What is low sulfite wine?
Low sulfite wine is a type of wine with a lower sulfur dioxide content than conventionally made wines, where little or no sulfur dioxide is added to the wine.
For those of you unfamiliar with what sulfur dioxide is and why it is used in winemaking, you should consider it the winemaker's preservative of choice. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is typically added to wine at bottling, but it can also be added to pre-pressed grapes and fermenting grapes for its antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.
In the past, from the Middle Ages onwards, it was also used to sterilize barrels, a practice that later came under scrutiny. As Wine Master Isabelle Legeron mentions in her book "Natural Wine," burning sulfur wicks to "protect and stabilize the wine in the barrel" was a common practice among Dutch merchants dating back to the late 18th century.
Given this relatively long history, why is there so much debate in the wine world about the use of sulfur dioxide? Let's explore some of the reasons.
1 There are different types of sulfur dioxide used in winemaking: in the past, it was "elemental" sulfur dioxide; in modern winemaking, sulfur dioxide is a synthetic chemical.
2 Alternative winemaking approaches and their impact: Natural winemaking, which explicitly advocates the use of sulfur dioxide, is perhaps the best example.
3 Increased consumer health awareness: more and more wine lovers are intolerant of wines with high amounts of added sulfites; the main symptom is usually a headache.
Therefore, adding sulfur dioxide to wine has become perhaps the most controversial and divisive practice among wine lovers and winemakers around the world.
Sulfites and Sulfites
By law, all wines containing more than 10 mg per liter must be labeled "contains sulfites." It does not matter if it is 25 mg per liter or 150 mg per liter: the labeling does not specify the amount. Even wines to which sulfur dioxide has not been added are labeled this way: "contains sulfites" is written on the back label, and for a very simple reason.
Sulfites are naturally formed during the winemaking process: in fact, yeasts produce a small amount of sulfur dioxide that is released into the wine. Although there are winemakers who claim that their wines have zero sulfites, the truth is that there are naturally formed sulfites in wine as a by-product of fermentation.
Sulfites are used in modern winemaking to kill bacteria at different stages of the winemaking process:
► When the grapes are harvested and taken to the winery.
► When the grapes undergo fermentation.
► When the wine is transferred from the containers in the cellar.
► When bottling wine, also to sterilize equipment.
Low Sulfite Wine: Natural, Organic, Biodynamic, Vegan.
Almost all Bebedistinto.com wines have a lower sulfite dioxide content than conventional wines. The "low sulphite" attribute encompasses all other wine categories.
Natural winemakers, with minor exceptions, are against adding sulfites to their wines: this has as much to do with health concerns, but perhaps more importantly with preserving a wine's true character. Sulfur dioxide works very well as a preservative, but it tends to "numb" the wine: to some extent, it's as if the wine loses its liveliness.
Is low sulfite wine headache free?
At Bebedistinto.com we think it would be irresponsible to make such a statement, and for two very simple reasons:
1 There is no scientific proof that sulfites cause headaches. Wine related headaches are in fact very subjective and can be caused by a wide range of factors.
However, there are people who may have developed a form of intolerance to higher amounts of sulfites in wine that manifests as a throbbing headache.
2 However, low sulfite wines with no added sulfites contain small amounts of sulfites. Sulfites are naturally formed during the winemaking process.
There is no such thing as sulfite-free wine - beware of retailers who boast of selling "sulfite-free" or "sulfite-free" wine, it's nothing more than a clever marketing gimmick.
At Bebedistinto.com we believe that wine with a low sulfite content is better than wine with higher amounts of sulfites for essentially two reasons:
1 No added sulfites means the wine can show its true character because its natural liveliness hasn't been dazed by high doses of sulfur dioxide.
2 A low amount of sulfites is definitely safer for all those wine lovers who show forms of sulfite intolerance.