Recently, I had the great pleasure of doing a wine and food pairing presentation for a company in Providence. I love doing this - sharing how certain aspects of wine bring out specific flavors in food. No matter how many I've done, questions about sulfites always arise. Since we're coming into a holiday, when wine consumption will occur, I thought it would be a good time to give information on sulfites, which are often blamed for giving people headaches or other allergy-type responses.
All wine contains sulfites, as a result of sulfur dioxide added at some point during vinification, as well as naturally occurring. It's a misnomer that organic wines don't contain sulfites. Certified organic wines may contain less sulfites than non-organic wines. Even wines that are unsulphured will have a tiny amount because of occurring naturally. Sometimes you'll see on the label of these wines (a small percentage of the market) "no added sulfites."
So what does this mean? Sulfites act as a preservative and help prevent oxidation in wine. They're also ever present in food. For instance, there are large amounts in dried fruits. (Can you eat those without issues?) And sulfites are considered to provide reactions in only a very small percentage of people. Alcohol as well as histamines (differing opinions exist here) can also provide issues that are often blamed on sulfites.
I often have an issue with red wine - flushing, runny nose. This began two years ago, and I've done my own testing that has included trying many reds to see when it occurs. There isn't consistency, except for when I drink older wines, more than 5-7 years old. I'm not sure why - maybe whatever is affecting me dissipates over time. I still drink all reds but just prepare myself for what might happen.