WTM Wine 101 | Sulfites—Fact and Fiction / by Adnan Saribal

Adnan works as a wine ambassador alongside a two-Michelin-star chef at a Spanish restaurant in one of Istanbul's most prestigious five-star hotels. He also enthusiastically shares his knowledge of wine on social media through his Wine Education page on Instagram.

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Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a colorless gas that smells heavily of matches and is widely used in winemaking and throughout the food industry. When under pressure it is a liquid that dissolves easily in water and is nonflammable.[1]

As part of the winemaking process, SO2 is used to prevent the existence of live bacteria in an effort to avoid oxidation and enhance the aging ability of wine. Of course, even if sulfur dioxide is not used, it can still occur in the grapes as part of a natural system that combats bacteria. So, in the end, SO2 is really a natural additive.

If we look at the history of using sulfur dioxide, you may be surprised to find that the Romans first used this trick. They burned sulfur candles inside containers before filling them, which helped preserve their wines. Dutch and English wine traders regularly used this technique for preservation during transport. In  1487, for the first time, a Prussian royal decree officially permitted the use of sulfur dioxide as a wine additive.[2]

So if you do not get a headache after eating dried mango or apricot, it is safe to say that you can drink wine.

A common misconception about sulfites is that they cause headaches. This is a myth. We find that people most often complain of headaches after drinking red wine. Curiously, white wine has a higher sulfite content than red wine (50-350 ppm vs. 250–450 ppm). In fact, dry fruit contains four to ten times as much sulfite (1000-3000 ppm). So if you do not get a headache after eating dried mango or apricot, it is safe to say that you can drink wine.[3]

Sources:

[1] Toxic Substances Portal—Sulfer Dioxide. Astsdr.cdc.gov.

[2] Gawel, Richard. The Use of Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) in Wine. Aromadictionary.com.

[3] Puckette, Madeline. 2012. How to Cure a Wine Headache. Winefolly.com.