Lifestyle / Food And Drink

Wine Wizard
2 minute read
21 Apr 2014
6:00 am

Should sulphur in wine be curtailed?

Wine Wizard

Nowadays, preservative-free is the holy grail. Woolworths markets its yoghurt as the only commercial one in South Africa that meets this spec. Organic food is probably showing the highest growth percentage in the premium sector. Wineries are minimising their use of sulphur dioxide and a few have actually risked going "sulphur-free" (which means "no sulphur additions").


We depend more than we realise on preservatives: whole civilisations came and went because they lacked the ability to extend the life of their food. Those that did initially used salt. In fact, there are still many which depend on salted beef, cured ham and dried fish for a significant percentage of their protein.

Preservatives come at a price. Some of the chemicals used to cure commercial bacon have been identified as carcinogenics. Salt is directly implicated in elevated blood pressure and sulphur dioxide in respiratory problems. If you are prone to high blood pressure you need to keep your diet as salt-free as possible, and if you have an allergic reaction to sodium benzoate or sulphur dioxide, you should choose your beverages carefully.

However, certain allergic reactions are a function of your tolerance (and therefore, of the amount of the allergen to which you are subjecting your metabolism). While you can have a low salt diet, you probably can’t, nor would want, a salt-free existence. By the same token you can have 100% preservative-free fruit juice (just squeeze the fruit yourself and consume it immediately).

Sulphur dioxide preserves wine, enabling it to mature and evolve. You can make wine without sulphur dioxide, but it will have a shorter shelf-life. Such wine will still have very low levels of naturally occurring sulphur dioxide. The best of these wines are the Cap Classiques, where the higher levels of acidity enhance the shelf-life, and where a little early development in the bottle can be positively satisfying.

If you are sulphur-sensitive, you are probably able to tolerate low sulphur levels. Avoid all bag-in-the-box wines and cheaper whites, especially those with a little sugar: these need stronger preservative levels. Buy bottles with screwcap closures – the best are made with less sulphur because less is required with the hermetic seal of a Stelvin (the most widely-used screwcaps).

Oh, and don’t blame your head-ache on sulphur: maybe you just drank too much bad wine the night before.