There is no wrong way to treat yourself with a glass of wine. However, there are good and some less-good options. No matter how well you are acquainted with wine, chances are you have heard about sulphites. There are wines with added sulphites and low sulphite wines. There has always been a debate about whether or not this compound can spell trouble for your health.
What Are Sulphites?
The term ‘sulphites’ refers to sulphur dioxide (SO2). Sulphites in wine are naturally created during the process of fermentation when SO2 and water (which is, in fact, 80% of the wine) mix. Basically, all wines have sulphites, which means that even if the wine is labelled as “sulphite-free”, it still contains natural sulphites. To be more precise, the “sulphite-free” label means that the wine is made without added sulphites (aka lab-created, synthetic sulphites).
Synthetic sulphites can act as preservatives and antioxidants, namely for drinks and food. They reduce the browning on fruits and vegetables, prevent the growth of bacteria and yeast in wine, and can even stabilize the potency of medications. Plenty of foods, such as canned soups, dried fruit, prepackaged deli meats, etc. have added sulphites, while others like eggs, black tea, chocolate, and fermented food (pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut, etc.) contain natural sulphites. When it comes strictly to wine, the added sulphites ensure its stability by killing off active yeast and bacteria and protect it from oxygen. Adding sulphur may be helpful in various scenarios. For instance, when you’ve just harvested a bunch of grapes and it’s really hot and you want to prevent fermentation. Or, when the wine is meant to be exported, it needs sulphur to prevent re-fermenting during shipment.
If you were wondering do sulfites cause headaches, you’ll be happy to learn that there is no real scientific connection between sulphites and headaches. Generally, it is more likely that the tannins, the high alcohol content, or some additives added to wine in order to flavour it, cause post-wine headaches. To avoid such a headache, try drinking water alongside your wine or look for lower ABV juice (11-13%). Also, it’s advisable to stay away from mass-produced wine as it sure contains as many chemicals as a cheap soda.
Why Low Sulphite Wine Tastes Better?
There is something special about wine made with less preservative. When you try low sulphate wine, the juice is surprisingly alive. You will find a huge selection of low sulphite wine varieties available on the market. A sulphur-free bottle means that the last glass will be more interesting than the first one. Once you open the wine and let it sit, the taste of the wine changes. It is really interesting that wine can express itself in a multifaceted way, instead of tasting the same all the way through.
Low sulphite wines are fun, surprising, and unique. There may be a funky smell at first, that typically comes from all those lively bacteria and yeast, but it will disappear after five minutes of opening the bottle. The aromas this wine has are typically lifted, enticing, and engaging. It is available in various flavours. For example, it may have dense flavours of vivid red and black fruits, fresh lemon and lime flavours, citrus notes, notes of cinnamon and cracked black pepper notes, and many more.
Sulphites in Red Wine Vs. White Wine
While all wines contain a certain level of sulphites, the prevailing myth is that red wine has more sulphites than white wine. However, science doesn’t support this. In fact, the sulphite levels depend on how the wine is made and how much sugar it contains.
One of the little-known facts about red wine when it comes to its production is that the juice has contact with the grape skins and seeds. This, in turn, results in a higher amount of tannins that act as a natural antioxidant. As such, it requires less sulphur dioxide.
On the other hand, white wine ferments for a shorter time in comparison to red wine, and its juice doesn’t have contact with the grape skins. For this reason, white wine tends to have more sugar than red wine, and by this, it naturally attracts more bacteria. In addition, this means that more sulphites are needed in order to halt those microbes from growing wild and thus, ruining the wine.
However, there are exceptions to this ‘rule’ and not all white wines are high in sugar. Such examples of low-sugar white wines are dry brut and high-tannin white wine like Chardonnay.
How Is Low Sulphate Wine Made?
The first step in making wine without adding additional sulphites is to have quality fruit to work with. Using nets on grapevines to keep them in pristine condition right before harvesting, is a good practice to ensure that no damage comes to the fruit.
High phenolic content in the grapes is also very helpful and there are various vineyard practices that can be employed to enhance phenolics in grapes. Once the grapes are picked and ready for being processed, keeping them nice, cool, and away from air (as much as possible) will be of big help as well.