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Sulfite free wines

I am new to this particular board - I am regular hound from the LA restaurant board - so if I am asking a question that has already been answered, I apologize, but...

Can anyone recommend good sulfite free wines. Any color will do. I would particularly like to hear from anyone with a sulfite sensitivity.

Thanks!

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  1. Sulfite free wines tend to be very unstable. A restaurant I worked at had a few of them, there was a lot of bottle variation and many bad bottles. I don't remember the wineries.

    1. Hi EliAnnKat. Hope this helps:

      There's a few things to keep in mind-

      all wines will contain some degree of sulfites. They occur naturally during a wine's fermentation.

      As Somnifor said, they help to stabilize the wine and those without additional sulfites can turn easily. I've not had good luck with the few that I have tried.

      If you don't know if you have a sensitivity to sulfites specifically, than you may find that there are wines you do not react to. Though sulfites are first to be blamed for headaches, they are not always the cause. The chance of having a sulfite allergy is something like 1 in 100,000. Wine is an incredibly complex drink with hundreds of different chemical compounds, any one of which can cause a reaction. Some people find themselves sensitive to tannin, varietals, wineries, yeasts, etc. Not to mention that eggs or dried fruit will contain a much higher degree of sulfites than a glass of wine.

      If you do have a sulfite allergy, make sure you get a bottle labeled sulfite free- as "organic" or made with "organic fruit" are not the same thing.

      If it helps:

      white wine will have more sulfites than red. Wines closed with stelvin closures typically require less sulfites than those in natural cork.

      1. Sulfites in wine have been given a bad rap, and unfairly blamed for a reaction to wine. Multiple double-blind medical studies (all listed on the National Library of Medicine website) determined that sulfites only cause problems to those humans who suffer from sulfite oxidase deficiency, occuring in about 1% of the population in the US, or those who suffer from asthma (5% of the US population), and only when their exposure to sulfites is great -- 300 ppm, much more than would be found in wine.

        A sulfite sensitivity or allergy is quite a rare thing. Of course, the number of drinkers inaccurately claiming sulfite "allergies" by far outnumbers the people actually lacking the sulfite enzyme or having asthma.

        The easy litmus test is this: If you can eat dried fruits, packaged fruit juices or lunchmeat without a reaction, then it's not sulfites in wine that are causing the reaction. All those foods contain far more sulfites than wine. And bear in mind that a glass of wine contains 10 mg of sulfites and the human body itself produces about 1000 mg/day, so 100 times more than in a single glass of wine. Read more about this from the UC-Davis wine school:
        http://waterhouse.ucdavis.edu/winecom...

        You may be interested to learn that sulfites are not always added to wine to stabilize it, but that sulfites are a by-product of a yeast fermentation, so they occur naturally.

        Your "sulfite" reaction may be caused by something else. Read more here:

        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/465184
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/448169
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/455977
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/456416

        Good luck to you.

        4 Replies
        1. re: maria lorraine

          Thanks for the info, everyone!

          1. re: maria lorraine

            Hi Maria - I just had a LEAP MRT blood test which tests sensitivities to 150 items...of which I was highly sensitive to SODIUM METABISULFITE (which has many names and is used as a preservative and a antioxidant in wine. Wine uses this at more than 100PPM+. My first experience with sulfite issues was when I had a rash on my neck for over two years and I thought it was just me itching my neck from my hair touching it during the day. About a year ago, my face started to itch horrible when my hair was so long it was sitting on my face. I went to get my hair cut and told my hairstylist about it. She suggested I try a sulfite free shampoo. A week+ later my rash was gone. Since then I have went to sulfite free dried fruit, and then ham/sausage/bacon. I do not eat a lot of the meat, but I have wondered if dried fruit was an issue. The unsulfered, etc dried fruit has been no problem for me. I wondered about wine too...headaches were not always a problem, but I have some major digestive issues and I drank red wine very regularly. There is sulfites in produce, although, I am not sure how NATURAL that is (lol). I mean it could have been leached into the soil from man, where it gets absorbed into our food...now; there is a controversy about that anyway. Whatever the case, I am very sensitive to it at this point. I had to stop using moisturizers all together because I kept breaking out from even the ALL NATURAL SENSITIVE options. My dermatologist did not mention anything about sulfites...nor did any of my other doctors. There is info on both sides of the sulfite coin, but even if issues occur only with a certain amount of ingestion...it is added to everything including our drinking water...so maybe it is purely based on the AMOUNT of exposure. In my research over the past few days, the most interesting and enlightening fact I found was that they add this sulfite as an ANTIOXIDANT. Anytime I would read/hear about the new *antioxidant miracle* I thought it was always NATURALLY occuring...I did not know it could be added artificially!!! This stuff is an inorganic compound too. Let's just say I have a new mindset about antioxidant properties now...and deeper sense of researching those items I automatically took for safe!

            1. re: NOMORECHOWINGSULFITE

              Make sure you get the IgE-based testing.

              Like many "food sensitivity" tests, the LEAP MRT test is on the Quackwatch list, and being investigated by the FDA for inaccurate diagnostic claims.

              These tests dupe the consumer with aggressive marketing that contains inflated accuracy claims made out to be scientific ones.

              Read more here about the inaccurate claims of "food sensitivity" tests:
              http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20...

              Clinical Nutrition Insight published an article about the inaccuracy of the tests. You can read a portion of that article here:

              http://bit.ly/13fmiRM

              I wish you well in feeling better, and hope you will get better information as to what is causing your symptoms. It could be that something, or several things, other than sulfites, are causing those symptoms.

              1. re: NOMORECHOWINGSULFITE

                To add to what ML has already said, it is important to keep in mind that NO ONE has EVER said or claimed that there are zero human beings on the planet with sensitivities to sulfites. Of course there are. However, there are any number of inaccurate statements -- some well-intentioned but misinformed; others . . . well, let's just say that they aren't necessarily all that well-intentioned, and leave it at that.

