Sulfites are present in wines as they happen to be a byproduct of the process of fermentation. Read this Tastessence article to know the difference between the two terms "no sulfites added" and "no sulfites detected", along with seizing hold of some of best sulfite-free wines.
Who Reigns Supreme?
Although Italy is the world’s biggest wine producer, the Chinese are the world’s biggest red wine consumers. When it comes to wine (all categories) per capita, the French drink more wine than the Chinese. Can you guess which country is at the top of the list? Vatican City, the smallest country in the world, drinks the most wine per capita!
A group of sulfur-based compounds is known as sulfites, and they can occur naturally in beer and wine as a result of yeast metabolism during fermentation. Sometimes, they are added to foods to make them better and attractive, and also as a preservative. They are present in a number of food items like baked goods, molasses, soup mixes, dried fruits, canned vegetables, pickled foods, juices, guacamole, etc. People diagnosed with the deficiency of enzymes that are necessary to break down sulfites in their body and those diagnosed with asthma are sensitive to sulfites. They may exhibit symptoms of a severe asthma attack or symptoms of a severe allergic reaction like an outbreak of hives. A label stating “sulfites 10 parts per million (ppm) or above” is compulsory in the U.S. A wine bottle sold in the U.S. with a label “contains sulfites” may not have such a label in other countries.
Why Sulfites Are Added to Wines
Sulfites help increase the shelf life of wines, especially white wines. Addition of sulfur salts, sulfur dioxide solutions, or SO2 gas to wines at various stages during the manufacturing process helps them to stabilize. It makes them less susceptible to oxidation. It, thus, helps prevent the development of foul odor and keeps them fresh. If SO2 is not added, then the wine bottle needs to be stored carefully as per norms. As there is no guarantee that the consumer will store the bottle in a correct way, wine makers prefer to add SO2 to increase its shelf life.
List of Sulfite-free Wines
Various brands are known for their delicate and true flavors of wines. Taking into consideration the increasing demand, more and more varieties of sulfite-free wines are being produced by the popular brands.
Frey Organic Wines
The manufacturers claim that they have never added sufites or any other synthetic additive to their wines since they started producing wines (1980). It is America’s first organic winery. They say that their wines usually contain 0 ppm to 5 ppm of naturally occurring sulfites, though most measure 0 ppm.
If you like it, you can order organic sweet wines such as “Zinfandel” and “Dessertage”. Several other varieties like Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Syrah, Agriculturist, etc., are available in shops.
Pizzolato Wines from Italy
Pizzolato Merlot, Pizzolato Cabernet Sauvignon, Pizzolato 50% Merlot & 50% Cabernet are some of the best wines, which do not contain any added sulfite.
Coturri Winery, Sonoma, USA
Phil and Tony Coturri are well-known for their wines without sulfites. They have been producing wines since the last 45 years and have mastered the art of winemaking. They are best known for their Zinfandel.
Bodegas Iranzo Fields from Spain
Spartico Tempranillo comes with the label “no sulfur added”. It is made from organically grown grapes, and hygienic conditions are strictly followed during the process of winemaking. Estate Finca Cañada Honda is known for the best quality soil and maximum sunlight exposure that is essential for perfect ripening of grapes. Some of the available written evidences show that the Iranzo Pérez-Duque family were the owners of the vineyard estate Cañada Honda in 1335!
Domaine Pierre Frick from Alsace, France
Jean-Pierre Frick, a grower and winemaker, is well-known for organic viticulture. The wines produced without adding sulfites are quite delicious and worth trying. For example, Pierre Frick Strangenberg Pinot.
Orleans Hill Winery, California
Tony Norskog and Donn Berdahl distribute 150,000 cases of USDA-certified organic wine each year to 46 states. They are the world’s largest producers of USDA-certified organic wine. “Our Daily Red”, the flagship product, is available in almost all grocery stores for less than USD 10. The Alexandria and Zinfandel varietals are also quite popular. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cote Zero are some other examples. The manufacturers claim that their wines are literally sulfite-free and hence, come with the label “no sulfites detected”. They say that they actually remove the natural sulfites during the manufacturing process.
Battle of Bosworth Wines, Australia
The Australian-certified organic Shiraz produced by one of the Australia’s leading wine producers is quite elegant and refined. The Bosworth vineyard is situated in the heart of the McLaren Vale wine region. Puritan Shiraz contains “no added preservatives.”
Marcel Lapierre Vineyards from Beaujolais, France
Marcel Lapierre, located in the Morgon appellation of Beaujolais, initiated his own vintage in 1981, wherein he began his own production of naturally fermented wines with low or no sulfur in them. The Morgon and the Raisins Gaulois are known for wonderful purity of fruit.
Some Important Facts
✦ Several studies show that sulfites in wine do not cause headache. Other compounds like tannin, alcohol, and histamines are more likely to cause headache.
✦ Red wine does not contain excessive sulfites. In fact, less sulfur dioxide is needed for stabilization and protection of red wine as tannin present in it acts as a natural antioxidant.
✦ Various other foods contain more sulfites than wines. The levels can be as high as 1000 ppm in dried fruits. Sulfites in wines are usually way below the maximum permitted levels.
✦ The label “no sulfites added” means the manufacturer has not added any additional SO2 during the manufacturing process. Still, the wine would contain some amount of sulfites as they are a natural byproduct of yeast fermentation.
✦ According to the U.S. laws, organic wines (and any other certified organic food) cannot have “added SO2“. They can have under 10 ppm of naturally occurring sulfites. In such cases, the producers can claim that their wines “contain no detectable sulfites”. Wine “made with organic grapes” can have 150 ppm added sulfite. A biodynamic wine can contain 100 ppm of added sulfite. For different types of wines, the norms are different.
Foods like Parmigiana, fresh and frozen shrimp, potato chips, apple cider, ocean whitefish, eggs, etc., naturally contain more sulfites than wines, and no one has ever reported about headache after eating these foods. Only those who are allergic to sulfites need to take care before incorporating such drinks and foods in their diet.
Modern researches and technology have helped to develop better viticultural practices. With better quality grapes (avoiding breakage, bacteria attacks, and rotting), improved winery hygiene, and easily available information about the role played by SO2 during winemaking, more and more manufacturers are producing wines without adding sulfites.