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What Are Sulfites In Wine?
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Sulfite or sulfur dioxide is a compound that is comprised of sulfur and oxygen. It is a natural by-product of the natural wine fermentation process, yet it also serves as a preservative that keeps the wine fresh and its flavor intact. Sulfite has antioxidant and anti-bacterial properties that work to protect the wine from getting spoiled due to oxidation, and a lot of winemakers purposely add sulfites to their wine base to facilitate fermentation.
Myths about the negative effects of sulfite have been passed on by word of mouth. Although many individuals claim that the sulfite in wine is the cause of headaches, it is quite surprising to note that sweet wines which have the least effect on the head, have the highest sulfite content at 400 PPM. On the other hand, red wines, which usually give headaches when drunk in excess, have the least sulfur oxide level at 160 PPM. It is really difficult to connect headaches to sulfur oxide because wines have a lot of ingredients that can trigger the bad feeling.
This being said, it would be safe to say that the consumption of small amounts of sulfite is generally harmless. It is one of the reasons why the Government of the United States allows wines to contain a maximum of 350 parts per million of sulfur dioxide.
The Role of Sulfur Dioxide in the Wine Making Process
We might think that sulfite is just a useless, undesirable by-product in making wine, but it really has a useful purpose. During different stages of the winemaking process, most winemakers put in a pre-determined amount of sulfite into their wine base in order to:
1. Stabilize the wine and prevent it from converting into vinegar;
2. Prevent the occurrence of oxidation which deteriorates the quality and flavor of the wine;
3. Prevent the growth of yeasts and protect the wine from the unwanted effects of oxygen.
These are some of the good uses of sulfite in winemaking. Despite these, winemakers make sure that they use as little of this compound as possible because too much of it can possibly trigger allergic reactions to asthmatic individuals.
If you come across a wine bottle that bears the message "Contains Sulfites" on the label, it means that the wine is added with more than 10 parts per million of sulfur dioxide. But since almost all wines naturally carry 10 to 20 PPM of sulfite, it goes without saying that all wines contain sulfur dioxide.
Sulfite is a natural by-product of the wine making process, and it is really difficult to make wine without it. In fact, there are just a handful of wineries that do not add this compound to their wines during fermentation.
The good news about sulfite is its ability to preserve the wine. Wine is a perishable item, prone to oxidation, and can easily deteriorate especially with the presence of yeast. Wines that do not contain Sulfite have short shelf life. You need to keep them in perfect storage conditions in order to keep them fresh and unspoiled. With the mass production of commercial wines, it is imperative to keep their freshness and flavor intact so that they will be able to meet your expectations as a paying consumer.
Stephen John is a food and wine enthusiast who blogs about food, wine, and culture. He loves to travel and try exotic cuisines of different countries. Stephen recommends that you go to Winemarket.com.au to know more about the best Merlot Cabernet and other great wines in the market.
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