                This makes it all the more CRUCIAL that

                a) one get tested ***properly*** and ***accurately*** ;
                b) one doesn't "go off half cocked" but takes the time to know and understand the FACTS about wine, the use of sulfites -- both in wine, AND in other foods;
                c) one pays close attention to what one eats and drinks, and how it affects them personally; and,
                d) one uses words carefully and accurately when discussing this issue, both with medical providers, and in public generally.

                One "fact" or statement I would disagree with, for example, is when you wrote above that, "Wine uses this at more than 100PPM+." Some wines do, you are right. But there are many wines -- indeed, I would *guess* most, from all the wineries I have worked for, and wines which I have measured -- that have levels of sulfites not only less than 100ppm but significantly less: many table wines from California, France, Germany, and elsewhere around the world are measured at below 30ppm, while some are *essentially* sulfite-free. (Warning: I would not rush out and drink wines which claim to be "sulfite-free" were I sensitive to sulfites, nor would I recommend anyone do so. Rather, I would recommend one continue to exercise an abundance of caution.)

                I join ML in hoping you feel better soon, and trust that you will . . .

            2. I've been talking with an owner of a totally organic vineyard who is adament that if any wine claims to be sulfite free it is only because of the measurement system they are using.

              As others have said, the sulfite message on wines are leading many people to blame them for problems unconnected with sulfites.

              If you are alergic to sulfites then you will know about it and be avoiding a whole range of foodstuffs and juices.

              Also, have you looked at the ingredients on a bottle of mineral water??

              8 Replies
              1. re: Gussie Finknottle

                The maximum allowable level of sulfites is 300 parts per million (ppm). The threshold level at which the "Contains Sulfites" statement must appear on the label is 10ppm.

                I once wrote an article about sulfites in wine. (Well, actually, i've written about it several times, but . . . ) In so doing, I interviewed the head of the ATF (now TTTB) lab which tested sulfite levels in wine. In the course of our discussion, I asked him about the labeling requirement, (so called) "organic wines," and the level of sulfites in wine. In particular I asked him about the wines that claimed they were "sulfite-free" -- i.e.: below 10ppm and thus exempt from the requirement of printing "Contains sulfites" or "Contains sulfiting agents" on the label. He replied, "We take their word for it."

                Rather surprised, I repeated the question. He repeated the answer.

                I asked if he ever verified the claims with/through random testing. (The ATF would buy bottles at retail, as well as take them directly from wineries, and test them in their labs.) He said, "We've never tested a sample that was below 30 [ppm]."

                OK, I thought, but 30 is OVER the reporting limit of 10, which I said to him.

                He replied, "We've never tested a sample that was below 30."

                Yes, but what about the wineries that claim to be below 10?

                He replied, "You're not listening. We've NEVER tested any sample that was below 30."

                * * * *

                So much for "sulfite-free."

                Cheers,
                Jason

                1. re: zin1953

                  One specific Sonoma winery owner, whose wines do not have the "contains sulfites" labeling but also do not say they are sulfite-free, has told me that he has lab tests that show he is below 10ppm. I think I may have mentioned this here in the past. His reasoning for not calling his wines Sulfite Free is that most such wines are just not very good and he wants his wines to be tasted and enjoyed as wines that happen to be made by someone who is a totally 100% organic farmer and winemaker. He doesn't do it to sell wine to people seeking to avoid sulfites, but because he believes in the methodology. He and his brother are also organic farmers of fruits and vegetables.

                  1. re: Midlife

                    Well, I've never found a wine that was "sulfite-free," as sulfites are a naturally occurring by-product of fermentation. I have seen wines labeled "No Sulfites Added," which can indeed be true, but that won't mean the wine is sulfite-free.

                    As for being <10ppm, it's definitely possible. My point is only that -- at that time -- the ATF lab had never tested a sample that low; they just accepted the winery's claim.

                    Cheers,
                    Jason

                    1. re: zin1953

                      Understood. I had the impression that this winery has their wines tested independently because one of his issues was the cost of doing it on a regular basis to be able to NOT use the 'contains sulfites' label.

                  2. re: zin1953

                    I am the production manager at a small winery in Missouri. We send our wines for sulfite ppm testing at an independent laboratory. Using the lab's results, the government (TTB) allows us to state on our labels "Contains no detectable sulfites. These wines test at 0 (zero) ppm (not only less than 10 ppm but really zero ppm). The lab is Vinquiry, and their testing is accurate at less than 10 ppm.
                    Higher sulfite concentrations mute tastes and aromas (all organoleptic sensations), and this is especially evident in our excellent Cab Franc. Sulfites help the winemaker but not the wines (if handled correctly from grape to bottling).
                    I do not want to make this an advertisement, so contact me if you are interested in our truly sulfite-free wines.

                    1. re: TimP

                      While owning a wine retail shop and tasting bar I became familiar with a Sonoma-based sulfite-free winery called Coturri (which I've posted about here a few times). I happen to like their wines but they are roundly criticized, by many, for being unstable, over-concentrated, high alcohol fruit bombs that can't be aged at all. Parker seems to like them too but gets lots of flack for the above issues when he reviews them. The winery insists they have library bottles that are 10-15 years old and still drink well.

                      One of their wines is a Zinfandel that really tastes more like a late harvest Zin than anything else, but they make a Pinot that is fruity, but not over-the-top, and a field blend that tastes very normal to me.

                      I'm very curious as to how you feel your wines meet up to the issues leveled at Coturri.

                      1. re: Midlife

                        Thanks! Have been drinking Tony's (Coturri) wines for a couple of years now with no ill affects. Their wines are very full flavored, and have not yet had a "bad" bottle. We are careful with wine storage, and try to have it shipped in cool weather. Would like to find more California wineries which do not add sulfites. The natural occuring ones don't seem to bother me at all, but the artificial ones, whether in food or wine, causes migranes. Tony also makes wine for Cruz de Comal, a great Texas wine!

                      2. re: TimP

                        Is this Westphalia Winery? (I'm a Missouri girl, originally.)

                        The 0 ppm of sulfites seems suspect to me, since sulfites naturally occur as a by-product of fermentation. Levels are usually 30 - 40 ppm if no sulfites are added.
                        Read Jason's post above about his interview with the head of TTB, and no wine was ever found with <30 ppm.

