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Sulphites and Wine: What they are, what they are for and false myths

The 2023 harvest has recently ended, and although Coldiretti estimates speak of the least productive of the last 6 years due to climate change, it promises to be a year of excellent quality wines.

The wineries are therefore in full swing and while we are all waiting to taste the Novello 2023 (the sale has been set for October 30th), like every year an always very controversial and debated topic in the food and wine sector comes back into play, namely the use of sulphites !

We always hear a lot about this topic, which is why we have decided to clarify things once and for all so that you don't get scared when you read the labels of our wines , which are strictly organic and contain sulphites.

What is a Sulfite?

Let's start from the basics. Sulfites are sulfur-based chemical compounds that are used as preservatives in many foods and beverages, including wine. Their main purpose is to preserve the wine from oxidation and the growth of unwanted bacteria so that it remains fresh and stable over time. These compounds are also known as sulfur dioxide or SO2.

Why are Sulphites Present in Wine?

The main reason is that sulphites develop naturally in the winemaking process!

The most common sulfite is usually sulfur dioxide (SO2), and here are the reasons why we find it very commonly in every bottle of wine:

  1. Natural Production: During alcoholic fermentation, yeast converts the sugars present in the grapes into alcohol. During this process, small amounts of SO2 can be produced naturally as a by-product of fermentation. These natural sulphites contribute to the preservation and stability of the wine.

  2. Intentional Addition: Many winemakers add sulfites in a controlled manner to protect the wine from oxidation and bacterial contamination. This practice is common and regulated in the wine industry.

What are sulphites and why are they found in wine

The Controversies

Despite their essential role in wine production, sulphites are always at the center of controversy. Some people claim that excessive use of these substances can cause allergic reactions or negative side effects, such as headaches or tiredness. This has led to a debate about how much should be present in wine.

It is important to note that most wines contain sulphites in very low quantities, far below the safety limits set by health authorities. However, some sensitive people may react to even small amounts of sulfites, which is why there are "no added sulfites" wines on the market.

Wines without sulphites

Unfortunately, there are people who are particularly sensitive to sulphites, for whom even a small quantity is synonymous with allergic reactions or discomfort, which is why wine production techniques have been refined aimed at eliminating or limiting the presence of these substances ("without added sulphites" or "natural" wines).
However, it is important to note that even in these cases, small amounts may still be present due to natural production during fermentation.

Here are some of the techniques used:

  1. Organic and Biodynamic Wines: Organic and biodynamic wine producers seek to minimize the use of added chemical sulphites, preferring instead sustainable agricultural practices and winemaking methods that minimize their addition;

  2. Manual Harvest: Manually harvesting grapes can help avoid contamination with unwanted microorganisms, reducing the need for them;

  3. Spontaneous Fermentation: Some producers choose to let fermentation occur spontaneously, without the addition of selected yeasts. This can reduce the need to add sulfites to control fermentation;

  4. Low Temperatures: Winemaking at low temperatures can slow fermentation and reduce sulfite production during this process;

  5. Using Natural Wood: In the case of wines aged in wooden barrels, the use of natural wood rather than chemically treated wood can reduce the SO2 contribution to the wine;

  6. Winemaking Without Added Sulfites: Some producers choose to make wines without adding chemical sulfites. However, even in these cases, it is important to note that small amounts of sulphites may still be present.

manual harvesting can reduce the need to add sulphites

What alternative substances can be used to preserve wine?

  1. Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C): A natural antioxidant that can be used to reduce oxidation in wine. However, it does not have the same antibacterial properties as sulphites, so it may not be sufficient to protect wine from unwanted bacteria.

  2. Sorbic Acid: A chemical preservative that can be used to prevent bottle fermentation and the formation of unwanted yeasts. It is often used in sparkling wines.

  3. Tannins: Tannins may be added to help protect the wine from oxidation. This technique is more common in red wines, where natural tannins are already present.

  4. Bentonite Clay: Bentonite clay is used for wine clarification and can help remove unwanted substances that could cause instability in wine.

  5. Use of Filters: Filters of different types can be used to remove unwanted particles from wine, helping to maintain its stability.

To conclude , sulphites play an important role in the preservation and protection of wine, and their presence is an absolutely natural event!

The presence of chemically added sulphites usually depends on the production philosophy of individual companies.

Although they are at the center of a controversy, it is essential to remember that most people can consume wine with sulfites without problems. If you have food sensitivities or allergies, you can opt for sulfite-free wines.

If you are concerned about the presence of sulfites in your wine, you can check the label. The law requires that manufacturers list the amount of added sulfites on bottle labels.

Finally, if you want some advice, on our online shop you can find the delicious wines of Tenuta di Ghizzano , a farm in Peccioli (Pi) that strictly follows the principles of organic and biodynamic agriculture, such as Veneroso , a Tuscan red DOC made with grapes sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon.

Cheers!

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