WTF are Sulfites?

We all know someone who won’t drink wine (especially red wine) because “the sulfites cause headaches.” WELL FOLKS, I’M HERE TO TELL YOU THAT SULFITE HEADACHES ARE COMPLETE BULLSHIT. The level of sulfites in a glass of dry wine typically ranges from 20-220 parts per million. The sulfite level in an order of fries is typically around 2,000 parts per million. A handful of dry fruit? That’s about 3,000 parts per million. That’s right–your red wine headache is just a hangover, Karen.

But seriously, WTF are sulfites? Sulfites are simply sulfur dioxide (that’s one part sulfur and two parts oxygen, in case you’re a little iffy on remembering chemistry) and are added in to food and drink to act as a preservative. Sulfites in this quantity are odorless and colorless, and won’t effect 99% of the population. About one person in one hundred will have a sulfite sensitivity, which will necessitate not just a restriction of wine, but also preserved meats, baked goods, canned soups, etc.

Using sulfites in wine is nothing new. According to my good friends (well, I like to dream we’re friends) at Wine Folly, in ancient Roman times, winemakers would actually burn sulfur-based candles in their Amphora wine casks to preserve their wines. There are wines out there that do not have additional sulfites added during the winemaking process, but they have a shorter shelf life and tend to be prone to spoiling. They apparently can also have a bit of a “funky” aroma and taste a bit different from a typical wine.

Another thing to note is that during the fermentation process, wines will naturally produce their own sulfur dioxide. It’s not just some crazy thing people are adding to wines. That’s right–You can’t escape the sulfites! THEY ARE THERE, LURKING IN YOUR WINE AND WAITING FOR YOU, GUARANTEEING YOU FRESHNESS.

So, next time someone tries to lure you in for a sulfite-free wine experience, know that they are totally and completely full of crap. Just drink your wine and give them the side-eye that they deserve. Anyone who tells you different is probably trying to recruit you into one of the crazy new wine multilevel marketing schemes.

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