This ominous warning on wine labels has been brought to my attention by people over the years as something to avoid. They claim that they get headaches from wine and sulfites are the reason. When pressed they have no reason to be against sulfites, but if they are in wine, then it can not be good.
The term sulfites are an inclusive term for sulfur dioxide, a preservative that is used in most winemaking (it is also used in most of the food industry). It is an antioxidant and it has antibacterial properties and its main use is in keeping the wine’s “freshness.” For most people the consumption of sulfites is harmless (people who suffer from severe asthma or are lacking in the enzymes in the body to break down sulfites are at risk).
In the United States of America, wines bottled after mid-1987 had to have a label stating that they have sulfites if they contain more than 10 parts per million in testing. The European Union required the same regulation in November of 2005. Sulfites occur naturally in all wines to some extent as they are used to arrest fermentation at a particular point, and may be used at another point in the winemaking to prevent oxidation and also bacteria. Without sulfites the grape juice would become vinegar.
People attribute sulfites as the cause of headaches especially in red wines and the funny fact is that white wines, especially dessert wines have more sulfites than red wines. Most dried fruit has more sulfites (average of 1000 per million), so if you can eat dried fruits without a headache, you can enjoy the wine safely (I would surmise). Red wines go through a process called malolactic fermentation, which requires less sulfites, but the tannin and histamines that are a natural by product of fermentation may cause headaches, not to mention there is alcohol in wine. Others feel that it is not a natural substance, but in fact sulfites are a natural by-product of yeast metabolism that occurs during fermentation. There is also the problem of shelf life for wine; some wines may become unpalatable after only six months of storage with out the sulfites. The term “made from organically grown grapes” is seen more often, than “organic wine,” which means that there is no additional sulfur dioxide added.
I am showing two bottles of Chateau Mouton Rothschild (front and back) to show how in the old days there were no labels with a warning to the new labels with a warning. Personally I feel that it is much ado about nothing, but then I do not have asthma, but please do not feel that I am being cavalier.