Let’s find out what are sulphites, which function thay have and how they are harmful to our health.
When choosing a wine, we often read the label and find the text “CONTAIN SULPHITES” on the back, at the bottom. Our reaction is never totally positive, but we skip and buy the bottle we like, aware that the vast majority of bottles contain sulphites.
Often our assessment is due to our perception or our bad experiences and we give the sulphites a negative and damaging role. This is not entirely wrong, but neither entirely right. We know that food is related to our health. So, let’s find out what the sulphites are, what properties they have and how and in what quantities they are harmful.
What are sulphites?
The sulphites that are added to the wine are salts derived from a gas: sulfur dioxide. But they are not only used in wine, in fact they are one of the most used additives in the whole agri-food industry. Sulphites are listed as preservatives and have some recognition codes (E-220: sulfur dioxide, E-221: Sulfate of sodium, E-222: Sodium bisulfite, E-223 Sodium metabisulphite, E-224 : potassium metabisulphite; E-226: calcium sulphide; E-227: calcium bisulphite acid; E-228) which is mandatory, if present, to be included in the label among the ingredients. Among the foods that contain it most are fruit juices, vegetable puree preparations and dried fruits like apricots and plums.
What are the sulphites in the wine?
For food, sulphite’s functions are many, but for wine the main function is antiseptic.
During fermentation, wine produces autonomously sulfur dioxide, but in insufficient quantities to ensure that microorganisms such as bacteria or yeast proliferate. To avoid this and to ensure that the organoleptic characteristics remain more or less unchanged, it is necessary to increase the amount of sulfur dioxide by adding sulphites. This is a positive side that needs to be kept in mind. Sulphites are not just there to save the wine lot to the producer, they are there to ensure a healthy and “safe” product.
What does the current legislation say about their use?
Although the legislation has intervened in terms of protection by imposing the obligation to insert on the label “CONTAIN SULPHITES”, this protection has not been extended to the scope of transparency.
What we want to say is that have been established a minimum quantitative threshold and a maximum use of sulphites, but no obligation to communicate this quantity has been provided. In detail, the obligation to include on the label the words “CONTAINS SULPHITES” applies when exceeding 10 mg per liter and the maximum amount of sulphite usable is 150 mg per liter for red wines and 200 mg per liter for white wines. In this way, a wine that contains 11 mg / lt has the same label as one containing 200 mg.
For organic wines, however, the regulation provides a maximum limit of 100 mg sulphites per liter in red wine and 150 mg for whites.
What harmful effects have sulphites in humans?
Sulphites are listed as “allergens”. But there are no allergic subjects who can go into anaphylactic shock and so we can just talk about people more or less sensitive to sulphites and not allergic people.
Among the effects can be mentioned respiratory problems in asthma people, incorrect absorption of vitamin B1 and common effects such as gastric irritations.
The disadvantage of sulphites par excellence is very common.
Have you ever woke up with “big head” because you drank a little more than usual the night before? And repeat between you “Yet I did not seem to overdid!”
You can relax. The cause does not necessarily depend on the amount of wine you have been drinking, but depends on the amount of sulphites in the wine. Another effect they have is to block, just partially, oxygen from reaching the brain during digestion and this causes the headache.
To overcome the concept, if you drink 1 liter of wine with 11mg of sulphite per liter or a glass of wine with 200mg of sulphites per liter, that glass in proportion could result in a headache 4 times higher than a liter of low-volume sulphites wine.
These are the adverse effects that do not occur in all subjects in the same way. However, these effects are circumscribed and are not prolonged over time.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has defined an acceptable daily dose (DGA) of 0.7 mg of sulphites per kg body weight. So, for example, a person weighing 70 kg should not take more than 50 mg of sulphite per day. Wine consumption, therefore, depends on or should depend on the amount of sulphites it contains.
Podere Il Casale wines
At Podere Il Casale we produce organic wines, therefore according to law, our wine has a lower sulfite limit than non-organic wines. We try to produce a wine that is as natural as possible, adding a quantity of sulphites which is about 1/3 of the maximum limit for organic wine. Such low levels of sulphites lead to a very low sulfur dioxide residue after an appropriate glass refining stage and the resulting wine is comparable to one without sulphites added. Our organic grapes are vinified in Montepulciano at the Croce di Febo Organic Winery that commit to our philosophy and pay close attention to getting a natural, clean, and good product.
The conclusion is therefore one: you have to responsibly drink and choose low-sulphites wines.