                        The main issue for me with your wines is their stability -- their ability over time to hold onto their fruit flavors and roundness, and not atrophy in flavor and become mere bones of their former fleshy selves. This happens so consistently with wines with no added sulfites that it's a legitimate issue to raise in light of your wines.

                        So, I am in disagreement with your statement that "Sulfites help the winemaker but not the wines (if handled correctly from grape to bottling)." Sulfites help both the winemaker and the wines enormously, preserving their beauty, fullness, fruitiness, complexity, ageability, and much more.

                        While you say "Higher sulfite concentrations mute tastes and aromas," what seems more consistently true is that the lack of added sulfites causes wines to become thin and insipid and lose flavor."

                        When sulfites are used at a high enough level to "mute tastes and aromas," they are being used incorrectliy. Sulfites control microbial growth that adversely affects the wine. Sulfites often don't kill the microbes, merely keep them from multiplying and turning the wine to crap. How much SO2 you use is a function of the wine's pH. At a higher pH when more sulfites would be necessary to halt microbial growth -- and at that level the sulfites would mute flavors and aromas -- another agent is used instead that doesn't adversely affect the wine's quality.

                        Another question is if the 0 ppm test result is for one wine tested once for SO2, or if that 0 ppm is a consistent result over several tests of all your wines. That result doesn't make scientific sense.

                        With all the misinformation about sulfites and the maladies they've been falsely accused of causing, having no sulfites is not an attribute, and more likely is a detriment.

                        In any case, growing and making wine in MIssouri is coming along. I remember when the only vines grown were vitus labrusca or vitus aestivalis, and now it seems more vinifera varieties are finding expression. I have many lovely memories of Missouri wine country and of tooling around the back roads in a vintage convertible.

                  3. You've gotten a good run down on sulfites here. But if you still want to go down this road...

                    If you can find a local shop that carries a good selection of Organic and Bio-Dynamic wines from France you should be able to find some bottles with no to low additions. There are a number of vignerons in the 'natural wine' camp who are experimenting with reducing or eliminating sulfite additions. I believe Marcel Lapierre has no sulfites added in the Morgon bottling that KL brings in to the US. I also recently had a nice Poulsard from Tissot in the Jura that the merchant told me had no sulfites added though internet searches seem to only indicate that he is a minimalist on the issue. And if you have deep pockets, a tasting of Allemand's "Sans Soufre" Cornas against a regular bottling would be a tasty way to explore this.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Nathan P

                      marie lorainne and zin1953 have given very accurate info on sulfites in wine. some of the other posts are a bit misleading. there is difference between sulfites and sulphur.

                      sulfites occur naturally in all wine at extremely low concentration as mentioned above. IMO the terms "no sulfites added" or "sans soufre" are misleading. they simply mean that no sulphur is used. even if there is no sulphur used the wine will still contain sulfites. (EU labeling laws are different so you may find some wines there that do not contain the sulfite warning because the threshold for labeling is higher than in the US)

                      sulphur is used in the vineyards to help control molds and in the winery to stabilize and protect the wine. noticeable levels of sulphur are frequently found in delicate young white wines, especially german riesling. the rotten egg odor can be most off-putting but will usually dissapate with bottle age or blow off with air. sulphur as opposed to sulfites can also cause headaches if the concentration is high. many producers today are reducing or eliminating their sulphur usage but more for the improvement of the wine than for lowering sulfite levels.

                    2. Look for natural wines. Find a Louis/Dressner distributor and see who carries them. One is Dard et Ribo, although they are getting squirted with just a little bit of SO2 now, according to Joe Dressner.
                      http://enemyvessel.com/forum/topic.as...
                      Scroll down to find his comment.
                      Gorrodona is a Basque wine that is mostly natural. I think sulfur is minimal there, too.

                      1. My favorite topic and my favorite answer is:

                        There is no such thing as a sulfite free wine. And those who get all upset about sulfites in wine sure can chew down on onions, garlic, eggs and not think a thing about sulfur in their food. The human body produces more than 1,000 grams a day - - far more than what any bottle of wine has.

                        And the klinker is this. All of these people get so upset about sulfite in wines when the percentage of people in the US who have died because of sulfites in wine is less than 1% and yet, while they are on their soap box ranting about the evil sulfites, they forget one thing - - alcohol in the wine has killed more people than what any little ppm (parts per million) of sulfite ever will.

                        (I apologize if I repeated anything that was already above. It's just that I see red when I read anything about "evil sulfites in wine." boo-hiss)

                        24 Replies
                        1. re: Walla2WineWoman

                          Red? Not white?

                          ;^)

                          1. re: Walla2WineWoman

                            What you've said may be quite true, but there ARE people who have rather severe allergic reactions to wine. While there is lots of debate on the subject at least one poster here has pointed to medical documentation of a specific relationship between sulfites and allergic reaction in people who suffer from certain types of asthma. For them this is not a campaign to eliminate wine or the sulfites in it, but a desire to be informed enough to avoid discomfort. No one above is "ranting about evil sulfites", just looking for wines that have low enough sulfite levels to allow them to enjoy the wine without medical concern.

                            Why the US government requires labeling of sulfites as a danger is another story. Just for the record, there ARE a few wines produced that have measured sulfites below 10ppm (because the natural sulfites dissipate and the winery does not add more). They're not totally free of sulfites, but are as close one can get.

                            1. re: Midlife

                              >>> Why the US government requires labeling of sulfites as a danger is another story. <<<

                              Do you know the story?

                              I thought I'd posted it, but a brief search revealed nothing. Oh well . . .

                              1. re: Midlife

                                So...what's the story?

                                Sulfites have been scaring people who don't have a clue about them. It's often amusing when someone refuses to drink red wines because of "all of the sulfites in them" and yet drink up the whites. Huh? White wines have more sulfites than red wines. The FDA says that wineries cannot have more than 350 ppm (including natural and added) and the average is about 125 ppm, yet FDA says that foods can have up to 6,000 ppm. So while people refuse to drink wines with sulfites in them, they will wolf down dried mac/cheese mixes, dried gravy mixes, potato chips, pudding mixes, instant box potatoes, and any fermented product like soysauce and vinegars which contain sulfites from the natural fermentation. And look at everything vinegar goes into. They would choke on their soy protiens if they only knew how much sulfites are in dried fruits, trail mixes and...tofu!

