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Banter or Bullshit?

Sulphur and Sulphur Dioxide (SO2): Practical or Problematic?

Sulphur is a naturally occurring earth mineral that has been used for thousands of years to stabilize the things we eat and drink. Exposure to it can cause problems to a small segment of the population, and they can be serious. But SO2 is ubiquitous in our modern society.

Fruit fermentation, including grapes, can naturally produce up to about 20 ppm of SO2. Most large volume “commercial” wines around the world will bottle their red wines at about 30-50 parts per million free SO2 (Ough 1986) as a protective measure. The EU legal limit for red wines is 150 parts per million of free SO2. White wines limit is a bit higher. For comparison, dried apricots, raisins & prunes can contain up to 2,000 parts per million free SO2 and many other common foods also contain high levels of SO2 (pickles, sausages, ketchup, vinegar). Yes, that means that most red wines, even large scale commercially produced wines, have more that ten times less SO2 than many processed foods. If someone regularly eats dried fruits or these processed foods and does not have a reaction they might not be sensitive to SO2, rather a sensitivity to histamines, tannins or maybe the alcohol. I’m not a nutritional scientist but it’s an interesting topic.

Some vintners, importers or their sales reps use the notion of “low SO2” as a selling point. That is their prerogative - but this argument, “our wines are better because they have less SO2 than commercial wines” is often a non sequitur. Why? Many large-scale commercial wines already have “low SO2”. (See the ETS laboratory report here) for the $7.99/bottle Cabernet Sauvignon made by Bogle (a 3 million case winery) which has only 71 ppm total SO2. Ditto the ubiquitous large brand “Butter” Chardonnay (80ppm). Both analyses show the SO2 in these wines are well below EU regulatory guidelines, common dried fruits and very close to the threshold of most “natural” wine proponents. Beware of wines marketed as “low SO2”. Beware of bullshit marketing..