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Sulfite Free Wine

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Bottom Line/Personal: Some people are concerned about sulfites…they have some allergies. What are some sulfite-free wines?

Amy Dixon: There is no such animal. Sulfites are naturally occurring compounds in the skins of the grapes, and so there’s no such thing as a no-sulfite wine. There are no-sulfite-added wines. Sulfur dioxide is something that’s used at the end of the fermentation process to halt fermentation. When he has decided that the alcohol level is high enough in the wine, the winemaker sometimes will add a little bit of sulfur dioxide to the barrel, which immediately arrests the fermentation process. So some wines have it…some wines don’t. All wines in the US have to have it on the label if sulfites are added to the wines.

Bottom Line: I’d heard that organic wines have far lower sulfites?

Dixon: No, that is not true. Is sulfur organic?

Bottom Line: Well, it is—but never listen to hearsay, right?

Dixon: Yes.

Bottom Line: So no organic.

Dixon: Yes.

Bottom Line: Let’s try it a different way, then. What has the lowest amount of sulfites? Is there such a thing?

Dixon: I can tell you the ones that are highest in sulfites—wines that are mass-produced from other countries for export or import to the United States. Wines that are mass-produced in Chile, you’re talking the big jugs of wine…you’re talking big jugs of Pinot Grigio from Italy…and things like that that are designed for export.

The reason why is that wine becomes very unstable during transportation. It goes on a container ship…it spends weeks out there…it goes in a warehouse…it goes on trucks. So they’re looking for stability of that wine despite temperature fluctuation. A lot of times, they will add sulfur to those wines to keep them stabilized. Better wineries and smaller wineries are not going to do it for those purposes. It’s just not what they believe in. So stay away from mass-produced quantities of jug wines and things like that.

Specifically if you have a sensitivity to sulfur, which many people do—a lot of times it causes migraines or a histamine kind of reaction, an allergic reaction…for many people, they get red in the face. I get red in the face after a glass of wine anyway. But those people really want to stay away from two wines in particular that are very high in sulfur dioxide.

One of them is Pinot Noir, because Pinot Noir is very difficult to grow and the grape is prone to rot. So winemakers tend to spray sulfur over the vineyards to prevent this particular type of mildew or mold from growing on the grapes. It is organic…it’s totally fine and an acceptable practice, but if you have a sensitivity to sulfur, you want to stay away from Pinot Noir in general.

The other wine, of course, is Chardonnay, because it’s actually a distant cousin of Pinot Noir. You really want to stay away from Chardonnay if you have a sensitivity to sulfur.

Bottom Line: Is this a place, then, based on what you’re saying, that you should buy local wherever possible? Just from local vineyards?

Dixon: Local vineyards, I don’t think that’s a hard and fast rule to follow. It’s certainly helpful in the battle against sulfur. Winemakers, from vintage to vintage, sometimes will choose to use sulfur in one vintage and not in another depending upon how their fermentation process is going and what their grapes are looking like out in the vineyard. So you really have to ask the individual winery, “Does this wine have sulfur this year?”

Bottom Line: Thank you, Amy Dixon, the Blind Sommelier.

Dixon: Oh, my pleasure.

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Source:  Amy Dixon, former buyer and fine wine expert at Stew Leonard’s wine stores. She is currently managing a portfolio of fine wine collectors at Nicholas Roberts Fine Wines in Darien, CT. AmyDixonUSA.com NicholasRobertsLTD.com
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