Sulfites In Wines

The subject of sulfites always confuses me. As far as I know they help preserve the wine, but are there rules on minimum and maximum amounts of sulfites allowed in each bottle of wine? Is the added amount of sulfites higher in the US than it is in Italy? Do red wines contain less sulfites than white wines? And lastly, during which wine making process are the sulfites added, is it during the bottling stage or before. I look forward to reading your answer on this subject and thank you very much in advance. Barbara

Answer From Expert Roger Bohmrich MW

There is a great deal of concern about sulfites in the U.S. The regulation requiring wines sold in the U.S. which contain 10 mg/liter or more to carry a "contains sulfites" declaration, whether produced in the U.S. or in other countries, has, in my opinion, served to increase anxiety among wine drinkers without cause. The good news is that a tiny fraction of the public - less than 0.5% - has genuine health issues with sulfites. I have written many answers to questions about sulfur dioxide on the LWE forum which might be helpful to you. The European Union limits on sulfites in wine (to simplify) are 160 mg/l for dry reds, 210 mg/l in dry whites and rosés, and 260 mg/l in sweet whites and rosés. The ceiling in the U.S. is 350 mg/l, yet the amount is much lower in practice, perhaps around 80 mg/l as a very rough average. In other words, official regulations do not not really convey the sulfite content of any given wine. Unless you are an asthmatic, have a proven and severe allergy, and your doctor has specifically advised you to avoid sulfites (in dried or processed foods, juices or wine), then the best advice I can offer is to forget entirely about them, sit back and enjoy a good glass of wine! And, by the way, those headaches many people blame on wine? They may have many causes, above all the alcohol itself, but scientists agree that sulfites are not the culprit.

About The Expert

Roger has enjoyed a lengthy career in the wine trade as an importer and retailer, and at present he is an educator, speaker and consultant. He set up and managed Millesima USA, a New York merchant affiliated with a leading European company. Previously, he served as senior executive of importers Frederick Wildman & Sons. In recent years, Roger has judged wine competitions in Argentina, Turkey and China. Roger became one of America's first Masters of Wine in 1993.

Visit Roger Bohmrich MW's web site