Sulfites naturally occur in any food or beverage that’s fermented, including wine. Unfortunately, many people are sensitive to the sulfites in wine, both naturally occurring and those added afterward to keep the wine from spoiling. For most people, sulfites are completely safe to consume although you may experience headaches if you lack the necessary enzymes in your body or you have asthma.
Are Sulfites Required to Make Wine?
The vast majority of wines produced around the world use SO2, or sulfites. As wine is perishable and may oxidize (turn brown), sulfites keep the wine fresh, keep off-odors from developing and maintain the color of the wine. Most wines without SO2 have a shelf life of six to eighteen months and require special storage conditions to maintain their freshness. It’s important to note that most sulfite-free wines do have some amount of sulfites: wines with less than 10ppp are considered sulfite-free by the government and therefore have no warning label.
How Wine Is Made Without Sulfites
So, how do winemakers create drinkable wines without sulfites when this compound is necessary to prevent spoilage and color change? It actually requires a great deal of work as the winery must be kept extremely sterile. Sulfites also keep organisms from growing that spoil wine. To prevent contamination, the winery may use carbon dioxide on the wine to kill any oxygen-dependent organisms, or nitrogen gas. Equipment must be carefully sterilized as well, including the pipes and barrels. Wine must also be stored chilled.
How to Spot Wine Without Sulfites
If you’re ready to try wine without any added sulfites, keep in mind organic wines produced in the United States must be free of SO2. You’ll see these wines labeled as “organic” or “made from organic grapes.” These natural wines are becoming more common and most are sold locally because of their short shelf life. It’s also a good idea to remember that white wines tend to have more sulfites than red wines and sweeter wines have the most sulfites of all.
Best Sulfite-Free Wines to Try
If you have a sensitivity to sulfites or you just want to see how these natural wines stack up, more are being produced than ever before. Frey Vineyards Natural Red NV from California is a nice choice for a dinner wine. Frey pioneered the organic wine industry and this particular wine is a blend of Syrah, Zinfandel and Carignan. It’s very fresh and fruity. Château Le Puy Côtes de Francs 2006 is one of the most popular natural wines and actually remains affordable because the winemaker has refused to allow his prices to soar. The wine was made famous after a feature in a Japanese comic book about wine and has a very floral essence with a wonderful texture. Finally, be sure to try Domaine Valentin Zusslin Crémant Brut Zéro. Interestingly, this wine has no added sugar and it’s only made sulfite-free when the grapes are perfect. It has a lean, mineral and fruity taste that goes well with a light meal.