The truth about sulphites

SulphitesConsumers are becoming increasingly more health conscious and in the wake of post-Christmas gluttony, cleaner living and eating is at the front of mind for many.

But this move towards a healthier lifestyle isn’t just limited to food anymore – it’s also influencing consumer wine choices, with more and more wine drinkers seeking out ‘natural’ or ‘sulphite free’ wines.

There are various arguments for natural wine – from it being ‘minimal intervention winemaking’ and ‘a true reflection of terroir’, to more far-fetched ideas that these wines ‘won’t give you a hangover!’ Rather like the board outside a pub that promises free beer inside: if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Because a very small percentage of the population (less than 1%) is allergic to sulphites, it is a legal requirement that any wine containing more than 10mg/L of sulphur dioxide be labelled with the warning ‘Contains Sulphites’. For the rest of us that hangover is most likely the result of too much alcohol, rather than the comparatively small quantity of sulphur dioxide that goes with it.

There are two types of sulphur dioxide in wine. The first is produced naturally as a result of the fermentation process, which is why no matter what anyone tells you, it is literally impossible to make a wine that is completely sulphite free.

Although sulphites are natural preservatives, the amount produced by fermentation alone isn’t enough to keep a wine fresh for long periods of time. So many winemakers add sulphur dioxide to protect wine from oxidation, bacteria and unwanted re-fermentation.

But wine isn’t the only source of sulphites. To put this into perspective, the human body contains around 140g of sulphites naturally, while there are many other products out there that contain far more sulphites than wine and usually don’t carry the same ominous label. This includes dried fruit, condiments, fruit juice, cereal, medicine, shampoo and detergent.

The interest in and move towards a healthier lifestyle will become more and more influential in the hospitality sector – consumers are already drinking less but better, driving the premiumisation trend. Being clued up and knowledgeable about wine and what’s inside the bottle is more important than ever, helping you acknowledge the truths and dispel the myths.

Want to learn more about wine? Our training team offer various courses, from Wine Foundation to WSET.

23rd January 2017

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