In this edition of Ask Missa, we’re talking about sulfites in wine. What are they? What purpose do they serve in wine? And, how do they impact your enjoyment of wine? Our Director of Sommology, Missa Capozzo, has the real story on sulfites in wine.

What are sulfites and what purpose do they serve in wine?

Sulfites are compounds that are found naturally in some foods, in the human body, and are antioxidants used as food additives/preservatives.

Do all wines have sulfites?

Sulfites occur naturally in wine, so yes, to a degree all wines have sulfites. The majority of winemakers do in fact use added sulfites for a variety of reasons, such as to intentionally stop fermentation at a certain point, and/or as a preservative to prevent oxidation, spoilage and bacteria. Without sulfites, the shelf life of a wine would be almost nonexistent.

In the US, it is required by law that any wine containing more than 10 ppm (parts per million) of sulfites have the words “CONTAINS SULFITES” on the wine label. If a wine does not have this on the label, it does not mean it is sulfite-free, it simply means it contains less than 10 ppm. There is no wine that is 100% free of sulfites.


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Are “wine headaches” caused by sulfites?

Absolutely not. Isn’t that the best news ever? There are indeed people who have true sulfite allergies who must make serious lifestyle adjustments when it comes to what they consume and the products they use. However, if you are simply suffering from a headache after drinking wine, I’m happy to report that sulfites are not likely the cause. Such a headache could be attributed to a number of other things, such as overindulging or lack of hydration. It is advised to balance each glass of wine with a glass of water to stay hydrated, and to pair your wine with food. Those who think they might have a true sulfite allergy, however, should immediately consult a doctor.

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