What Is Preservative Free and Sulphite Free Wine?
A nasty additive or a necessary ingredient for a great bottle of wine? We reveal everything you need to know about the use of preservatives in wine.
The use of preservatives in wine has received a lot of press in recent years. Anything with the term ‘free’ in it suggests something nasty has been taken out of it, but this isn’t necessarily the case.
With this in mind, we want to help you know about the preservatives in wine so that choosing your next bottle of wine is easy—because we like to avoid headaches before and after wine appreciation as much as possible!
What are the preservatives commonly found in wine?
Wines with preservatives in them contain sulphur dioxide (SO2). You may also see the words ‘sulphites added’ which is a general term for SO2, HSO3 (bisulphites) and H2SO3 (sulphurous acid). Now you may be thinking those preservatives sound serious, but before you get too worried, some of these preservatives are a natural by-product of the winemaking process.
Grapes naturally produce sulphur dioxide, which is a gas, during the fermentation process, and because of this even organic wines can contain some sulphur dioxide. However, many winemakers add additional sulphur dioxide as well.
Why do winemakers use preservatives?
Preservatives in wine are there to help get the wine from the vineyard to the glass in the best condition possible.
There are many obstacles a winemaker has to contend with, from damage to the grapes in the vineyard from pests and birds, to oxygen exposure in the winery. Sulphur dioxide helps to neutralise the negative effects of oxygen and as a rule of thumb, the more damaged the grapes are (from pests and birds) will determine how much sulphur dioxide is required. That’s why grapes that are cared for carefully prior to harvest are easier to turn into preservative free wine.
How do I know if I’m drinking preservative free wine?
Australian wines with preservatives added to them will be labelled accordingly – look for ‘preservative 220’ or ‘minimal sulphur dioxide’ or ‘contains sulphites’ on the label. Conversely, if wines are free of preservatives you’ll see the words ‘free of or no added preservatives’ or similar. In Australia we even go so far as to specify that the amount of sulphur dioxide is limited to 250mg/l but many winemakers often use a lot less (closer to 150mg/l).
Unfortunately wines from outside Australia containing preservatives aren’t as easy to identify. European wines may contain preservatives even if they’re not listed on the bottle, as they don’t have the same strict labelling requirements as us.
Also keep in mind preservative free wine is usually best enjoyed young. While the wine will contain some natural preservatives like the alcohol itself, tannins and acidity, it’s not necessarily going to have the same longevity as a wine containing preservatives.
Are preservatives in wine a bad thing?
For most people the preservatives used in wine won’t cause a reaction – wines actually contain much less sulphur dioxide than other products like dried fruits, beer and certain meats. But issues can occur for people sensitive to preservatives, causing reactions such as asthma, sinus irritation and migraines. Other symptoms and negative side effects of a sulphite allergy include an itchy throat, runny nose, skin rash hives, hypotension, abdominal pain, an upset stomach, and even anaphylactic reactions.
If that’s enough to put you off wine altogether, don’t despair! Medical literature suggests only 1% of people experience strong allergic reactions to sulphites, so if you’re in that 1% it’s probably best to stay away from wines that are not preservative free.
Perhaps because of the range and severity of symptoms in those sensitive to sulphites, preservatives have been labelled a bad thing in winemaking. Other symptoms like headaches and hangovers often get mentioned in relation to the preservatives in wine, but the science isn’t so clear-cut.
Is preservative free wine better for you?
Unless you’re one of those people sensitive to sulphur dioxide, you’re unlikely to experience any issues from the preservatives used in wine.
You may have heard friends say they don’t get a hangover when they drink preservative free wine but there’s no scientific basis for this claim. Others suggest that conventional wine gives them a headache. In reality, the reason you are less likely to experience a headache when drinking preservative free wine is because it’s also organic or biodynamic, which means it’s free of certain chemical pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.
Other reasons why you may be experiencing negative symptoms when drinking wine
If you’re one of those people who don’t have a sulphite allergy but swear by the fact you still experience negative symptoms when drinking wine, we believe you! Wine and alcohol in general can cause symptoms in some people that may be mistaken as a sulphite allergy.
For example, when you drink alcohol you may find you end up with a stuffy nose. This is because alcohol can dilate the blood vessels in your nose. Wine also contains histamines, so if you’re prone to allergies your body can have trouble breaking these down. Other symptoms might be related to the tannins found in red wine, which can increase your levels of serotonin, causing headaches in some people.
Clever ways to lessen your exposure to preservatives in wine
If you’re not sensitive to sulphur dioxide but would still prefer to reduce your exposure to preservatives, here’s some tips and tricks:
\ Choose red wines
The tannins in red wine act as a natural preservative. White wines tend to have more sulphur dioxide added to them because they are prone to oxidation. If you find you’re still reacting to red wine, it could be due to the histamines.
\ Opt for older wines
Sulphur dioxide breaks down over time so it could be time to crack open that bottle of wine you’ve been holding onto!
\ Seek out organic and biodynamic wines
As mentioned, these more mindful wine choices can still contain sulphur dioxide but it is usually at much lower levels, if at all.
Where to find preservative free wine
You’ve come to the right place! Vineful only sells wine that is underpinned by mindful practices and we take the hard work out of finding delicious preservative free wines. You’ll also discover a great range of organic, biodynamic and vegan friendly options. Explore mindful wine here.