Low Sulfites Wines

Written by Blaire Chandler-Wilcox
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Understanding the world of organic wines can be confusing. There are different classification systems in the U.S. and in Europe, for one thing. Another difference is the different terminologies between the two. Thirdly, is the misunderstanding most consumers have about the role of sulfites in wine.

All organic wines start out the same: as grapes planted in earth tended to via natural, non-chemical means. Healthier, more robust, more flavorful grapes are created, which, when pressed, result in more robust, more flavorful wines. Simple enough. However, once wines reach the point at which additional sulfites would be added (a natural step in the wine-making process) the different definitions of "organic" start stepping in.

Understanding the Key Role of Sulfites in Wine

Sulfites in and of themselves are not the evil little things they've been made out to be. To begin with, they're naturally occurring as a result of the fermentation of the yeast. There is no such thing as a sulfite-free wine. They do not exist. Second, adding a few more sulfites (sulphur dioxide) to the mix is a required addition for a stable wine. Sulfites keep wine from spoiling. (Let's also remember that the masses of commercial, non-organic wine producers, the big guys that sell the most wine in the world, make no attempt to control their levels of sulfites. People only start getting picky about the presence of sulfites in organic wines.)

In Europe, it's understood that a smattering of sulfites, under 100 parts per million, are required for the stabilization of wine. As a result, wines made in France from organic grapes, with added sulfites less than 100 parts per million, classify as organic. Not so in the United States. The USDA says no wine is organic if it contains any additional sulfites. Not even a pinch. This is because some asthmatics have a reaction to sulfites. Therefore, even a wine made from 100 percent organic grapes, with sulfites as low as 40 ppm, may not refer to itself as "organic" within the US. Only wines containing no added sulfites (less than 10 parts per million) may do that.

The problem with those "organic" wines containing no added sulfites is that they taste terrible. As a result, the whole quality image of "organic wine" has suffered tremendously. Low sulfite wines, on the other hand, made with organically grown grapes, are arguably among the finest wines around. Their flavors and aromas are superior because the original fruit was superior; they have only enough sulfites required to stabilize the wine; they don't harm the earth in their production, and they don't harm your body in the consumption. If you're interested in supporting organic farming, and organic wine-making, without sacrificing taste and quality, look for wines identifying themselves as "made with organic grapes," and "low sulfites." Cheers.

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