Sulphites in wine are important to consider for health reasons, to alleviate allergy symptoms and to help people suffering from asthma. Many people ask us whether these natural wines are better or worse because the wine is made without added sulphites. Here is our winemakers' perspective on the issue:
This October we decided to review a fantastic natural wine: Abel Mendoza Rioja 2014 with no added sulphites. Perfectly pure & expressive Rioja, 'one of the best Rioja wines we've tried' as per our members' quote.
Natural wines made without added sulphites (or sulfites) are produced with minimal intervention in the winery. Organic movement regulates what is happening in the vineyard - no artificial chemicals or harmful pesticides. Natural winemaking ensures that you are not getting nasty things which are added in the winery. Learn more about sulphites in wine, what is so different about natural wines.
Wine and health is a very important topic that we want to cover more. We have started covering this with our article on 'Why drinking less but better wine?', where we discuss calories in wine, how many units are in a glass or bottle of wine and provide some tips on better drinking habits, some actions you can take towards a healthier drinking. Have a look and let us know what you think!
This time it is about wine intolerances including sulphites and allergies.
I consider myself as a person who can be allergic to a few things. I hate pollen, need to take hay fever meds and try to avoid drinking dairy. The latter was actually recommended to me by a friend pharmacist after I’ve complained about having sore throat far too often. After I switched to almond milk for my coffees and shakes I started to see the effect.
So as they say knowledge is power an hence I also wanted to share with you my findings about wine intolerances. We will start with what are they, move on to symptoms and then how to deal with it. As I also want to make it concise, we stop at that point, but I will attach some more information an sources for those who want to dig deeper. I have searched through tons of articles in UK, Canadian, Australian and US press, allergy related bodies and health associations, so you have a wealth of information.
Based on Oxford Companion to Wine, there is a major difference between an allergy which is an immunological condition and intolerances, which are of other causes.
So wine allergy can occur because of proteinaceous compounds. Traces of protein can remain in wine after fermentation, so are those occurring after fining when specific agents were used to clarify and stabilise the wine.
Apart from that, there is also a pollen-food allergy factor - some pollens can still remain in fruit skins and this can cause a reaction that can be described as oral itching.
Somewhere in the borderline of allergies and intolerances are biogenic amines histamine and tyramine, which are produced by lactic acid bacteria and higher levels of those are present in red wines. People suffer from headaches and refer to it as red wine intolerance.
If we move to white wines, the main factor for an intolerance here is sulphur dioxide, or sulphites / sulfites. Asthmatics are especially sensitive to those.
Both red and white wines contain sulphites as it is a by product of fermentation, yet naturally occurring sulphites are not exceeding 10 mg /l and will not in most cases be noticed even by asthmatics. If they are added and the concentration is below 45 mg/l it is fine for most of people and will not cause intolerances, yet with a higher concentration (can go way above 100 and 150 mg/l) there can be some issues. Main symptoms are creating difficulties, airway irritation, rhinitis, tight chest, coughing and wheezing. Some digestive issues and symptoms were reported as stomach cramps, nausea, and diarrhoea. The incidence of sulphite sensitivity in the general population is thought to be less than 2%, but this rises to between 5 and 13% in asthmatics. However, adverse reactions to sulfites can also occur when there is no preceding history of asthma. Reactions can be mild through to potentially life threatening.
There is no such thing as a treatment, but if you feel that you might have (or diagnosed with) sulphite intolerance you should start avoiding of sulphite-containing foods, medicines and cosmetics. The degree to which this must be done depends on how sensitive you are. For many it will only mean to avoid foods with the highest sulphite content; others with more severe sensitivity will need to be very particular in avoiding even trace amounts in foods, medicines and cosmetics.
Symptoms arising from exposure to sulphites are treated according to the symptoms (e.g. anti-histamines or steroids for rashes, inhalers for asthma).
If you are sensitive to sulphites, the most important thing is to know how to treat your symptoms and be able to do so when, for example, you are eating away from home.
