Myth Busted: The Top 5 Myths about Sulfites in Wine

“A myth is a way of making sense in a senseless world. Myths are narrative patterns that give significance to our existence.” ― Rollo May

Invariably any number of folks who work in the wine-biz or wine-trades, whether it's your favorite tasting room in Napa or the wine bar down the street, will be asked about the health effects of sulfites in wine and its supposed link to headaches and other sundry ailments. This has become even more a question in our health-conscious nation, where even the question of where their food comes from and whether it's ethical is a topic of daily discussion. 

Since food and wine are so tightly tied together, it's only natural that questions about chemicals that perhaps are potentially lurking in our vino should also be addressed. Thus the focus on sulfites has become more mainstream, especially since a law was introduced and passed forcing producers to add the phrase "contains sulfites" to the ominous warning label found on wine bottles.

The team at Vine Crowd has compiled a list of the top five myths about the sulfites found in wine we all drink every day. Done in a style, which I believe to be a similar [style or fashion] to the folks on the once [hugely] popular show Mythbusters. 

A fascinating show, where they take a common-sense approach [aka. scientific method] to prove or disprove popular recurring myths. So, sit back, buckle-up as it's going to be a bumpy ride today on our way to discover together what is really going on in our wine and like some popular nineties show once proclaimed, "the truth is out there".

1. You or someone you know is allergic to sulfites.
NOPE, not true. Someone’s been badly misinformed. Sulfites are something that our body naturally produces at a normal rate of about 1,000mg a day. Compare that to the average 10mg per glass of wine and it’s pretty clear that if someone was allergic to sulfites, their problems would be a little more severe than a life without wine. There are, however, individuals that have high sensitivities to sulfites. We’ll get to that in a second. Oh 

2. The sulfites in wine are extremely high.
Again, not true. Sulfites are a part of the winemaking process all around the world. They are added in moderation in order to preserve wines for aging. They are also added to other foods for the same reason – anything from the vegetables in a salad bar to dried fruits will contain added sulfites. Sulfites in an average glass of wine will measure 10mg, whereas a 2oz serving of those bright orange dried apricots typically has 112mg. Yep, over 10 times as much as a glass of wine.

3. Sulfites give you headaches.
FALSE. Probably the biggest myth of all. There has been no link to sulfites and headaches in research groups – even among people with high sensitivity to sulfites. Even among the highly sensitive people, adverse reactions (mainly asthmatic) only presented themselves when subjects were given four times the normal amount of sulfites in a single glass. This is not to say that some people don’t get headaches when they drink certain types of wine or alcohol, it just shows that it’s not the sulfites that are causing them. New research is showing that headaches may be related to the type of yeast used in fermentation.

Clarification: "I wanted to clarify that the infamous ‘red wine headache’ is very real for some people, but as mentioned above, it’s not the sulfites that are causing them." ~ Jennifer Kaplan

In the June issue of the Harvard Health Letter, it says ''The red wine headache is a real if poorly understood phenomenon." and according to Marian Burros that quote is what she would call "a masterpiece of understatement."

4. There are less sulfites in white wine.
It’s probably safe to say that we all know someone that doesn’t drink red wine “because of the sulfites.” In reality, white wines have slightly more sulfites than reds.

5. There are more sulfites used in American wines.
Surprise, things listed in bold are still NOT TRUE. Though winemaking practices differ in each country and region, a number of sulfites used in winemaking tend to be the same among Old World and New World countries. Several studies show that sulfite levels are similar throughout Europe and the US specifically. The fact that the US has a sulfite warning label but Canada and European countries do not tend to add to this myth.

Other Resources: For more information on the topic there's a great article posted entitled; Eating-well the puzzling red-wine-headache by Marian Burros who writes for the NYT. And one other insightful article on the subject; Red Wine Headaches vs. Sulfite Allergies.

This article is cross-posted at and posted here courtesy of the author Jennifer Kaplan who was gracious enough to allow the Cuvée Corner Wine Blog to post it here in its entirety. I believe the information contained in this article is important and will be helpful for the vast wine swirling and the wine-slurping public to get their heads around this sometimes controversial topic. Jennifer Kaplan's article does just that with a very common-sense approach to dispelling the myths about sulfites.

I hope everyone found this article at the very least helpful and make others feel a little more comfortable about the sulfites found lurking in their wine glass. I believe we can say this myth was emphatically busted. So until next time, remember to sip long and prosper cheers!


Anonymous said…
Sulphite allergy / intolerance is not a myth.
It is rare but does exist. It is not helpful to have inexpert opinion stated as fact in this forum. For a small percentage of asthmatics sulphites pose a significant and potentially dangerous problem. I would advise seekng a proper opinion from a suitably qualified and experienced medical practitioner whenever appropriate .
Dr Kevin Thomas.
Will Eyer said…
Well Doctor I was talking about the rule and not the exception. But as is often the case, so much is made of the exception [doom and gloom reporting]; so that most folks think it's the "rule".

Thus like you said it's extremely "rare" but folks who believe they may be at risk should consult a professional such as yourself before consuming adult beverages. Cheers!
Thanks for helping clear this up for people! I personally think it's odd that there is a law requiring a label for sulfites on wine bottles but not a GMO label for food!?! Makes you go hmmmm...

-- Kristy @ Wine Logic
Will Eyer said…
Good stuff huh? It helps sheds some light on some of urban myths about sulfites. But I guess no one has got around to the GMO issue in food, but I'm sure it's on someone's agenda!
Kristy Kelley said…
Ya, it's on the ballot in CA.

-- Kristy @ Wine Logic
Anonymous said…
Some people are allergic to sulfites; saying that that sulfur allergies are a myth is disengenious.

When my wife drinks wine (or the aformentioned apricots or Cheetos past 1997), she has hives and a noticeable reaction on her chest.

It would be good to label the PPM of sulfites; we've had good luck with (some) organic wines and plum wines, but the heady reds that I like require her to sleep it off with benadryl.
Will Eyer said…
Hello Anonymous,

It's not "disingenuous" genius! Especially when it's clearly stated for anyone who actually READS the entire article; that there are infinitesimal few exceptions to the rule.

But those few exceptions no matter how difficult they may-be for the [minute-few] individuals who are sensitive to sulfites; it does not mean by any stretch of the imaginations that they're an issue for everyone else [aka the rule].

As a society, we can't make rules to govern the extremely minute exceptions. So that said, by and large yes it's myth!

Finally, a word of advice. If your wife has an issue with sulfites in wine; may I suggest that you [in support] or your betrothed simply not drink wine.
Brooklynella said…
He, he, what a great article and even better comments and replies...
Right now, I am having a nice glass of red wine with sulfites..Mmmm, so good to know that I won't get a headache because of the sulfites! Cheers!

Popular Posts