                                Basically those that run a true risk to sulfites are asthmatic, steroid-dependent, or lack the enzyme sulfite oxidase. Again, I always roll my eyes when the sulfite subject gets going - -

                                And yes, I know - - there ARE a few wines produced that have measured sulfites below 10ppm but the point is - - there is still the natural sulfites in the wine (and I know all about adding sulfites to wine - - I have a few crush seasons under my belt). If a person is truly allergic and steroid dependent and especially been diagnosed with sulfite oxidase syndrome, then they shouldn't even risk drinking a wine that is below 10 ppm. The sulfites are still there! Basically that alone is going to separate the true 1% who is at risk. And the other 99% run the risk of dying from alcohol.

                                1. re: Walla2WineWoman

                                  As an allergist, I am quite familiar with sulfite sensitivity. As I see a number of patients with "food allergies" that are often not allergic at all, I know well that the concept of "allergy" is often used incorrectly to describe any intolerance. I often share your frustration, Walla, with those that overdiagnose themselves with food allergies.

                                  In the case of sulfite sensitivity, however,we are dealing with a real entity though the mechanism is not fully understood (it is not IgE mediated as the classic food allergies are). Sulfite sensitivity is more commonly seen in moderate/severe asthmatics, as you mention. It is also true though that the vast majority of cases of sensitivity are manifest by exacerbation of underlying asthma. The only thing for sulfite sensitive patients to do is avoid those things that flair their asthma. Unfortunately, there is no other available treatment currently. This is essentially the case for all food allergies.

                                  1. re: Walla2WineWoman

                                    The true story . . . .

                                    In the early-1980s, someone -- one of those poor individuals who truly DID have severe asthma coupled with an EXTREME chemical sensitivity to sulfites (see Bhutani's excellent post in this thread) -- decided to have lunch at a Sizzler restaurant. For lunch, he chose the salad bar and a glass of White Zinfandel (served from the "tap" -- like beer). The poor man went into anaphylactic shock and died on his way to the hospital.

                                    Catie, you are quite correct when you point out that wine is permitted to contain a maximum of 350 parts per million (ppm) of sulfites, while some processed foods can contain up to 6,000 ppm. But one of the main uses for sulfites is in pre-cut vegetables -- salad bars! Sulfites keep the lettuce, celery, apples, etc., etc. from wilting and browning.

                                    At the coroner's inquest, it came out that one of the kitchen workers at the restaurant had moved the decimal point to the right instead of to the left when mixing up the sulfur dioxide-and-water solution to spray on the salad bar. (That is, instead of taking, let's say, a calculation of "10.5" and moving the decimal point left to come up with 1.05, he moved it to the right and came up with 105.0.) Thus, the solution that was sprayed on the salad bar that day contained ONE HUNDRED TIMES more sulfur dioxide than it should.

                                    It's no wonder this poor individual died!

                                    BUT . . . the Coroner's Report also noted that the glass of White Zinfandel also contained some sulfites -- approximately 100-120 ppm, as I recall -- and therefore the coroner could not definitively state that his ingesting the glass of wine was not a contributory factor in the death.

                                    The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) leapt into action and started agitating for a warning label on all wines. The [California] Wine Institute worked with FDA and ATF to create the present warning label, thereby heading off the more draconian wording suggested by CSPI.

                                    Thus, warning labels became mandatory in 1987 for all wines containing more than 10 ppm of sulfites, and the American consumer became convinced overnight that --suddenly -- wineries were all ADDING sulfites where none were used before . . .

                                    p-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-t

                                    Cheers,
                                    Jason

                                    1. re: zin1953

                                      But the suggestion here is that sulfites otherwise are harmless. They're not. They can do some nasty things in the lower intestines.
                                      That said, I'm glad they're squirting at least a little bit of SO2 into bottles to stop secondary fermentation.

                                      1. re: SteveTimko

                                        Most premium, super-premium, and ultra-premium wines (those over $7) contain approximately 30 ppm of sulfites. It's only wine in large 3.0L and 4.0L glass bottles that will contain the 120-125 ppm that Catie (Walla2WineWoman) mentions.

                                        At 30 ppm or less, I know of VERY few people that will suffer any harm from a glass of wine. Even two. Harmless? No. But I am much more concerned about the people with sulfite sensitivities avoiding dried apricots, salad bars, and the like than I am about them having one glass of wine.

                                        According to one source at the FDA -- see http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/096_... for more info

                                        1) The Food and Drug Administration estimates that one out of a hundred people is sulfite-sensitive, and that 5 percent of those who have asthma . . . are also at risk of suffering an adverse reaction to the substance.

                                        2) [I]n 1982, the agency received numerous reports from consumers and the medical community regarding adverse health reactions. In response, FDA contracted with the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) to examine the link between sulfites and reported health problems that ranged from chest tightness or difficulty breathing to hives to fatal anaphylactic shock.

                                        In 1985, FASEB concluded that sulfites are safe for most people, but pose a hazard of unpredictable severity to asthmatics and others who are sensitive to these preservatives. Based on this report, FDA took the following regulatory actions in 1986: a) Prohibited the use of sulfites to maintain color and crispness on fruits and vegetables meant to be eaten raw (for instance, restaurant salad bars or fresh produce in the supermarket); b) Required companies to list on product labels sulfiting agents that occur at concentrations of 10 ppm or higher, and any sulfiting agents that had a technical or functional effect in the food (for instance, as a preservative) regardless of the amount present. (This labeling requirement was extended to standardized foods, such as pickles and bottled lemon juice, in 1993.

