SIDE EFFECTS OF SULFITES IN WINE:
First we must understand what we hear, and the motives behind what we hear about sulfites in wine. It seems that only in America people are afflicted with side effects from sulfites, albeit about 5% of Americans are reportedly having conditions that may exacerbate with sulfite ingestion by different amounts in different individuals. All foods we consume contain inherent sulfites, with garlic having the highest sulfite concentrations and the highest levels of beneficial antioxidants among foods as well, but only wine gets demonized for containing sulfites. - I suppose the anti-sulfite proponents would not go very far if they told us to stop eating because all foods contain sulfites, but they can scare us about drinking wine because the labels are required to state, - “Contains Sulfites”.
Secondly, we need to have some history behind the sulfite scare impetus in America: After the repeal of prohibition, which was accomplished by passage of the 21st amendment of the United States Constitution on December 5th, 1932, the Anti-Alcohol Proponents in America (AAP) continued their quest to curb alcohol consumption in America, - but with the wine growing development in California from research funded by the state and federal governments, at UC Davis; - Added the Falcon Crest's TV series of the seventies (Starring Jayne Wyman and Lorenzo Lamas), that got Americans glued to their TV’s once per week, for several years, watching a vineyard and wine drama unfolding in a fictitious town of the name “Tuscany Valley”, situated in upper Napa Valley, California; - And subsequently the famous Paris Tasting of 1976 that placed California on the global wine map, Americans began enjoying the world's favorite food beverage along with their European counterparts, and became anti-alcohol rhetoric deaf, - but lo-and-behold, before long, the AAP discovered a new weapon to scare people from enjoying wine through the pseudonym "SULFITES". Interestingly, the USDA/FDA alcohol mandate requires winemakers to state the wine’s alcohol content on the label, and only quires the producers to state 'contains sulfites', with concentrations allowed by the USDA/FDA, from zero (zero by accident), to 350ppm, so you “The Consumer”, can’t discern what amount of sulfites you are getting from a glass of wine. Every wine contains a diferent amount of sulfites, but the consumer only knows it contains sulfites of an undisclosed amount, allowable up to 350ppm in conventional wines.
Sometimes we also hear people saying they just came back from Europe and really enjoyed the European wines with no sulfites, but we should point out that those European wines may actually be loaded with sulfites as the European producers are not required to state "Contains Sulfites" except on wines for export to U.S.A., which is a requirement of USDA/FDA for entry in America.
So now, we can assent, that there may be some good in every evil: As a result of the sulfite frenzy in America, more and more, vintenrs are shifting to production of holistic low sulfite wines, and one should not have any problem finding low sulfite brands of red wine, white wine and sparkling wine, or your favorite varietal organically grown, domestic and imported.
PERCEPTION IS SAID TO BE REALITY AND CAN BE MISGUIDING!
I often hear and read about people claiming to enjoy wine, but get a headache or some reaction from sulfites in red wine, while not so much from white wine. As a Viticulturist/Oenologist, I can offer the following, and you decide:
Winemaking Fundamentals: The grape berry from which we make wine is composed of three main components: 1. the seed, “ovules”, which become embryos from pollination. 2. the pulp, which is over 80% water with varied amounts of sugar that converts into alcohol when metabolized by yeasts during alcoholic fermentation. And 3. the skin, which contains tannins, flavors, aromas, anthocyanin (color), antioxidants, and like all foods and fruits, inherent sulfites, the fruit's own bacterial defence.
Why Does Red Wine Get The Bad Rap?: Red wine is fermented with the grape skins to extract tannins, phenols and most importantly color heavily bonded to the berry skin, - so much so, that some reds, like Syrah, require a co-fermentation with a small amount of a white variety to force release the phenols bonded to the interior of the berry skin (acting like soap in the dishwasher). The whites however, are usually cluster-pressed and fermented without the skins because they are very yielding and contain less structure and antioxidants than reds. That said, a winemaker, in his/hers, winemaking philosophy using, say 50ppm, total sulfites in a red wine made from organic grown grapes, would most likely use 80ppm total sulfites in a white wine made from similarly grown organic white grapes, because of lower amounts of structure and inherent antioxidants available to help protect the wine from oxidation and stabilize microbial activity, - thereby, placing white wines in a considerably higher sulfite content category than reds. Thus, the headaches people claim they get from red wine, but not from white wine, may well be attributed to something other than sulfites.
