make stable wine that can be transported to its various export destinations around the world as well as possibly age, if that was the intention. Different countries have different ranges of sulphur levels they are allowed to add. The key is therefore to focua on producers who add the least possible amount, and remain sympathetic to the winemaking process as possible.

Here’s the thing, though, the next time the topic of sulphites comes up over a bottle of wine; Sulphites are everywhere. One rasher of bacon contains as many sulphites as an entire bottle of wine. There are sulphites in bananas, raisins, and a whole host of other foods. So ask your next friend that refuses a glass of vino, citing that, “It gives me a headache,” ask them if they eat bacon or bananas. If you can eat a rasher of bacon without issue, you can definitely have a glass of wine.

So why the warning? Well, a small group of people – 0.01%, in fact – have a deadly sulphite allergy, similar to peanuts or bee stings. If they for some reason don’t know wine has sulphites in it, things could get ugly.

As for the usual complaints of headaches and the like, the cause is likely much simpler – drink more water, especially if you’re indulging.