According to Wikipedia, sulfites are compounds that contain the sulfite ion So3-2. The sulfite ion is the conjugate base of bisulfite. Although its acid (sulfurous acid) is elusive, its salts are widely used as a food preservative or enhancer.
Sulfites are commonly blamed for causing headaches when drinking red wine, especially among women. Sulfites are generally not considered an allergen, but can cause common symptoms of a allergic reaction, such as: difficulty breathing, sneezing, swelling of throat, and/or hives. These are only some of the symptoms attributed to sulfite reactions and it may be that people experiencing these symptoms might not produce the enzymes necessary to break down sulfites. While sulfites may cause these particular symptoms in some people, they don’t cause headaches, says Frederick Freitag, Associate Director of the Diamond Headache Clinic. The more likely culprits for producing headaches may be the histamine, tyramine, tannins and of course alcohol produced during the fermentation process.
Low levels of sulfur-dioxide (SO2) occur naturally during the fermentation process. Winemakers may add more SO2 at different stages of fermentation to enhance the preservation, freshness, and color of the wine. It may be a surprise to learn that white wine contains more added SO2 than red. Sweet wines contain far more added SO2 than any other wines. The approximate parts per million (PPM) for different wine types goes as follows: 400 ppm for sweet wines, 210 ppm for whites, and 160 ppm for reds. Reds require less SO2 because tannins act as a stabilizing agent during malolactic fermentation. Sulfite levels are generally below maximum permitted levels and per the FDA the wine has to be labeled if it contains 10+ppm sulfur dioxide. With that being said, wine contains considerably less than most dried fruit which is about 1000 ppm.
The hard part of this article was trying to find a lovely Washington State wine without any added SO2 — commonly known as organic wine. I contacted Leif Olson, wine assistant from Issaquah PCC, to see if he could help me with this little hold up. Leif not only talked to me over the phone, but made an appointment with me so that he could show me what was available for my readers. I came home with a product from Badger Mountain Vineyards, a merlot bottled in a beautiful blue bottle with an elegant white label, that was much to my surprise a very lovely drinking wine. Jose Mendoza is the wine maker for Badger Mountain Vineyards out of Kennewick, I noticed that he also produces a Cab, Riesling, and a Chardonnay in organic form. I really encourage my readers looking for organic wine to visit their favorite natural market, preferably Leif or Erica from Issaquah PCC, and they will be more than willing to direct you to what you need as well as provide you with any information concerning the wine.