Preserving the truth on sulphates in wine
Recently, one of our Members got in touch to ask about preservative 220, which you might have seen listed on the back label of bottle of wine. She wanted to know whether it can cause allergic reactions and whether it’s used in organic and biodynamic wine.
Tasting Panellist Dave Mavor came to the rescue with an explanation and helped set the record straight on the use of sulphites in wine and their impact on wine drinkers.
WHAT PRESERVATIVES ARE IN WINE?
“I can tell you that the sulphur dioxide used in winemaking is less than many other products that we consume every day, like dried fruits, some beer, and preserved meats" - Dave Mavor, Tasting Panellist.
The main preservative used in wine is sulphur dioxide, which you’ll see on the label as ‘preservative 220’, ‘minimal sulphur dioxide added’ or ‘contains sulphites’. Sulphur dioxide is added in the winemaking process to protect the wine from oxidation and bacterial spoilage.
“I can tell you that the sulphur dioxide used in winemaking is less than many other products that we consume every day, like dried fruits, some beer, and preserved meats, for instance,” says Dave.
“It has been used as a preservative in wine since Roman times. And don’t be fooled into thinking that because preservatives aren’t listed on European wines that they’re not present, it’s just that they don’t have the same strict labelling laws as Australia.”
Dave tasting wine at Tyrrells
IMPACT ON HEALTH AND TIPS
Do sulphite preservatives harm the body?
The amount of sulphur dioxide winemakers are allowed to add to wine in Australia is strictly controlled to a limit of 250 milligrams per litre. With such low levels it is unlikely to cause any health issues, however, some people feel they are quite sensitive to it, or perhaps you’re one of the unlucky few to have a severe intolerance to it.
If you do have sensitivity to sulphites, here are some tips:
- There tends to be higher levels of sulphur dioxide added to white wines as they are more susceptible to oxidation, whereas the tannins in red wines act as a natural preservative. If you have symptoms from drinking red wine, it’s more likely to be from the histamines.
- Age also affects the sulphur dioxide levels in a wine, as it dissipates over time, so if you’re sensitive to sulphur dioxide, go for older wines.
- There is less sulphur dioxide used in organic and biodynamic wines. Certification allows 50 per cent of what can be used under conventional standards.
- Preservative-free wines don’t have sulphur dioxide added, however, it can also be a natural product of fermentation and is therefore often present even if it hasn’t been deliberately added. Also, without added preservatives, the wine will be very susceptible to spoilage by oxidation, so it needs to be consumed straightaway – which is not a bad thing.
The amount of Sulpur dioxide winemakers are allowed to add to wine in Australia is strictly controlled.
CAN YOU NEUTRALISE SULPHITES IN WINE?
You might have noticed the recent emergence of products that claim to remove the sulphur dioxide from your wine.
“These are simply made up of diluted hydrogen peroxide, a chemical that could be much more harmful to most people than sulphites,” explains Dave. “While this is a chemical sometimes used in the winery when too much sulphur has been accidently added to a wine, it’s extremely controlled by winemakers with a thorough understanding of the chemical process.”
“Remember that if you add too much hydrogen peroxide to a wine it will go off and you will have spoilt all the winemaker’s hard work!”
So, how do you reduce the sulphites in wine or make sulphite free wine?
You can try one these products on the market and see if adding it makes a difference for you, or you can simply choose a ‘no added sulphite’ wine. You can find these by checking the labels when you’re shopping for your wine.