It is a conversation I have quite a bit when discussing wine. Is sulfur dioxide (SO2) the reason I get headaches when drinking a glass or three of wine? The answer? Maybe (Isn’t that always the case?). It is true that some people have a sensitivity to SO2 and can have negative reactions to ingesting it including headaches, coughing and irritation of the eyes. However, most wines do not pass the smell test (no pun intended) as the cause of your discomfort. All things considered the great majority of wine has minimal amounts of SO2.
SO2 is a natural by-product in the wine making process as 10-40 ppm is produced naturally during fermentation. The potential issues come when exterior factors force winemakers to add SO2 to help preserve the final product and some are heavier handed than others. In most wine countries around the world – the maximum levels of SO2 that a wine can contain are 150 ppm (parts per million) for red wine. 200 ppm for white wine, and 400 ppm for sweet wines. Although the actual levels are much lower, for example, many (the majority) dry red wines have around 50 ppm of SO2. In the United States, any wine that contains more than 10 ppm of SO2 must display the “Contains Sulfites” warning on the label. To give you an idea, dried fruits like raisins contain anywhere from 500 ppm up to 2000 ppm of SO2 and bacon clocks in somewhere around 900 ppm of SO2 and forget about your favorite French fries.
In conclusion, the addition of SO2 in our favorite wines is a relative necessity. Connecticut is quite a trip from many of the prominent wine growing regions in the world, all due respect to the local wineries. To enjoy the wine in the way the winemaker wishes to present it, the SO2 is an important factor in making sure the wine is stable for travel and tastes as it should. Pro tip: try to find wines that say estate grown and bottled on the label. Generally, because of the proximity to the vineyards where the grapes are grown, these wines tend to have less need for SO2 use prior to the actual wine production. Cheers!