Sulfites

August 30, 2010

It occurred to me the other day that I’ve talked about sulfites, but not really addressed them as a blog. Sulfites is a natural chemical that stuns or kills bacteria enough to allow a domestic yeast to start fermenting. Once it is fermenting and using up all the nutrients, the other things don’t really have anything to eat to grow. It also serves to prevent oxidation, though it is not a cure all for either issue.

The use of sulfites in wine making probably started when water with sulfur in it was used for cleaning, especially wine barrels, and it was found that these barrels stayed fresh and clean smelling, did not start growing mold, and the wine that came out of them tasted good. Sulfur is still burned today in wine barrels to keep the fresh. In fact, in The Odyssey , Homer writes about burning sulfur as a way to purify the home after Odysseus killed all of his wife’s suitors, so the practices has been in existence for a very long time.

Today, sulfites are added usually in the form of either Campden Tablets or powdered potassium metasulfites. It is usually added 24 hours before the yeast is pitched, and then about every 180 days and right before bottling because sulfites do fade away.

If too much sulfites is used, the wine will have off smells like rotten eggs. In addition to this, the government does place limits on how much sulfite can be in the wine, partly because there are some health risks with it. Asthma suffers will have problems breathing if they inhale sulfites, and some people claim to get headaches from consuming sulfites. This has lead to a movement of wineries not using sulfites and labeling the wine as “sulfite free.” However, fermention causes sulfur containing amino acids to break down, then releases sulfur into the wine at low levels, so there is no such thing as a sulfite free wine.  Personally, I think they are fools for not using sulfites, as it decreases the risk that the wine will go bad. It would be better to start the fermentation process with sulfites, but then not do further dosages so that the total amount of sulfites in the wine would be lower. Then, the wine would really only be at risk of oxidation.

Further Reading on Sulfite Myths:

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10 Responses to “Sulfites”


  1. […] Rack again after about a month or two and add sulfites. […]


  2. […] is that they label it as no added sulfites or preservatives. That is to say, they recognize that sulfites are naturally occurring during fermentation and even have lab work to prove it, but they don’t purposefully go and add sulfites. They are […]


  3. […] Add sulfites using either the package instructions or the pH to guide you. […]


  4. […] add sugar, which is actually the last recipe of the wine section. Some recipes use Campden tables (sulfites), and others don’t, and I can’t pick out a pattern as to why or why […]


  5. […] Added Ingredients is part measurements, and part check list. For instance, it reminds me to add sulfite, and I would probably do it by package directions. I gave more room for the preparation of […]


  6. […] processes will happen naturally unless sulfites are regularly used to prevent it, or if the pH is too low. If a winemaker harvests in the fall and […]


  7. […] book, but this one does walk you through the step by step laboratory procedures to determine free sulfites, total sulfites, and titratable acidity, and talks about the formula to convert SG to potential […]


  8. […] it clear later. I also added some tannin to help with mouthfeel, but not much. Of course, I added sulfites because I don’t want to take a risk of losing the batch, especially since the pH is a bit […]


  9. […] says he does not use sulfites, does not filter, and does not pasteurize, and so far has not had a problem with shelf stability […]


  10. […] wine marketing, and I don’t blame him. There has been a recent trend to make wines without sulfites, a trend started in California. Thing is, the use of sulfites has been going on for probably 2,500 […]


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