September 10, 2023 by Alyssa Taylor
The Sunday Sip: Sulfites
Q: What are sulfites? Is that what is causing me to feel crummy?
A: Sulfites are a form of sulfur, which are a natural by-product of fermentation that is present in all wines to some degree. They act as a natural antioxidant and antimicrobial to help preserve wine and slow chemical reactions, which cause a wine to go bad. Kind of a funny analogy, but you can almost think of them as like a person’s natural deodorant.
According to the FDA, sulfite sensitivities are rare, and have only been documented in about 1% of individuals. The Cleveland Clinic even reported that If you’re not asthmatic, sulfite sensitivity would be very unusual, and If you do have asthma, your chances of being sensitive to sulfites is in the range of between 1 in 40, and 1 in 100. They get such a bad ‘rep’ because they are really the only ingredient we can find mentioned on a wine bottle, but sulfites in wine are surprisingly lower than a lot of other foods and liquids that we intake. For example, sulfites present in much higher quantities in processed foods – think french fries, potato chips, cured meats, baked goods, snack foods, frozen seafood and fruits, dried fruits (like raisins), condiments, and other fermented beverages like beer and cider. To put it into perspective, the amount that we find used in small productions of wine is 1/3 of what is in a single raisin.
To answer the age-old question, sulfites are not generally the cause of your wine headache or what is causing you to feel crummy. In fact, true aversions to sulfites cause respiratory allergy-like symptoms i.e. wheezing, hay fever, tight chest, and hives – not headaches or migraines. Oftentimes, symptoms like a headache are caused by simple dehydration, high-alcohol wines, high-sugar wines, high-tannic wines, and other additives used in winemaking including coloring and specific cultured yeasts.
It can get a little tricky though, because while sulfites are naturally occurring and not generally the ‘crummy’ cause, there are ‘fake’ sulfites or heavy doses of sulfur that can still be added into some wines to alter the taste. We often find this happening with mass-produced wines. I.e. The cheaper the wine the less viable it is from a business perspective to create a wholesome product from quality ingredients.
So regardless of sensitivity, you can absolutely find a good wine without, or very little use of them. Fortunately, several ‘natural’ styles of wine do not use sulfites in processing and are widely available with their increasing popularity. Try and find an importer you can trust… for ex. Argaux/Amliere, Kermit Lynch, Skurnik, Oliver McCrum, etc. Look for those names on the back for bottles to know they have been vetted.
Here at Argaux, how we source our wines is incredibly important to us and our community. Our bottom line is small production, and we’re constantly looking for wines made with as little manipulation as possible. Check out some of these natural wines from the Argaux shop.