                                        )

                                        Cheers,
                                        Jason

                                        1. re: zin1953

                                          My whole point for the nag is that for years I have heard people repeat like parrots about wine in sulfites and about 98% of them don't know what they're talking about - - other than they heard their neighbor's stepmother's bother's friend's aunt's son inlaw's butcher complain about all the sulfites in red wine while noshing down on a bag of potato chips - - in a nutshell most of them want to find fault with something they know nothing about. It seems to give them a free ticket not to try something and make them "special" in their own mind. And as always the worst offender is the person who only drink white wines because of all the sulfites in red (or so they think)...

                                          It also amuses me when someone says, "I only drink wine made from organic grapes" as the smugness drools from their lips. What they weren't understanding is that for years some of the wines made with organic grapes still had sulfites in them because the winery was adding them. Big difference between organic wine and wine made with organic grapes.

                                          But, all the vineyard owners I know, the majority of them are doing their best not to use fungicides and pesticides on their fruit. They don't want any chemicals on their grapes anymore than anyone else. However, then again -- one of the oldest (late 1800's) fungicides that the early Americans used on vineyards was yup - you got it - - sulfur.

                                          In many ways, the sulfites on a wine label is kind of like a witch hunt. The government isn't making many food producers put "contains sulfite" in our foods, but they sure are with wine. And the population for those who are at a deadly risk are at 1% and guess what - - those who are at risk are more than likely already educated about what they should or shoudn't be consuming.

                                          Again, putting a sulfite warning on a bottle of alcohol makes no sense. Hellooooo...

                                          1. re: Walla2WineWoman

                                            You get no argument from me, Catie.

                                            1. re: Walla2WineWoman

                                              --"for years some of the wines made with organic grapes still had sulfites in them because the winery was adding them."

                                              Am I misreading your statement? It seems to indicate that wines made from organic grapes usually don't have added sulfites these days. I've found quite the opposite.

                                              In two years of searching I have found maybe 6 American wineries that use organic grapes and DON'T add sulfites. Over the same period I've spoken with dozens of 'organic' (organic grapes) winemakers who maintain that they HAVE TO add sulfites or the wine will be unstable, won't last and will just not taste good.

                                              In fact the one winery I know that makes really good quality 100% organic wine will not put "contains NO added sulfites" on their labels (even though they don't add any, and have lab tests to prove they're below 10ppm) because they feel the consumer equates the no sulfite label to bad wine. They omit the 'contains sulfites' warning, but that is all they do.

                                              1. re: Midlife

                                                Wines with NO sulfites are often unstable. Indeed, I know of at least vintner that was forced to close/sell his winery because of the costs incurred in replacing all of the "Sulfite-Free Chardonnay" that would go bad in the bottle after six months . . .

                                                1. re: Midlife

                                                  No you didn't misread, but many people did when it came to organic wines or what they thought were organic wines. True, some labels read the wine was made from organic grapes but that was it - - the wines still contained sulfites and this was going on before your two years of searching. In the year, 2000 the USDA limited the use of sulfites to 100ppm in "organic" wine. However, most organic wines contain less than 40ppm of sulfites. The point is - - sulfites are still there.

                                                  Nobody has to add sulfites, but they do because of bacteria and stability of the wines - - they want to add sulfites. Give me a wine with sulfites anyday than a wine that has the potential to harbor brettanomyces and acetobachter.

                                                  But then again, I have to wonder when people tell me about the great organic sulfite free wines tastes and how delicious they are - - does that person really understand what the word "delicious" is and compared to what? Put about 7 years on that delicious organic wine and then tell me how delicous it is.

                                                  Besides, what is the big deal - - if the human body can produce over a 1,000 ppm of sulfites a day, then why isn't it considered organic?

                                                  1. re: Walla2WineWoman

                                                    I believe it's easier for people to blame their headaches on sulfites because its an ingredient on the bottle.

                                                    After much research along with allergist visits and lab tests many people (myself included) still dont know the cause of their headaches and are advised to "experiment" by trying dozens of bottles from around the world or avoid completely.

                                                    I agree people are sulfite ignorant, however, the end result is wine does cause great discomfort for a sizable number of the population with no known cause.

                                                    1. re: tom porc

                                                      "I believe it's easier for people to blame their headaches on sulfites because its an ingredient on the bottle."

                                                      After a big night of Italian wine tasting, I'd love to blame my headache on sulfites, but I know better... More water needed... it's gonna be a long day...

                                                      1. re: tom porc

                                                        Usually that's "too much wine," and not "wine" per se.

                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                          Headaches can be caused from histamines, tannins and of course the alcohol. Natural histamines, especially are found in red wines (because the red wines sits in the must) . With sulfites, tannins and histamines, it can be a process of elimination.

                                                          So we know that if you think you are allergic to sulfites and the original frozen french fries from the fast food join with a side of catsup, dried fruit or instant boxed potatoes haven't bothered you, then chances are sulfites in wine aren't going to bother you. And bothered you means - - a trip to the hospital because you cannot breath.

                                                          Same with histamines. People who are severely allergic to histamines, generally have to go to the hospital when stung by a bee. But, if you can eat strawberries (which are huge in histamines) you probably are not allergic to histamines. I actually was allergic to histamines and when drinking red wine it would cause a rash on my face and neck/chest area and stuff up my nose. An anti-histamine (like Benedryl) before drinking red wine really helped out the symptoms and eventually I became immune - - thank goodness! My allergy MD said that allergies seem to change in our bodies about every 10 years.

                                                          Tannins can sometimes cause problems and of course, those are going to be found in red wines, as well. But, if you can eat chocolate, drink coffee, eat a banana (tannins are high in the pith inside of the banana skin) and drink black pekoe tea (squeeze the tea bag and taste it - bitter - an example of tannins), then you're not allergic to tannins.

                                                          And of course, alcohol opens the blood vessels. So in the sinus area, alcohol will cause swelling which brings a feeling of pressure - - head ache. Yup, hydrate-hydrate-hydrate!!!

                                                          (I can talk this stuff in my sleep - too much research and a recent article about it)

                                                          1. re: Walla2WineWoman

                                                            As poster marialorraine has recently commented here, tyramines (which can constrict blood vessels) are another thing now being implicated in this debate about wine headache.

                                                            And I wholeheartedly agree that hydration is the best defense. Some experts advise a 1 to 1 wine/water ratio.