In the UK sulphites are now one of the twelve potential allergens (along with the likes of peanuts, fish, crustaceans, gluten and milk) that have to be labelled on a food or drink product - where they appear at a certain concentration or above. Warnings are now common on products such as wine or cider - yet in practice there is still a huge amount of ignorance and misinformation about their use and the health problems they can cause.
Stay in the know and if you are indeed sensitive to sulphites buy sulphite-free products.
Sulphite-free wines - why do some of them have 'contains sulphites' on the label? All wines contain naturally occurring sulphites, but the levels are very low - up to 20 mg/l. By law only the wines that contain less than 10 mg/l do not need include that on the label. We have referenced all wines and the ones that are listed as sulphite-free or no sulphite added have less than 20 mg/l of sulphites. People who suffer from intolerances start noticing it when concentration exceeds 45 mg/l only.
For our ever expanding best selling collection of sulphite free wines - click here.
It is also agreed that the true prevalence of sulphite sensitivity in the general population is not known and the real causes are very complex. More research is needed, but in the meantime please also find other products that you may want to check the labels for sulphite concentration (apart from wine).
Welcome to our report on sulphite-free wine tasting that happened on 22nd July 2016. We have quite a few people who booked in advance to come and sample our wines with no added sulphites. As demand for preservative-free wine grows, we have got more information on sulphites on our site, just head on to News section and select sulphite-free topic. For now just a quick roundup on the tasting.
Sulphites are by-product of fermentation and thus occur naturally in all wines, though in very low levels (10 mg/l). It is generally the rule that if the wine has more than 10mg/l of sulphite concentration it should state on the label ‘contains sulphites’. People who are sensitive and histamine-allergic can also feel the reaction of sulphites and experience migraines and also respiratory difficulties.
Small amounts could be routinely added to most wines as a preservative. That is where it can become nasty. Asthmatics who are very sensitive to sulphites may start experiencing respiratory problems when drinking wine with sulphur dioxide concentration above 45 mg/l.
Sulphites were used in winemaking since almost forever. Romans used it as a cleaning agent and a preservative.
Modern critics agree that even though it is present in all wines it should be kept to a minimum in high-quality winemaking.
Sulphur dioxide is used to prevent oxidation, it simply means winemakers should employ more profound techniques to ensure that there is no need of excessive sulphites. There are many other uses of sulphites - many winemakers use them to mask undesirable aromas and flavours that could be a result of spoilage yeasts.
Widespread concerns about sulphur dioxide allergenic properties of course should be addressed. Yet it is down to careful winemaking techniques.
Organic regulations also impose stricter restrictions on sulphites: 100 mg/l for dry reds and 150 mg/l for dry whites and rose wines.
For people who suffer from extreme allergic reactions to wine it can still be high, so they should opt for wines that are marked sulphite-free or natural and check out sulphite contents.
Gavi ‘Spinola’ Castello di Tassarolo, Piedmonte, Italy
Nosso Verdejo Natural, Castilla Y Leon, Spain
Tempranillo Vinas Viejas, Bodegas Parra Jimenez, La Mancha, Spain
Cabernet Sauvignon Waverley Hills, Tulbagh, South Africa
See our full range of no sulphites added organic wines and cases here: https://organicwineclub.co.uk/collections/sulphite-free-organic-wines
We have been truly astonished by our initial sales of sulphite free wines. It is such a pleasure to also find ourselves helpful to people who are suffering from allergic reactions on wine. Yet they do want to enjoy a glass or too!
Let's quickly get down to business here - what are sulphite-free wines (other spelling include no sulphite added wines or sulfite-free), why they are different and whom are they made for.
We are so happy to receive calls, emails and social media messages from you guys with questions about organic wines. We shop for organic food (or try to as it is not always available) in our preferred supermarkets, we know that it is grown without pesticides and without harmful chemicals, but what are organic wines? Let's get down to the point here.
Just before we start, don't you think there is enough confusion with wine regions and labels, and now there are organic wines, biodynamic wines, natural, fairtrade and more types of wine. How not to get lost?
Organic Wine Club is on the mission to introduce you to delicious organic wines that will be healthier for your than conventional ones, so you can drink less but better wines. Let us quickly outline the most important points.
