By: Ryan Greene
When selecting a bottle of wine, you will often read the wine labels to learn helpful information such as the grape varietal and country of origin. One thing that many people notice on almost every wine bottle is the phrase “Contains Sulfites”. No one likes to see that chemicals have been added, but let’s explore the use of sulfites and organic wines (i.e. those without added sulfites).
What are organic wines?
Organic wines are made from grapes that have been grown organically, without the use of artificial or synthetic chemicals, such as herbicides, fertilizers, and pesticides. Strict rules govern the organic winemaking process, and the USDA must certify organic wines. Organic wine is also made without the addition of sulfites.
What are Sulfites?
Sulfites come from sulfur; a naturally occurring antibacterial agent that has been added to wines for centuries to preserve the character, flavor, and color of the wine. Sulfites help to stop oxidation and bacteria growth that can ruin a wine (eventually turning the wine into vinegar). There are few winemakers who make wines without adding sulfites, as these wines are very perishable. But even though organic wines have no added sulfites, they still contain small amounts of sulfites produced by yeast during the fermentation process. This trace level of sulfites may not be detectable during chemical analysis.
Are sulfites dangerous?
According to FDA regulations, all wines (both domestic and imported) that contain 10+ ppm of sulfur dioxide must state “Contains Sulfites” on the label. The purpose of this label is to protect those who may be allergic to sulfites (an estimated 1% of the U.S. population).
According to the FDA, sulfites are not dangerous in wine, and they do not cause cancer or birth defects. Unless you are allergic to sulfites, you should not worry about the health effects of sulfites. It is also not scientifically proven that sulfites are the main cause of hangovers and headaches from wine consumption.
How do I know if a wine is organic?
When looking at the wine label, there are two criteria to look for when finding an organic wine. First, it will mention that the grapes are organically grown (without pesticide use). More importantly, you must search for the seal of the certifying agency – the USDA. Many wines are labeled as eco-friendly, green, and natural, but this does not mean that they are certified organic!
And while all wines contain some naturally occurring sulfites, if you desire wines with the lowest level of sulfites, organic wines should be at the top of your list. Finally, sweet white dessert wines contain the most sulfites, followed by blush wines and semi-sweet white wines. And contrary to popular belief, the wines with the lowest levels of added sulfites are dry red wines. Cheers, and happy searching!