                                                            1. re: Walla2WineWoman

                                                              You, Walla, had me until you started to mention the histamine allergy. I don't understand what you are talking about. Everyone is "allergic" to histamine. Histamine is what is contained in your mast cells, amongst other cells, that causes allergic reactions. Histamine is what I, and other allergists who perform skin testing to assess patient's allergies, use as a positive control to confirm that our testing is valid. The comment that allergies change in our bodies over 10 years is purely supposition. While it is true that as people age, they generally become less atopic (or allergic), there is no defined time frame on how long allergic sensitization exists.

                                                              As to the comments that people get stuffy noses with alcohol, alcohol is a vasodilator (dilates blood vessels). This vasodilitation is what causes the nasal stuffiness and not an allergy to the alcohol.

                                                              1. re: Bhutani

                                                                >>Histamine is what I, and other allergists who perform skin testing to assess patient's allergies, use as a positive control to confirm that our testing is valid.

                                                                Yes, and where do you get the histamine to do your test? Histamines are a natural compound found in plants and humans (like sulfites are a natural compound found in plants and humans). And histamines are found in grape skins and especially fermented products. And from what I understand is, like sulfites, those who have problems with histamines, are lacking histamines in their system, like those who are really allergic to sulfites are lacking sulfites - sulfite oxidase deficiency.

                                                                1. re: Walla2WineWoman

                                                                  Not to get completely off track and turn this into an allergy seminar, but I think you are confusing a number of things. There really is no such thing as a histamine deficiency. With regards to headaches and histamine, it is believed that these patients have a problem with histamine degradation not a lack of histamine itself. These patients purportedly have a deficiency in diamine oxidase. Hence, the use of anti-histamines in patients with histamine induced headaches (mind you this is not really my specialty but more in the realm of a neurologist). Why would someone take anti-histamines if they were deficient in histamine? Also, to your point that people with allergy to bees are senstive to histamine is not true. These patient's are allergic to the bee venom. This allergen is what triggers their mast cells to release histamine and cause the allergic reaction that they have.

                                                                  As for the sulfite sensitivity, the exact mechanism is not known. However, a sulfite oxidase deficiency wouldn't cause a lack of sulfites as you mention. Again, these patients probably have problems with sulfite metabolism.

                                                              2. re: Walla2WineWoman

                                                                Histamines have been ruled out as a cause of wine headaches.

                                                                Several medical trials in 2006-7 recruited histamine sufferers who were then given wines doctored with various levels of histamines (including none), and the wines did not cause a reaction.

                                                                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/455977

                                                              3. re: zin1953

                                                                Though I do hear this type of complaint and reasoning often- "I was at a party/bar/dinner and drinking such and such wine and I got a headache so i must be allergic to sulfites..."

                                                                People don't seem to take quantity into account when trying to figure out the cause of their headaches.

                                                      2. re: zin1953

                                                        zin1953: Sorry to barge in on a 3-year-old discussion (resurrected though it has been), but after reading this thread I have to respond to something you said above:

                                                        "Most premium, super-premium, and ultra-premium wines (those over $7) contain approximately 30 ppm of sulfites."

                                                        This is not really the case. With deference, while 30-50ppm of *free* sulfites is a common target for wineries at bottling, it is the *total* (free+bound) sulfites that is supposed to be under the 350ppm limit. The former is the final addition for longevity and as a hedge against bottle contamination. The latter is the sum total of all sulfite additions and generally reflects the spent component that no longer does anything for the wine.

                                                        Some professional winemakers I know do not even test for sulfites. They just hit their wines with 50ppm at every racking and again at bottling. Since they also sulfite at crush to eliminate native yeasts and spoilage organisms, the total bound S02 can easily be over the 350ppm "limit". Some even get more by rinsing their glass in dilute SO2.

                                                        Sulfite management can be very techinical. What the winemaker (and the wine drinker) usually wants for protection and anti-oxidant effect is a certain level of *molecular* SO2. This is an even smaller subset of *free*, and will depend on factors, the grossest of which are pH and tannin/polyphenols. If these planets align wrong, much more SO2 must be added to attain the requisite molecular levels. Complicating the matter further is maturation on wood; in barriques, it is common to lose the effects of free sulfites by 10% per month, but this is variable barrel to barrel. Aside: I've never heard of any winemaker who separately tests each barrique, so it's always a little by-guess-by-golly (sort of like your pre-harvest lab numbers).

                                                        So, for 30-month barrels of low-extraction, problem-pH wine, you can very easily get > 350ppm total SO2 if you want 30ppm free/.4ppm molecular when the cork goes in.

                                            2. Regarding headaches, etc.--it's true that sulfites are probably not the problem, since whites have more sulfites than reds, and for myself, a migraine sufferer, red wines are more problematic for me than whites--this is NOT because of sulfites, I know, but more likely tyramine, nitrates, and histamines. On trigger days, black tea, chocolate, coffee, cured meats, etc. are all bad news.

                                              That being said, I have found, through my neurologist's original recommendation and then my own experience, that red wines that label themselves "no added sulfites" or "sulfite free" are less problematic for me than others. It certainly could be placebo effect, I know, but on days where I'm afraid I might come down with a headache and the meal (company, husband's request, whatever) requires a red, I can often get away with it when it's lower in sulfites, whereas another would send me packing. Perhaps it's the combo of sulfites with red's tyramine; I'm not a chemist. I just know I can drink sulfite free red wines on headache days, and for that, I'm happy.

                                              But they're hard to find and not as reliably good. So to answer the poster's original question--there's one called "Well Read" at Trader Joe's that's organic and labelled sulfite free. It's just a table wine, but passable and inexpensive. So far, it's the only one I've found with any reliability for a weeknight meal.

                                              1. I haven't checked this topic for a couple of weeks and it is so interesting how heated a question this turned out to be. I would like to thank everyone for info, opinions, etc. I can now consider myself informed on this topic.

                                                Cheers, all!