Every human being is allergic to something in some foods: I (for-one), love mango, and can’t eat mangos, because my entire face breaks out in a rash from something in mango.
So the next time you hear someone saying they get a reaction from sulfites in red wine, but not so much from white wine, please remember the above winemaking tidbit.
For further reading on organic wine and sulfites, please refer to the Preamble for Holistic Wine Classification below.
Preamble For Holistic Wine™ Classification
Introduction: The USDA/FDA organic wine mandate of zero added sulfites, and a maximum of 10ppm inherent sulfites makes it near impossible to attain certifiable organic wines produced in the U.S. and have the wines identified with the USDA Organic seal on the label. To further exacerbate the USDA/FDA's sulfite anomaly, the National Organic Program (NOP), and ATF whom regulate what goes on wine labels, have created a massive confusion for American consumers seeking organic wines by allowing claims of organic ingredients on the label as follows: 1. 100% Organic (this category is out if the wine contains added sulfites, but can have more than 10ppm naturally inherent sulfites), 2. Organic, Made With Organic Ingredients, and 3. Organic, Made With Some Organic Ingredients (like being a little bit pregnant). And adding insult to injury, allowing ambiguous claims of "No Sulfites Detected" instead of "Sulfite Free Wine", which is a rarety, by virtue of naturally occurring inherent sulfites in foods and fruits, including the grape berry.
Sensible Solution: The USDA Organic certification does not allow over 10ppm inherent, and no added sulfite content in certified "Organic Wine", while natural sulfites metabolized by yeast during alcoholic fermentation generally occur from 5 to 20ppm, and have been recorded up to 40ppm, making it near impossible to produce certifiable organic wines identified with the USDA Organic seal on the label. For a sensible solution to the organic/sulfite conundrum, we have developed an alternative Holistic Wine Classification for wines produced in line with international organic guidelines, and have the wines identified with an iconic holistic branding seal on the label for worldwide consumer recognition.
1. By the Oxford Dictionaries: Adjective, characterized by the belief that the parts of something are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.
2. By Merriam-Webster: Relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts <holistic medicine attempts to treat both the mind and the body> <holistic ecology views humans and the environment as a single system>
Holistic Wine Definition: Holistic Wine is the summed result of environmentally conscious farming systems and sensible vinification processes, aimed at producing wholesome fruit and wines for human consumption, and leaving a healthier, cleaner and richer earth, for future generations.
Organic Farming Practice: The organic farming practice concerns international certified farming methods involving grape production without the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides or other artificial agents. "USDA Organic" is the domestic certification and seal.
Biodynamic Farming Approach: The biodynamic farming approach employs organic farming methods with an added dimension of cosmic energy by following a moon phase calendar to govern the timing of some farming and vinification processes, believed to benefit from cosmic energy on some, and lack thereof on others, thereby, imparting cyclical growing energy in plants and ionic stability in wines and musts. "DEMETER" is the international third party certification and seal.
Grower Credential: US growers of the Holistic Wine Classification, i.e., "Organic" or "Biodynamic", must be certified members in good standing with the respective bona fide governing agencies, or provide sufficient written proof of transition, i.e., have been engaged for a minimum of two years in either of the respective farming practices, with intent to become certified, but do not yet hold grower certification until the year 2020. After the year 2020, US growers must hold grower certification for their grapes to qualify for the Holistic Wine Classification. EU and Southern Hemisphere producers are required to grow in accordance with their country’s organic rules.
Winemaking: US vintners of the holistic wine classification must acquire their fruit from growers holding the Organic, Demeter (or in transition), and adopt a very specific, not to exceed, sulfur dioxide (SO2) regime in their wines, to mitigate sulfite ingestion by consumers. Vintners outside the US will follow their country’s organic rules.
