The dreaded S-word: That’s S for sulphites – the chemicals that zap microbes in your wine – and here’s how to avoid them—

Event 27 Apr 2014

The very word sulphite sounds like pure evil, a contaminant conjured from the very bowels of Satan’s angriest eruption. Yet all wines contain sulphites as a natural by-product of fermentation. But should the s-word in our everyday tipple have us running for the hills?

Under EU law, a wine containing more than ten miligrams of ‘free’ sulphur dioxide per litre must be labelled ‘contains sulphites’. It’s added as it acts as a preservative, and zaps microbes that might otherwise spoil the wine. Not a problem for most of us, but an unlucky minority have reported unfortunate reactions such as wheezing or tightness of breath.

Reds tend to contain fewer sulphites than whites. For reds the maximum level is 160mg per litre, for whites, 210mg per litre and for sweet wines a whopping 400 mg per litre. Your average biodynamic wine might contain around half those levels and natural wines even less – but they tend to cost a few quid more.

Thankfully, there are wines on supermarket shelves that have their sulphite content clearly labelled, such as M&S Villiera Brut ‘Natural’ Sparkling Chardonnay 2010 for £10.99 from South Africa, which states ‘no added SO2’.

But the very best stockists are specialist merchants such as Lescaves.co.uk (01483 20554750) and vintageroots.co.uk (0800 980 4992) – ring to ask for advice for your budget and occasion. I’d highly recommend Robersonwine.com, with a good choice of organic, biodynamic and natural wines on its website.

Finally, it’s worth noting that some of the world’s most iconic wine estates, such as Domaine de la Romanée Conti, are making delicious wine under biodynamic principles – look out for legendary Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2005 from HawksheadWines.co.uk £46.95 (14 per cent) – sublimely rich, dense, spicy and age-worthy wine for a very special treat. Or grab the soul-boosting Coyam 2010 organic wine from Chile, £16.99 (14.5 per cent) available at virginwines.com.

Personally, I’ve never had a reaction, but if you have any worries, my recommendations below are all low in sulphites.

OLLY’S PICK OF THE BUNCH

Emiliana O Viognier Organic, Chile, 14% (Tesco, £7.99) Spot-on with a gingery spiced stir fry, this peachy vino is a great start to your organic adventure.

Altano Douro Quita do Ataide 2011, Portugal, 14% (Waitrose, £9.99) This beauty is scented and floral with a powerful black cherry tang to the flavour. Splendid for Sunday roast.

Mas Coutelou Classe 2012, France, 14% (Roberson Wine, £15.95) My top wine of the year so far, as precious and pristine as a blackcurrant diamond. Serve chilled for a total treat.

Heathcote Jasper Hill ‘La Pleiade’ 2010, Australia, 15% (Yapp, £44.00) Rich with spice and poise, like riding a pepper grinder all the way to The Blackberry Moons.

WINE OF THE WEEK

Aldi Cave des Perrières Pouilly Fumé 2012, France, 12.5% (Aldi, £7.99) Classy vino for a smashing price and as sharp as a lemon riding a pair of razor boots down the sheer face of Mount Eiger.

First published in EVENT magazine on 27th April 2014.

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