                                                1. Very interesting comments here. I actually DO have a sulfite sensitivity that seemed to develop the same time I developed very mild asthma. I don't seem to have any issues with products that naturally contain sulfites but if I eat grapes treated with sulfite or wine that is listed as containing sulfites (meaning over 10 ppm) I get itchy red blotches on my chest and arms that takes several days to go away. So believe it or not some people really do have sulfite issues. As to your question I have found that the grocery store bought red wines in the box (my choice is cabernet sauvignon) don't bother me at all. Most are not labeled as containing sulfites so they must just contain natural amounts or the amount added is under the 10 ppm limit for listing. Maybe its because of how they are sealed without air in the plastic bladder of the box as compared to being in a bottle with air. I know this post is extremely old but maybe it will help someone searching for information.

                                                  1. I have sought out and found a few wines which don't seem to bother my "added sulfite" sensitivity (both to wines and other foods). The first one I came across was Coturri Winery in Glenn Ellen, CA. (coturriwinery.com) The reds & rose are pretty darn good.

                                                    Also, "Le Enfante Terrible" series of wines from Dasche Cellars are very drinkable with very low sulfite.(www.dashecellars.com)

                                                    My latest find is Hawley Winery (www.hawleywine.com) in Sonoma. Have tried pretty much all of their wines with no ill effects. Again, it has very low amounts of added sulfites. We spoke with their winemaker before even trying, and have been VERY pleased with the results.

                                                    If you look at some "old vine" single vineyard European wines you will also find little or no added sulfites. Tenuta Torciano (www.torciano.com) in San Gimignano Province of Siena, Italy, is an example of one of these. There are no added sulfites, even though the US labeling requires them to show that they "contain" sulfites.

                                                    Good luck on YOUR search, and please post any other wines you should find which don't cause you any problems.

                                                    1. I am also looking for wines that haven't added sulfites to the point of requiring a government warning on their label. I think we all understand that there is no such thing as "sulfite-free" wine; but are looking for wines that have not added more. Yes, I am sensitive to certain foods that tend to trigger headaches; but the fact is that I can tolerate low amounts of certain things. Prior to being diagnosed with vestibular migrain, I have wakened in the middle of the night with headaches and muscle cramps after drinking certain wines; but not others. Back tracking has led me to discover that those wines that I drank when I had the headaches had added sulfites. The ones that didn't cause problems were from a winery that I visited that does not add sulfites. Coincidence? Maybe; but I am looking for big-name labels that don't add the larger amounts to try so I can learn more for myself.

                                                      7 Replies
                                                      1. re: cruachaner

                                                        I assume you read all the posts in this topic. Deborah Roe's (just above) gives the names of some specific wineries, but there are two problems I see with your need:

                                                        First, I do t know if any "big name labels" that weigh in on the sulfite issue.

                                                        Second, and really more to the point, I don't think I've ever seen (here or elsewhere) anything suggesting that the actual PPM of sulfites in any wine is made public. It's not required by the US government and I'm not familiar with it being done in the text if the world. So, finding a widely distributed wine with "lower" sulfite levels is problematic.

                                                        If I were you I'd reach out to Gallo, Constellation, and Diageo to ask if they would provide such information. That would be starting at the top, and maybe the least productive, but it could be a beginning. Otherwise, I'd just Google my fingers off to see if anyone has been interested enough to measure sulfites independently. As is evident in this topic, lots of people link sulfites to headaches but really very few have proud that sulfites are the cause if their specific problem.

                                                        Please report back if you get any real info.

                                                        1. re: Midlife

                                                          Alcohol content can vary greatly between the time the label is approved and it's bottled. I'm wondering if sulfur can change, too? You'd have to sample each barrel at the time of bottling.

                                                          1. re: SteveTimko

                                                            Well, I know that a winery needs to submit a lab test to be able to omit the "contains sulfites" wording, so wouldn't there have to be SOME acceptable measuring point?

                                                            1. re: Midlife

                                                              >>> Well, I know that a winery needs to submit a lab test to be able to omit the "contains sulfites" wording . . . <<<

                                                              REALLY????? Have the regulations changed? Since when?

                                                              When I interviewed the then-head of the ATF/TTB lab in charge of analyzing wine samples, I asked him pointedly about the "No Sulfites" claim on wine labels (which was allowed if a wine contained less than 10 ppm). He said, "We've never tested a sample that was below 30 [ppm]." I then asked him what he (the ATF/TTB) did when a winery claimed that a wine contained <10 ppm. He replied, "Oh, we take their word for it . . . but we've never tested a sample that was below 30."

                                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                                OK. I'm sure you have the experience here. I'm just applying logic to what a winery owner told me about how he's able to leave the wording off his label. Interesting to find out that what we think are our government's rules are meaningless.

                                                                1. re: Midlife

                                                                  I had a discussion once with a scientist about items like arsenic, silver, lead and other elements in our local water supply. He said if you get sensitive enough equipment, you can find them in all natural water supplies. It's that at some point you're measuring them in amounts that are close to negligible. I'm guessing that's what applies to sulfur as well.

                                                        2. re: cruachaner

                                                          >>> . . . but I am looking for big-name labels that don't add [sulfites]. <<<

                                                          "Big name" labels are precisely the wineries that tend (broad generalization here) to add sulfites for the purpose of stability and shelf-life. Thus, jug wines (think low-priced California wines in 1.5L and 3.0L glass bottles with the proverbial finger-loop) will tend to have higher levels of sulfites than that small "boutique" California producer of high-end Cabernets, Pinots, and Syrahs.

                                                        3. An outstanding venerable thread with several helpful perspectives.

                                                          I especially appreciated Walla2WineWoman's summing up of the fashionable misconceptions and hypochondria on this particular issue. Her eloquent summary "Sulfites have been scaring people who don't have a clue about them" could apply as well to several other durable health-related anxiety notions that developed lives of their own, so to speak, in modern years.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                                            I know someone who gets migraines and figured out through trial and error that sulfites can set them off. Superficially it looks like she's followingaa fad diet but so what? Similar story for anyone with Crohn's disease.

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              Robert, I think you are confusing the issue a bit . . .