EU laws state that organic wine is made from grapes grown organically. Organic farming presumes that no harmful pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and chemical fertilisers are allowed to grow the grapes. Research has shown that grapes are amongst other fruit that store those harmful substances, hence it is increasingly beneficial for your health to drink wines made from organic grapes. It also generally means no artificial or synthetic preservatives were used, no colours added and no agents added to alter the taste. If you are wondering, organic also means nothing genetically modified.
There’s loads of restrictions when it comes to organic wine. So what’s permitted?
Organic wine permits naturally occurring substances: elemental sulphur and salt copper sulphate (Bordeaux mixture). Plant oils, seaweed, powders based on wild herbs do not enter vine’s sap or grape pulp and thus have no effect on the resulting wine. Organic farming focuses on the techniques that are focused on prevention rather than cure. Don't you think it is a way forward?
The main nutrient added to the soil is compost as it is an organic fertiliser. It allows slow release of soil minerals and nutrients by encouraging an array of living organisms, so in a nutshell it feeds the soil, not the plants.
It also means that vine roots penetrate deeper into the soil and thus said to make the wines taste more complex. Critics sometimes add that noticeable minerality of the wine is a sign of how well this wine expresses the soil and terroir.
Don’t be surprised, a product that is made of grapes can be unsuitable for vegetarians or vegans. Winemaking process involves filtration and fining step, which can be conducted using animal based products: animal gelatin, a fishy isinglass, egg whites or a milk based casein. There are other methods available for that - gravity-based or an inert clay ‘bentonite’ usage. The latter is not perfect either as it can strip your wine of its light and delicate flavours. Natural wines are usually produced without filtration or any sort of clarification.
Natural wines are the ones that are made without major intervention during the winemaking process. Natural wines are not necessarily made from organic grapes, and at the same time organic wines are mostly about the grapes and not what happens in the winery. The latter process is exactly how you should differ these two kinds of wines - organic is about the grape, natural is about what happens at the winery.
One major difference here is the addition of sulphites - natural wines have no added sulphites, just naturally occurring ones. Organic wines will have less sulphites than conventional wines, but winemakers can still use them in minimal quantities (up to 100mg/l). Read more about sulphite free wines in our dedicated guides on wines made with no added sulphites (or sulfites, as some people spell it).
Biodynamic is something different, yes! To tell you the story short, there was a guy Rudolf Steiner, who back in 1920s developed a concept for a holistic system of agriculture. It focuses on improving soil and plant health by using herbal and mineral composts. What is important that the interventions are made strictly during particular days, which are selected based on the movement and positioning of the moon and other planets. Some experts agree that this system is an origin of today’s organic farming. We have prepared a tasting report and a guide on biodynamic wines - head on to our News and Offers blog to learn more.
Sulphites (sulfites) or ‘preservatives 220’ are additives that are used during winemaking process as preservatives against unwanted bacteria, but also to hide some faults, prevent oxygen from entering the vats and, as a safety net, protect the winemaker from accidental flaws. It became quite a common practice, yet some decide to minimise the amount of sulphites they add or, as with natural wines, restrain from adding sulphites.
Some are not, but still some minor level of sulphites occurs naturally in the bottle even though the levels are very low – should be maintained below 10 ppm (parts per million). Wine made with grapes grown organically normally calls for sulphites no higher than 100 ppm, so if you see ‘organic’ sign on the label it doesn’t mean that there are no sulphites, just the fact that the levels are lower. The wine will be labeled as ‘no added sulphites’ if there are none, or less than 10 ppm.
What’s wrong about sulphites?
They are quite aggressive preservatives that can give that ‘morning after’ headache, allergic reaction or in some cases more severe symptoms like fast heartbeat, dizziness, stomach upset. It can be even life-threatening for people with asthma. Most organic wines contain lower levels of sulphites, so if there are levels indicated on the label just check that it is less than 50 mg / litre for a red and less than 75 mg / litre for a white wine.
