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Sulphites in wine are often assumed to be the cause of those pesky hangovers, but is there a way to eliminate the risk of feeling below par the morning after? In this article we look at sulphites, why they are in your wine and how your choice of wine can affect your health.
Sulphur compounds are naturally occurring substances in all natural wine. And while some forms of organic wine claim to be completely free from these ‘sulphites’, it is practically impossible to remove all traces. Even in wines where no sulphites have been added, it is present in concentrations of up to 10mg per litre.
So why are they in my wine?
The subjects of wine and health have been discussed together for decades. However most producers actually add sulphites to wine, to preserve the characterists of wine for a longer shelf life. This can have a range of consequences; from a mild “hangover” feeling to those who suffer allergic reactions. Sulphites however are also known antioxidants, which deliver several health benefits.
The smell and taste of sulphur is unpleasant – much like the smell of a burnt match. And while it can’t be picked up in a good quality wine, it can overpower the senses in cheaper wines where it is present in large quantities.
Wine and Health
The body attacks excessive amounts of sulphur by producing histamines. It is those naturally occurring chemicals that cause allergic reactions in a minority of people. The problems range from a particularly severe hangover to anaphylactic shock. The subject of wine and health is complex, so consultation with a doctor is advised when health problems occur.
The Quantity of Sulphites in Wine Can Differ
Depending on the skill of the winemaker and the quality of the product, sulphites in wine can vary greatly. For instance, red wines already contain high levels of antioxidants naturally, so the addition of more is not required.
Because rose’ and white wines are not left in contact with their skins after crushing, they contain very low levels of antioxidants, so they require larger amounts of sulphites. It is necessary to add extra sulphites in wine that is particularly sweet (dessert wines), as more of it binds with the extra sugar present.
Commercial winemakers (those who produce wine on a mass scale), add sulphites to protect the characteristics of the product for longer. However, quality winemakers producing small quantities (often referred to as Boutique or Artisan winemakers) make wine as nature intended with minimal intervention and few additives.
What the Experts Say
There are many conflicting opinions about wine and health. While some experts believe that the antioxidants present in natural wine are beneficial, there is also the belief that the excessive sulphites in cheaper, mass-produced wine negates those benefits, often resulting in the dreaded “morning after” feeling. However, it is thought that drinking natural wine – with no added sulphites – or a good quality organic wine is the best way to avoid allergic reactions.
Whilst natural wine can be difficult to come by, good quality organic wine is becoming more widely available in the UK and is worth trying for those who have experienced sulphite related health problems in the past. Many of these people may be able to rediscover the joys of wine-drinking.
EU law states that mass-produced, natural and organic wine must be labelled as ‘containing sulphites’ if there is more than 10mg per litre present – which is certainly the case in most Supermarket wines. The good news is that quality winemakers see themselves as non-interventionalist and aim to produce wine as nature intended. Buying good quality wine (organic if possible) from this class of winemaker is the best way to avoid the potential side effects of sulphites in wine.
Organic, Boutique and Quality Wines are available to buy at www.winepalate.co.uk.