Sulfur dioxide (SO2) all Countries: The maximum measurable amount of free SO2, and total free and bound combined, shall not exceed 15ppm free SO2 and 75ppm total SO2 in reds, and 20ppm free SO2 and 100ppm total SO2 respectively in whites, - not exceeding 21.5% on reds and 28.5% on whites of the maximum 350ppm allowable by USDA in conventional wine. However, well made wines from properly grown fruit, and meticulous vinification through rigorous sanitary conditions, will, in many instances, have considerably less than the maximum allowable SO2 in the 'holistic wine classification'. The 15ppm free/100ppm total SO2, takes into consideration the ageing benefit and longevity expectancy from certain wines, and provides flexibility for winemaking expression, while cognizant that sulfite extremes in any direction, i.e., allowing a wine to decline by lack of reasonable sulfite presence, or altering a wine's character by excessive SO2 (when not needed), is not a holistic virtue. The wine's pH level and alcohol content govern the sulfur dioxide requirement for oxidation and microbial stability, thus, a winemaker must take in consideration the pH level, titratable acidity, alcohol content and inherent antioxidant presence in each individual wine. Also take in consideration whether the wine is sweet, dry, red or white; - and whether the wine is intended to be consumed young or aged in the barrel/bottle, and life expectancy of the wine to determine the appropriate level of sulfur dioxide applicable in a given wine, - hence, different levels of sulfites will be found in different wines, - but in no case, will the wine exceed the prescribed maximum sulfite level to receive the Holistic Classification.
Additionally, winemakers of the Vegan and Kosher designations must also submit proof of compliance with the respective designation’s requirements to qualify for the Holistic Wine designation in addition.
Test of life (For Official Certification Use Only): When all the above criteria are met, a scientific analysis for Alcohol, pH, TA, Free and Total SO2, shall be conducted at bottling, by an approved laboratory, and copies of the results sent directly to the reviewing board at the Bona Fide Certifying Agency. Upon review of the Lab analysis, it shall be determined if the wine qualifies for an organoleptic analysis to be conducted with qualified unbiased tasters for hedonic evaluation of each wine. The wines that successfully pass the organoleptic analysis, will additionally undergo a "do-or-die" endurance test, with about 30% of the wine left in the bottle, i.e., twenty-four hours for reds in a 70 - 75 degrees F. environment, and forty-eight hours for whites in a 40 - 45 degrees F. respectively. The wines that are determined by the same tasters to be still hedonically enjoyable at the end of the DD period, will then, be deemed holistic, and granted the holistic seal for placement on the label. Notwithstanding, wines with less than 10ppm free SO2, and or, less than 50ppm total SO2, will additionally repeat the DD procedure every twelve months after bottling to insure that if a significant decline is detected, by virtue of lower sulfite content, the wine will not leave the producer for the consumer under the Holistic Wine branding classification.
The Romans allegedly burned elemental sulfur wicks in the ullage space in barrels for stablization during transport of wines shipped the Gaelics, and to date, there is still no known proven substitute for oxidation and microbial stability in wine, but higher minerality in organic grown grapes, seem to vastly reduced the amount of sulfites needed to maintain wines in sound condition.
Objective: Our aim is to provide transparent and realistically manageable standards within the boundaries of the USDA/FDA's general sulfite regulatory in wine; Provide US producers with an identifiable iconic pseudonym that is meaningful to consumers worldwide, and further strengthen the value of holistic stewardship of the land for survival of the living system and well being of future generations.
Please note: Persons impaired with sulfoxidation, allergic to sulfur, have an asthmatic or other condition that may exacerbate with sulfite ingestion, are advised to consult a physician before consuming wine ©
Respectfully developed by Louis Horta
Please enjoy responsibly!
What level of sulfites in wine constitutes "Low Sulfite Wine" aka "Low Sulphite Wine" (SO2) and sometimes mistakingly called "Low Sulfide Wine" (S-2), "Low Sulfate Wine" and "Low Sulphate Wine" (SO4-2)? Everyone's metabolism reacts in a different level threshold to sulfur compounds. "Low Sulfite Wine" is therefore, the level below one's threshold level and only the individual will know what that level may be from tracking their reaction to specific sulfite leves by ppm concentrations and amount of wine consumed with a given ppm concentration.
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