Sidebar Eight

"This Wine Contains Sulfites"

Since 1988, all wines bottled and sold in the U.S. must contain a statement that the contents contain sulfites.

Like most cheese, seafood, jams, fruit juice, raisins, dried fruit and many other foods, wine naturally contains sulfites, usually at much lower levels than in these other foods. The government does not require a warning on the other foods, just on wine. Sulfites (usually listed on the other food labels as sulfur dioxide) are added to jams, dried fruits, processed potatoes, some processed vegetables and other foods as a preservative.

The yeasts used to ferment wine produce naturally a small amount of sulfites; sometimes more is added to keep the wine from spoiling, usually in white wines which do not have tannins to help retard spoilage or in lower-alcohol wines. Alcohol also helps prevent spoilage which is why the bottle of brandy that gets pulled out for eggnog every Christmas never goes bad.

Sulfites are harmless for the vast majority of the population -- except for a very small percentage who may suffer an allergic reaction. These people are usually severe asthma sufferers who comprise about 5 percent of asthmatics.

As with other food allergies -- fish, milk etc. -- people who may be susceptible should consult with a physician before consuming any food (not just wine) which contains sulfites.