What are sulfites? Are they bad? Are they the cause of headaches and other post-consumption maladies?
Sulfites are a natural by-product of the fermentation process and serve as an antioxidant and preservative in wine. All wines have sulfites. The practice of adding sulfites has been a part of the winemaking process since ancient Rome and without it, wine is susceptible to dreaded oxidation and rapid spoilage. Sulfites are also widely used in the food industry and in much higher concentrations than found in wine. They are found in dried fruit, french fries, prepared soups and packaged meats and cheese. (Fun fact: dried fruit actually has ten times more sulfites than wine!)
When it comes to sulfites in wine, red wines typically contain less sulfites than white, and sweet wines typically have the highest level of sulfites.
Experts generally agree that sulfites are not harmful to the vast majority of people. However, approximately 1% of the population has a true allergy to the compound and those with severe asthma are more susceptible to a reaction.
So if it’s not sulfites, what’s the culprit of those rashes, stomachaches and headaches? Those in the industry feel that it’s either a reaction to other naturally occurring compounds such as histamines or tannins (from the skin, seeds and stems), or even more likely, the dehydration that comes with drinking alcohol.
Our advice? Sip slowly, savor the wine and drink plenty of H2O – that’s why we have a complimentary water station at Uva!