Wine dictionary, oenological glossary
08/16/2021 Carles Escolar, Raimat winemaker
First of September 2023
Sulphites in wine are an important component within the industry. When it comes to preserving the wine, they’re an excellent way to keep it in the best possible condition. However, there may be doubts about its safety or whether it affects humans in any way. Read on to find out more about them.
Sulphites in wine are chemical compounds commonly used as preservatives. Generally, they come in the form of sulphur dioxide or inorganic sulphites, which help to keep the wine in good condition. Without using them, the product would deteriorate quickly with a negative impact on the consumer.
When it comes to ones used in wine, there are two types. There are sulphites generated as a result of the fermentation process and those that are added by the winemakers in a controlled way. The aim is to ensure adequate quality standards.
The fact that they have to be added should not surprise you. Natural sulphites are generated during alcoholic fermentation as yeast produces small amounts of sulphites as a by-product of its life cycle. However, they do not produce a sufficient amount to adequately protect the wine against oxidation and microbiological spoilage.
For this reason, winemakers add additional sulphites during the winemaking process to maintain freshness and quality over time. The quantity of sulphites in wine varies depending on the type of product (if it´s a young wine or a reserve wine), the desired degree of protection and country-specific regulations. However, as some people may be sensitive towards them, it must be shown on the label if it exceeds ten parts per million.
The sulphites in wine have several functions. The most important is that it acts as a preservative and antioxidant. So, when is needed to put sulphites in wine? If oxygen comes into contact with the liquid, its components will react in an undesirable way. For example, the taste, flavour and colour would be altered to such an extent that the product might not be fit for human consumption.
To avoid this and other problems, sulphites are used to prevent oxidation by inhibiting the undesirable chemical reactions that occur when wine is exposed to oxygen. Simply put, the freshness and vitality of the product is maintained until it reaches your table.
In addition to their antioxidant function, they also have antimicrobial properties that are very useful. Growth of bacteria, yeasts and other micro-organisms could be detrimental for the wine. If they grow uncontrollably, the damage will be significant, just like with oxygen. When present in sufficient quantity, sulphites reduce the risk of unintended secondary fermentation. They even eliminate or prevent the growth of problematic bacteria.
Finally, sulphites in red wine or in white wine contribute to the wine's stability, clarity and structure. They are able to prevent sediments or deposits from forming at the bottom of the bottle. When it reaches your hands, you can enjoy a visually flawless liquid. At the same time, its texture will be smooth, which contributes to a better tasting experience and pairing of rosé wines or other types of wine. You must know that there are different types of wine glasses designed for improving the wine tasting, you will find them in our catalogue.
This is one of the questions that often arise around sulphites. Generally speaking, sulphites aren’t bad for your health. The majority of the population can drink wine containing them without any issues. They will suffer no side effects or other problems. However, some people are sensitive, allergic or intolerant to this chemical.
In these rare cases, there is a wide range of symptoms: headaches, reddening of the skin, difficulty breathing, nausea or more severe allergic reactions. In addition, if the person suffers from asthma, they may trigger an attack.
In order not to put people in the above situations at risk, wine bottle labels warn of the sulphite concentration when it is high. It’s the same procedure as for any other allergen. For example, on various products you may find a warning on the packaging indicating that traces of nuts or flour may be present. The same goes for sulphites.
Sulphites are also present in a wide range of products, not just wine. From food to drinks, you can find them in nuts, fruit juice, canned food, seafood and sausages. Therefore, it’s a safe chemical and well known in the food industry. Some processes, such as fermentation, even generate sulphites naturally.
The short answer is a resounding yes. There are wines which doesn’t contain sulphites or just a tiny amount. To achieve this, specific manufacturing processes are used to reduce or eliminate their presence in the liquid. It goes without saying that neither the winemakers nor any other involved party add any in this case.
One of the ways of making a sulphite-free wine is a natural or minimal-intervention winemaking process. It’s based on the use of very specific grape varieties which stand out for their good health, ripeness, careful selection and fermentation control. In addition, specific yeasts are chosen that produce very little sulphites and that are filtered to remove them.
Not including sulphites in the wine leads to a short shelf life, but this issue can be solved using other preservatives or preservation techniques. In any case, the producer's aim is still for you to enjoy a quality product in the best possible condition.
Sulphites in wine contribute to better preservation. They are safe to use and, to guarantee maximum safety, the amount is indicated on the label. To enjoy the best wines, explore the outstanding selection at 15bodegas. Discover our collection of wine offers! You will find bottles of different designation of origin in our online wine store such as Ribera del Duero’s wines to Rueda’s white wines with ages of winegrower's experience.