What to Know About Sulfites in Wines?
Updated: May 10
You’ve surely seen the phrase “contains sulfites” when selecting wines. However, you probably did not give it too much thoughts. There’s a lot more to know when it comes to sulfites and their role in the winemaking process. Today, let's learn more about sulfites with us and discover their role in the natural wine movement around the world.
Soooo, What are Sulfites?
Sulfites are widely used in winemaking as food preservative, thanks to their ability to maintain the flavor and freshness of wine. While they're found in many foods and beverages, they're particularly associated with a long list of side effects related to wine consumption, including the dreaded wine-induced headache.
How Are Sulfites Used by Winemakers in the Winemaking Process?
Most commonly, sulfites are used as a way to prevent oxidation or spoilage of wine, as such, sulfites can be added either during the winemaking process or at the bottling stage. This is to ensure the stability of the wines before they are transported to stores and stay on shelves. Historically, preservatives have always been a part of the winemaking process, dating all the way back to the Roman times. The Romans might have added resin or sea water to prevent (or mask) spoilage and burned sulfur candles in wine vessels. The modern use of sulfur in the process of winemaking began in the early 1900s.
Nowadays, conventional or mass-production winemakers can still add sulfur at various stages of production, from the moment the grapes are harvested from the vineyard, during the racking process to all the way until the wines are bottled.
Sulfites versus the Natural Wine Movement
Winemakers that support the natural wine movement are focused on limited intervention to the wine from vines to bottles. Sulfites that are contained in your wines can be “added sulfites” or "naturally occurring sulfites".
For "added sulfites", winemakers add sulfites intentionally to prevent oxidation in wines or prevent spoilage. This is common in traditional and conventional winemaking process. Added sulfites are also known for altering the color of the wine, the taste and the smell. For “naturally occurring sulfites”, sulfites can also occur organically during the fermentation process. Normally, these sulfites are not enough to be a long-term preservative.
In the end, Are Sulfites Good or Bad for us?
Well, this depends on you, the buyer who purchase the bottle. It is helpful to note that small additions of sulfites has been around for decades, even in natural wines.