A look into a common customer question
There is a lot of (rightful) concern about what we put in our bodies. Preservatives can get a bad rap, but without some of these ingredients, whether natural or added, many of the things we enjoy would spoil before they ever reach us.
Sulfites in wine are the main preservative that are often discussed, and unfortunately, often misunderstood. Sulfites are a naturally occurring by-product of grapes as they ferment. Without this naturally occurring process, the wines you drink wouldn’t taste very good. Most wineries add some amount of additional sulfites to make sure their wines stay fresh, but these levels are usually far below other things we enjoy regularly like juices, guacamole, dried fruits, lettuce, and french fries.
Let’s talk a little more about what sulfites are, where they’re found in our everyday lives, the side effects that sulfites in wine can present, and why they are so misunderstood.
What are sulfites?
Sulfites are a naturally occurring preservative common in many everyday foods. They are also added to preserve foods where they don’t occur naturally. You may see sulfites labeled on Nutrition Facts labels as:
- Sulfur dioxide
- Potassium bisulfite
- Potassium metabisulfite
- Sodium bisulfite
- Sodium metabisulfite
- Sodium sulfite
In wine, specifically, sulfur dioxide is the natural by-product of fermenting grapes. They are often increased to prevent spoilage.
Sulfites in Common Foods
What common food items have natural sulfites?
Beverages like wine, beer, tea, and cider.
Fermented foods like kefir, kimchi, kraut, and pickled vegetables.
Sulfites can also occur naturally in a number of foods such as maple syrup, salmon, dried fish, lettuce, tomatoes, soy products, eggs, onions, garlic, chives, leeks and asparagus.
Some processed and baked goods that utilize yeast.
Some ingredients develop sulfites naturally during processing like beet sugar, corn sweeteners and gelatin.
What foods have a lot of sulfites?
The main reason for utilizing sulfites is to prolong shelf-life and prevent discoloration in food. With that, you may not be surprised that we see the highest levels in things like dried fruits, canned vegetables and soups, guacamole, maraschino cherries, condiments, jams, cured meats, dehydrated/precut/peeled potatoes (frozen French fries), molasses, and flavor mixes.
If you eat any of these items on a regular basis, you likely have no sensitivity to sulfites!
Sulfites in Wine
Every wine has sulfites, as they occur naturally during the fermentation process. Some wineries will add additional sulfites to make sure their wine doesn’t spoil, and typically at amounts considered “low” when compared to other foods.
Sulfites in wine breakdown
Wine is allowed to contain up to 350ppm sulfites, so some wines would be considered high sulfite. These levels are typically found in lower-end, commercially-produced wines. However, most wines contain less than that, especially more premium wines.
Wine that is higher in sugar will often have more sulfites to keep it stabilized and prevent that sugar from fermenting. Further, white wines typically contain more sulfites than red wines, because the tannins in red wine act as another level of natural preservative.
How do I know how much sulfites are in my wine?
Unfortunately, beyond labeling regulations that require a “Contains Sulfites” disclosure, there is not a way to tell from a label. If you ever see a wine that does not have the sulfite warning, this means it contains less than 10ppm (parts per million). This is very rare, as even natural levels typically surpass that.
Sustainably farmed and organically farmed wines often contain fewer sulfites, as do wines that have fewer artificial additives like grape concentrates, liquid tannins, and coloring. Most higher-quality wines, not cheap commercially produced wines, will contain 100ppm or less.
One last difficult piece of disclosing sulfites on a label is that they dissipate over time. So while a wine may start with 100ppm sulfites, by the time you drink it, it could be much lower.
Are sulfites bad for me?
A small portion of the population does experience sulfite sensitivity. This often presents as asthma-like symptoms or can trigger an asthmatic event. If you are concerned about a reaction to sulfites, you should consult a physician.
For everyone else, like anything, moderation is key. Sulfites do occur naturally and won’t harm most people in small amounts. If you eat lunchmeat, soups, frozen vegetables, condiments, or any number of other very common foods, you likely don’t have a sulfite sensitivity and have nothing to worry about.
How much sulfites does Really Good Boxed Wine contain? How does that compare to other wines?
Really Good Boxed Wine adds sulfites any time the natural level is below 35ppm. We have a wonderful winemaking team, and multiple tests at each step of our winemaking process that helps determine the lowest level needed to keep our wines stable, typically between 35-50ppm. In comparison to most other wines, that would be considered a low level of sulfites. However, most high quality wines will contain 100ppm or less.
Choosing wine from smaller wineries and at a slightly higher price point will typically result in less additives all around, including lower added sulfites.