Monday 24 June 2019

Urban legend: The truth about sulphites in your wine


Beyond the label: Sulphites are an allergen but they may not be as bad as you think
Beyond the label: Sulphites are an allergen but they may not be as bad as you think
Thierry Puzelat Le P'tit Blanc du Clos Tue-Bouef 2016
Earths Essence
Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave

Look on the back of any wine bottle, and, more than likely, you will see those two dreaded words: "contains sulphites". Throbbing headaches the length and breadth of the country are attributed to the evil 's' word, but while it is definitely an allergen, hence the EU labelling requirement, it is not responsible for your affliction.

Sorry to break it to you, but sulphites don't give you headaches, you, erm, possibly just drank a tad too much and are dehydrated because you forgot to drink enough water over the course of the evening. You'll find more sulphites in a bowl of muesli with dried fruit than you will find in your Saturday night bottle. It's urban legend, but much like MSG (which, some experts say, also doesn't give you headaches), it continues to take the rap for any unwanted niggle following an evening's imbibing.

About 1pc of people are hypersensitive to sulphites, and within that 1pc, 5pc are asthmatic, so for these people it can be a problem, as sulphites can trigger an asthmatic reaction.

But the numbers are very small, and not only will these people be avoiding wine, they will also be avoiding beer, mustard, dried fruit, even cereal bars. So, be glad you're not actually allergic to sulphites.

Sulphites have been around since Roman times, when they were used to preserve food, and they are also a natural by-product of the fermentation process, so even if a wine maker uses absolutely no sulphites, chances are, there are still some in the wine. SO₂, as it is called in the chemistry sets, is used in wine making to avoid spoilage and oxidation.

It can be used at many stages, from the time the grapes are picked until the bottle is corked, and you will find this particularly in large-scale wine operations where consistency is the benchmark they work to.

However, in smaller artisan wineries, it may be just a squirt in the bottle after it has been filled and before it is corked to ensure that the wine remains stable. In some cases, it may not be used at all. The argument is that sulphur dulls down the wine and sucks the life out of it.

Typically, low-intervention wines are allowed to ferment spontaneously using wild yeast, and then bottled without any fining or filtration.

This adds a more layered texture to the wine, but as some solids remain in the wine, it is more susceptible to bacterial spoilage.

There are some, like Thierry Puzelat, a renowned natural winemaker from the Loire, who believe in letting sense prevail. He makes incredibly expressive wines, which reflect the terroir of where the grapes are grown, but he doesn't sign up to the nihilist regime of some of the more dogmatic natural wine makers.

To ensure the lively character of his wines is preserved in the bottle, he uses a tiny amount of sulphur at bottling. It seems to be the perfect solution.

Earth's Essence Chenin Blanc

€8.99, 13.5pc, from Aldi

Earths Essence

This is made in an unusual way: instead of using sulphites, the wine is preserved using wood from rooibos and honey bush, both natural antioxidants. It's an easy-drinking Chenin Blanc that is juicy and refreshing.

Thierry Puzelat Le P'tit Blanc du Clos Tue-Bouef 2016

€19.99, 13pc, The Corkscrew, Green Man Wines, Loose Cannon, all Dublin; Le Caveau, Kilkenny, and

Thierry Puzelat Le P'tit Blanc du Clos Tue-Bouef 2016

Low-sulphur, with aromatics of lime, nectarine and apricot and a beautiful textural quality on the palate with fresh flavours of grapefruit and almonds.

Pieropan `La Rocca` Soave Classico

€39.99, 12pc, from 64 Wine, The Corkscrew, Redmonds, Jus De Vine, Green Man Wines, all Dublin; and


A crisp, flinty, low-sulphur white. Made from organically raised grapes, there's a mineral purity with a touch of citrus.


Gin lovers rejoice. Aldi's Gingerbread Gin Liqueur (€14.99) is being launched on October 1. With warming notes of ginger, cinnamon, vanilla and orange, drink it with tonic water or neat over ice. And the first premium Japanese craft gin, ROKU, has just hit the shelves in O'Briens (€45). Six traditional Japanese botanicals are infused, distilled and blended by the Japanese artisans of The House of Suntory Spirits in Osaka.

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