The Low Down on Sulfites AKA Sulphites

The Low Down on Sulfites AKA Sulphites

What are Sulfites?


Naturally occurring in some foods and the human body, a compound that contains the sulfite ion

History, Form and Use

Sulfites have been used since Roman times to preserve food, retaining colour and form whilst keeping unwanted bacteria at bay.  They are used for the exact same reasons now, except instead of burning sulphur and letting the fumes waft into vessels and onto wine and food we can use commercial preparations. Potassium or sodium metabisulfites come in tablet (campden tablets) or liquid form and are what are used by home winemakers and commercial~ if used at all.


Some fruits can come with their own set of bacterias or not very nice yeasts (some wild yeasts are great - some are not).  If you don't want to take a chance on whatever wild yeast is floating around and boiling water is not used on the fruit (I'm talking about fruit winemaking here) or a robust killer yeast is not being intended to be used, then sulfites can be used to safely disinfect the fruit.

Within 24 hours , the sulphur dioxide will have dissipate or turned into a minute quantity of sulphuric acid.

Sulfites can also be used at the end of the winemaking process to either arrest the fermentation or to ensue that no more fermentation will occur once bottled.  Pet nat wines and any traditional sparkling wines obviously would steer clear of this procedure!

They may also be used at the end to protect the wine from oxidisation and bacteria.  The tannins in red wine can also do the same job.

Sulfite Sensitivity

If you are sensitive to sulfites it will show up not too dissimilar to asthmatic symptoms, sometimes hives.  They're still studying whether sulfites are linked to migraines.  Generally it's very rare to actually have a sulfites sensitivity, hyper-allergic individuals are the poor sods that are most likely to suffer.

Even if wines 'contains no sulfites' there will still be naturally occuring sulfites, albeit at a low level.

Remember too much wine can also cause headaches!  Sulfites often get unfairly scapegoated in some circles. 

In Conclusion...

I also understand that some people are not just looking for a wine that is not going to trigger off any unwanted reactions, but also a wine that is made with minimal additives and intervention. 

Personally I try to use sulfites as minimally as possible, I have some wines that are sulfite free, but in a lot of cases they are required (especially with plums!) and if I'm making the choice between making a potentially gross (or explosive!) wine, and a wine with sulfites; I tend to go down the safer sulfite road.  Hope you don't mind!

The Medley is sulfite free

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