Les sulfites dans le vin : rôles et controverses

Sulphites in wine: roles and controversies

Sulphites in wine have always been the subject of debate. While some hold them solely responsible for headaches after a few glasses of wine, others affirm their indispensable role in the production of good wines. To try to see things more clearly, let's take a look at the role of sulphites in wine , and try to understand the origin of the controversies they arouse.

Sulphites: an essential component in winemaking

You may have noticed on wine bottle labels that sulphites are present in all vintages, from the lightest to the most powerful. Their presence is not the result of chance and they really play an essential role in the making of wine .

Sulphites for good conservation of wines

Sulfites are sulfur dioxide compounds with antioxidant and antibacterial properties . In wine, their role is therefore to protect against oxidation and the proliferation of undesirable bacteria. The presence of sulfite therefore ensures the balance of the wine, whether in terms of aromas, freshness or color.

Acting as preservatives and stabilizers, sulphites therefore play a major role during the alcoholic fermentation of red wines, white wines and rosé wines.

Where do sulphites in wine come from?

No matter what type of wine you taste, it is always bound to contain some sulfites , since this chemical compound is naturally present in grapes . It is not only present in wine, and it can be found in small quantities in many foods: cold meats, pastries, fruits, sauces, canned fish, etc.

In the world of wine, however, some winegrowers choose to add sulphites , in order to prevent the development of bacteria and increase the shelf life of wine bottles. On the other hand, the level of sulphites in wine is strictly regulated depending on the appellations and types of wine (organic wines, natural wines, biodynamic wines, conventional wines, etc.).

The different types of sulphites

Throughout the winemaking process, sulfites can be used in different forms. Indeed, the naturally present sulphites are sometimes not effective enough to guarantee the balance of a wine, and the winemaker is sometimes led to add sulphites to his vintages.

Most often, the added sulfite is sulfur dioxide , presented in powder or gas form. It is added during fermentation in order to protect the wine from oxidation , but also to limit deposits and avoid the development of yeasts and bacteria.

Adding sulfur to wine is common to extend its shelf life potential. However, in sweet wines and those without added sulfite, health quality is essential. General rules impose maximum limits for the food industry.

Some experts will say that there are other, more natural inputs with the same properties. But if winegrowers continue to use sulphites despite the controversies, it is because their effectiveness is unparalleled. Furthermore, alternative inputs are often much more restrictive to use and require excessive modification of winemaking techniques.

We can say that sulphites play an essential role in winemaking, ensuring strict, impeccable hygiene for conservation.

Wine sulphites: what are the dangers for health?

When we talk about additions to wine, the question of health quickly comes to the forefront. Indeed, it is never reassuring to know that we are consuming chemical compounds. Let's see if sulphites present a risk to the public health of consumers.

Sulfite intolerances and allergies

Consumption of sulphites can cause allergic reactions , although this remains rare. In this case, wine is not the only problem for the person concerned, because sulphites are present in many foods. The most common symptoms are redness on the skin, difficulty breathing or even abdominal pain.

Without having an allergy, it is also possible to be very sensitive to the effects of sulphites on the body. In this case, and depending on your sensitivity, you can then choose to banish wines from your daily life, or turn to wines with natural sulphites or wines without added sulphites , whose sulphite content will be much lower.

Sulphites and migraine: myth or reality?

Who has never heard someone claim that wine gives them migraines? In fact, there is no real scientific proof of this. On the other hand, we can imagine that people who are very sensitive to sulphites and prone to migraines may experience such side effects when drinking a glass of wine. Migraine or headache may be a symptom of sulfite intolerance .

However, several studies have been undertaken to determine the role of sulphites in the migraines of consumers who are neither intolerant nor allergic. It emerged that the sulfur compound can act on the dilation of blood vessels and accelerate the onset of a headache .

If you notice a slight intolerance to sulphites, it is better to switch to a wine without added sulphites, and to consult a doctor. Furthermore, it is often necessary to correlate the symptoms with alcohol consumption, rather than with the consumption of sulphites, because alcohol is much more dangerous for health and causes many undesirable effects.

How do you know if a wine contains sulphites?

To get a more or less precise idea of ​​the level of sulphites in a wine , simply refer to the label on the wine bottle. Legally, a statement is mandatory for all wines with a sulphite dosage greater than or equal to 10 mg/l . We can then see the mention "contains sulphites" or "contains added sulphites", "winemaking without sulphites" without necessarily having details on the precise quantity.

Adding sulfur to wine is common to extend its shelf life potential. However, in sweet wines and those without added sulfite, health quality is essential. General rules impose maximum limits for the food industry. The stages of vinification influence the speed of reactions. The organic label guarantees natural wines with sulphites present in low doses, reducing the risk of allergic reactions.

Generally, winegrowers who use very little, if at all, mention it on their labels to stand out from the competition and inform their consumers.

Finally, if you are looking for a wine with few sulphites, or without added sulphites, it is better to turn to a natural wine or an organic wine . In fact, the specifications for these types of wine greatly limit the levels of sulphites.

Although they are sometimes responsible for some inconveniences, sulphites are essential for the production of good wines. And if you want to taste good bottles of wine with a low level of sulphites , do not hesitate to discover the organic wine vintages from our Provence estates.


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