Am I Allergic to Sulfites?

Every year, around wine season, I get about 50% of my new wine customers coming in, whom, when I tell them about Campden tablets and sulfites, ask that they not use sulfites in their wines because they believe that they, or their friends or family, are allergic to them. Here is the truth on sulfite allergies according to a recent article I read in a scientific journal.

Very, very few people are allergic to sulfites. I have two customers that I know of that are because they cannot eat food from supermarkets and are on extremely restricted diets. Asthma is often a big part of a sulfite-sensitive person's life. If you have a sulfite allergy, you cannot eat canned foods, dried foods, many processed foods and most fast foods. These have ten to one hundred times the sulfite levels of wines. If you imbibe sulfites, you will have a major asthma attack and need forced air respiration.

Bottled wine usually has 3 to 5 parts per million (ppm) sulfite at most. Many bottled wines have 0 ppm, because sulphites deteriorate over time and eventually vanish away. Bacon has 600 to 800 ppm sulphites, raisins and dried apricots have over 1000 ppm and canned foods have varying amounts from 250 ppm on up. If you can eat these products and live, you are not sulphite sensitive.

If you get a rash, or hives when you drink wine, particularly red, or if you get flushed, or get headaches when you drink wine, it is not from sulfites. Grapes are in a constant battle of ecological, evolutionary survival. Over the millions of years they have been around, they have been attacked by insects and scavengers trying to use them as a food source. Grapes have developed a chemical defense that they produce - naturally - which, chemically, is called an "amine." It somewhat repels insects from breaking through the skins.

When some of us humans drink or eat this amine, we develop a histamine reaction - we get headaches, rashes, hives, or other allergic reactions. Those of us who have this are allergic to the grape, basically, and not anything else. Although sulfites get blamed out of ignorance.

In another article, a chemist took an extremely sensitive chemical, spectroscopic analyzer and examined 30 (or 50, I forget) wines from up and down the West Coast of America. He found no sulfite residue - not even in parts per billion - in ANY of the wines he tested. Sulfites break down over time, and if one follows my procedures at Main Street, very little sulfites are added towards the end bottling days.

If you do opt to eliminate sulfites, just be forewarned that your chances of spoilage are increased, and your cleanliness must be greatly increased. With sulfites, "kitchen clean" is all that is necessary; without sulfites, one must be close to sterile, and, more importantly, the fruit must be perfect - no moldy, or questionable fruit allowed into the fermenter.

Both methods are do-able, and I will help you either way, but I do believe, personally, that sulfites have their place in the winemaker's world - or else, why wouldn't more wineries opt NOT to use them, and have a great marketing device: "sulfite-free wine." It's because you might not like the taste compared to their competitors that do use them...