                                                              NO ONE claims that there are not some individuals with specific sensitivities to sulfites. It is very real, and for the most sensitive of those individuals -- just as those who suffer allergies to mussels or to bee stings, for example -- it *can* be a matter of life and death.

                                                              HOWEVER, the number of people who *claim* that sulfites are a problem is all out-of-proportion to the REALITY of the situation -- only a small number of people actually suffer from this issue, be it be migraines (the most common symptom) or, something far more potentially deadly, anaphylactic shock.

                                                              People who have a real chemical sensitivity to sulfites have far more to worry about from salad bars, purchases of prepared fruits and vegetables in the supermarkets, and the like than wine (as the levels are typically higher in those preparations than found in wine). BUT anyone who even suspects they *do* have such a sensitivity should seek medical advice, and not listen to people on Chowhound . . .

                                                            2. re: eatzalot

                                                              Having spent the past 8 years in continuous over-the-counter contact with people asking about and buying wine I can tell you this is very real for a lot of people. I'd agree that most are not sure WHY they get the reaction they get from wine (mostly headaches).

                                                              I've been down this road a long time and try to help people focus on ways to isolate the cause of their discomfort. If low-sulfite levels is something they want to pursue, I've learned enough to see it as a possibility, and just want to help them try. Sometimes true medical diagnosis is difficult or expensive, so trying different things can be helpful. It's just hard to help when there's very little product available of any quality, and the actual data is not made public on the product itself.

                                                            3. (Disclosure: I own a wine store Vineyard Gate in Millbrae, CA in the SF Bay area)

                                                              Note, all wines contain sulfites in varying amounts. Some were added during winemaking, but also sulfites occur naturally in grapes and wine and in most foods we eat regularly. So what you perhaps mean are wines "without added sulfites." These are some of the best wines made in my opinion. I've been drinking them for decades and I've been selling them since I opened the store in 1998. From California there's J.Brix wines from Santa Barbara and Coturri wines from Sonoma. From Europe there are several: Lapierre Beaujolais, Angiolino Maule from the Veneto, Cornelissen from Mt. Etna, Vini Rabasco from Abruzzo, Chassorney from Burgundy, Cousin from the Loire, Paolo Bea from Umbria, Nicolas Carmarans from Aveyron, Octavin from Jura, and many, many more. I hope this helps.

                                                              5 Replies
                                                              1. re: AlexBernardo

                                                                Alex, welcome to Chowhound! Industry expertise is extremely helpful here.

                                                                I hope you will also get a chance to read the rest of this thread in depth. Note that zin1953 and Maria Lorraine are both wine-industry veterans, and have contributed some of the detailed technical background here so far (as they have done on many other CH wine discussion threads over the years). I particularly appreciated zin's comments elarlier in the thread from his interview with the ATF lab director for an article on sulfites, and that official's memorable remarks.

                                                                1. re: eatzalot

                                                                  thanks!

                                                                  I forgot to add from California, the Terrane wines from Bryan Harrington have no sulfites added. I'm sure I'm missing more as the number of producers from California and from around the world's wine regions is growing fast

                                                                2. re: AlexBernardo

                                                                  So then what's your policy on bottles with secondary fermentation? I bought two bottles of the 2004 Domaine Barmes-Buecher Riesling Steingrubler. The first was quite good. The second had secondary fermentation. I bought several others out of the Dressner line that had secondary fermentation. I'm guessing it is average of about one out of 15 for the wines I buy without added sulfur. That makes me leery.
                                                                  Should customers be able to bring back wine with secondary fermentation for another bottle? Or should it be, like Joe Dressner said, that the customer eat the price of the wine as a way of supporting this kind of winemaking?

                                                                  1. re: SteveTimko

                                                                    Just to be clear, I presume you are speaking of secondary fermentation as in malolactic fermentation taking place in the bottle, rather than a second [alcohol] fermentation due to the presence of live yeast and residual sugar.

                                                                    /\/\/\/\/\

                                                                    To clarify for others, an (accidental) second fermentation occurs when a wine is bottled with residual sugar AND with live yeast cells, which then feed on the sugar and created more alcohol *and* CO2. This, of course, is fine if the goal is to produce méthode traditionelle sparkling wines; it is, however, considered a flaw in still wines. The error is in not filtering the wine, or in bottling prior to the end of the first fermentation.

                                                                    The addition of potassium metabisulfite to grapes as they are being crushed is to knock down the naturally-occuring indigenous (aka "wild") yeast, so that a cultured strain may be used. The addition of SO2 at bottling is as an anti-oxidant, and has nothing to do with yeast. Cultured yeasts or indigenous yeasts . . . either one can cause a second fermentation in the bottle if it's live and if there is unfermented (residual) sugar present.

                                                                    HOWEVER, a wine which undergoes malolactic fermentation (aka "malo" or "ML") in the bottle, rather than the barrel/cask/tank, will be referred to as having undergone a secondary fermentation. This is a bacterial fermentation that breaks down malic acid into lactic acid. If it takes place in the bottle, it is also considered a flaw, and YES, the addition of low levels of SO2 *will* prevent this from occurring.

                                                                    1. re: SteveTimko

                                                                      that's unfortunate to hear, especially because barmes-buecher is an outstanding Alsatian producer whose wines I've also enjoyed many times over the past several years, including older bottles, with many friends.

                                                                      not to sound harsh or dismissive but I think when purchasing wine just like many other consumer products, ultimately it's buyer beware. there are no guarantees and there are risks that one needs to accept. but I've also empathized with customers who've supported us and believe in what we're doing, on occasions when they have an unexpected experience with a wine I've sold. I've not encountered an issue yet with secondary fermentation on a bottle that I've sold, but I've offered to replace a bottle of an unsulfited one that a customer did not find agreeable.

                                                                      There are many outstanding wines without added sulfites. I laud producers who strive to make wines that are unmanipulated and additive-free and preservative-free as much as possible. I think it's a worthy goal. Some succeed but some fail; there are several successful ones who have been making it for decades. But like all other wines theirs are not fault-free. If one feels that wines with no added sulfites is simply an unacceptable risk, then that's a choice one makes.