Every now and then, certain wine labels have warnings about sulfites, and some even advertise “no added sulfites.” Should you be worried about sulfites? The thing is, these can be severe allergens to a small number of people. But if you’re not allergic, there’s one very good reason not to avoid them.
What Are Sulfites?
Sulfites are a particular type of chemical compound of sulfur and oxygen; they occur naturally in wine in very small amounts. During fermentation, winemakers typically add them to wine to prevent spoiling and oxidation. Most wines contain between 25 and 150 parts per million (ppm) of sulfites.
What’s So Bad About Sulfites?
Some people, particularly asthma sufferers, experience respiratory distress, including coughing or difficulty breathing, from high levels of sulfites in food or wine. Allergic reactions like red or itchy skin can occur, too, but they’re fairly rare. Headaches after drinking red wine are sometimes attributed to high sulfite levels, but the connection is tenuous.
Fermentation naturally produces sulfites, so they pretty much occur in all wines. However, some winemakers produce bottles with no added sulfites. These may be advertised as sans souffre—French for “without sulfur.” Organic wines are also typically low in sulfites since U.S. law limits sulfite levels in organic wines.
The Problem With Low-Sulfite Wines
Wines without added sulfites are very vulnerable to oxidation and therefore don’t age well. If you need to avoid sulfites, choose young wines, which are less likely to be spoiled. Red wine may also be a better choice—although low-sulfite reds can still spoil faster, their high tannin levels act as preservatives.
The Best Wines Without Added Sulfites
American wineries that produce wine without added sulfites include:
- Frey Vineyards
- Donkey & Goat
- Badger Mountain
The following wineries have some great imported options:
- Domaine Valentin Zusslin
- Château le Puy