All wines contain some amounts of naturally occurring sulphites, but in the no sulfites added wines these levels are very low - up to 20 mg/l. By law only the wines that contain less than 10 mg/l do not need include that information on the label. We have referenced all our organic wines and the ones that are listed as sulphite-free or no sulphite added have less than 20 mg/l of sulphites. People who suffer from intolerances (wine allergy, sulphite intolerance etc) start noticing the symptoms when concentration exceeds 45 mg/l only.
Blind tests did not show any evidence to support or reject this. There is such a misconception that organic wines taste worse, because sometimes they can display some off-flavours or faults that normally would have been eliminated by sulphites.
Organic wines will not be much different from their conventional analogues, whereas natural wines could appear more cloudy, more rustic and tasting quite unusual – it all depends what you are in the mood for! If you explore these organic wines or even sulphite free wines that we've carefully selected for you, you are hopefully to discover many more interesting flavours
Common sense tells us that if organic wine contains less toxins (nasty man-made like pesticide residues and more), then it is better for you.
To go beyond your own health, you are also contributing to a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable environment.
We all know that red wine contains resveratrol, which is an antioxidant that protects against cancer, heart disease, is anti-ageing and may even extend your lifespan. You can imagine that pesticides can significantly decrease the potency of any antioxidant. In fact, the French government in 2012 officially released a statement that there is a link between pesticides and Parkinson’s disease in agricultural workers.
In addition to that research from the Department of Human Nutrition at the University of Southampton, University of Rome’s Clinical Nutrition, University of California at Davis and University of Newcastle showed that organic wines are richer in nutrients and antioxidants. Natural and sulphite free wines have generally lighter effect and better consumed by your liver.
There is an ongoing debate on wine, its benefits and harm, whether organic wines are better or not. Regardless of that, many people make a conscious decision to buy organic products not just to better nourish themselves, but also because they are being environmentally responsible. The choice is yours! Please note that you should be drinking responsibly, be it an organic wine or not, check drinkaware.co.uk for more facts and help.
Even though in theory organic wines are not more costly to produce than their non-organic versions, the fact that something can happen in the vineyard that cannot be remedied by using additives and preservatives, winemakers bear a greater risk of simply producing no acceptable wine that particular season. That is why organic wines can cost slightly more. Our wines are currently placed in mid-priced to premium segments - between £8.5 and £40. Buying cases of wine online is another way to save a bit more - explore our member benefits to save up to 25% RRP.
There is an extensive array of certification bodies - they exist in different EU countries, North America and beyond. EU’s approved organic logo is green with a white leaf and stars around it. Producers are required to conduct a conversion process of 3 years and then follow a rigorous process of adhering to organic rules and regulations. Certified producers can then display that logo on their wine bottles.
In the United Kingdom Soil Association regulates how the country complies with EU legislation, whereas Organic Food Federation looks after a production. In principle, each country has their own rules (generally speaking quite similar, but procedures could be a bit different), so it is interchangeable within EU and can bear a uniform organic logo.
Some producers follow the process but decide not to bother themselves with bureaucracy and paperwork, some decide that it is a bit costly for them as certification bodies also charge producers a fee to display a logo per bottle. That is why it can happen that the producer is organic but either is in the process of conversion or not certified by a regulator body.
We personally taste every organic wine we then decide whether to sell it or not. Our wine experts with Wines and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Diploma assess appearance, aromas and flavours of organic wines based on their viticultural and winemaking details and make a decision.
It is important to answer whether the wine is exciting. We’d rather have a soft drink than a glass of a disappointing wine.
Wine is also assessed based on its food matches and how well it suits to different occasions.
Organic Wine Club is all about drinking less but better wines, so we also have a close look on the alcohol strength and generally do not sell still wines over 15.5% abv.
Even thought we take the greatest care to select the best organic wines, we cannot possibly rely just on our palate. We have plenty of experienced wine drinker and wine lovers as our customers so we have a permanent tasting display in-store to offer free wine tastings and collect feedback. Would you like to come over and have a chat with us about organic wine (or several)? Please do! We would be delighted to meet in person.
If you want to have this information saved and potentially shared / printed / whatever you want to do with it, we've prepared a handy downloadable pdf file, which you can download here: Organic Wine Club: What are organic wines?