How To Remove Sulfites From Wine: Tips and Tricks

pouring red wine into a glass

If you are someone prone to migraines, the word sulfites may be one a neurologist has suggested you should avoid. Some may have told you to circumvent red wine, for example, as it is supposedly higher in the concentration of sulfites.

Some may tell you to stay away from baked goods or anything with yeast. There are many ideas and theories about sulfites and whether they can cause harm. Some people may simply imagine their sensitivities or be confused about what they are actually reacting to.

However, if you love wine and have sensitivities to sulfites, you may wonder how to remove sulfites from wine.

woman drinking wine

Sulfites Can Get a Bad Rap

There is often a lot of confusion and misunderstandings about the truth of sulfites, their relation to everyday products—especially wine—and how harmful or beneficial they can be.

One of the biggest misconceptions about sulfites is their relationship to wine and how they affect someone prone to headaches or other reactions they think may be a result of partaking in their favorite wine libations.

There are two to three main ideas about how to remove sulfites from wine, which we will get to a little later.

What Are Sulfites and How Do they Affect Wine?

Sulfites have been used since Roman times as a preservation method of flavor and color in foods and beverages including wines. Sulfites can also help to inhibit bacterial growth.

This is important when you are storing wine for years or decades. Sulfites also help to reduce spoilage. They assist in preventing spotting and browning on fresh foods. They also help to increase the shelf life of wines and foods.

Natural Sulfites vs Added Sulfites

Two types of sulfites are the culprits that prevent some from enjoying good wine. There are some methods for how to remove sulfites from wine, but first, we must understand what sulfites are.

The term sulfite is often referred to as sulfur dioxide. Sulfites can be natural or added. Natural sulfites are produced as a result of the fermentation process. Added sulfites are used as preservatives to help protect wine from oxidation and harmful bacterial created within some yeasts and natural process.

The naturally occurring sulfites are a result of the fermentation process. This is one reason that all wine contains some sulfites no matter what you have been told. There is no such thing as a sulfite free wine.

However, organic wines will contain a much lighter amount compared to wines where extra sulfites were added for preservation reasons. 99% of commercial wines contain sulfites.

SO2 Explained

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is composed of oxygen and sulfur. This chemical compound happens naturally during fermentation, but it is also produced by scientists in a lab in order to help with the preservation of certain foods and wine.

The sulfur dioxide acts as an antimicrobial and antioxidant. Dangerous bacteria can exist in foods and beverages including wine. SO2 can attack and kill any harmful bacteria.

The SO2 in wine also keeps it fresh and as the Romans discovered back in the day, it keeps wine from turning into vinegar. Sulfites will affect the quality of preservation of the wine. They can also be used to manipulate the flavor.

There is no real evidence that sulfites are causing your headaches. It is more likely the alcohol, but still, there are many ideas about how to remove sulfites from wine.

Why Are Sulfites Added to Wine?

Sulfites are natural preservatives. They keep dried fruit from turning brown, for example. They prevent unwanted bacteria from tainting your favorite wines as they store in your trendy wine rack.

The reason people are afraid of sulfites is that one in one hundred people has a sensitivity or allergic reaction to them. If you are a person who suffers from asthma, you are more likely to have a sensitivity to sulfites as well.

This is why many people look for methods of how to remove sulfites from wine.

Which Wines Have the Most Sulfites?

alcoholic beverages on the counter top

There is a huge myth that red wine is higher in sulfites. How many times have you heard a friend or relative say they cannot drink red wine because the sulfites give them headaches? Well, the truth is, they are confused or misinformed.

Red wines actually contain fewer sulfites than most white wines. The amount of sulfites in wine typically ranges from 5 mg per liter to 200 mg per liter. In the United States, the sulfites cap is 350 mg per liter. The typical amount of sulfites in a good dry red wine is around 50 mg per liter.

Myth Busting Sulfites and Wine Categories

The acidity level will affect how many sulfites are needed to balance the wine. Wines with higher acidity levels need fewer sulfites than wines high in acid. Also, wines with pH levels higher than 3.6 will need sulfites to improve the stability and shelf life of the wine.

Red wines have a color agent that requires fewer sulfites than clear, white wines. A standard typical white wine will contain around 100 mg per liter of sulfites while a typical dry red will only contain 50 mg of sulfites per liter.

Sugar and Warmth

Sweeter wines are always higher in sulfites. The extra sulfites are needed to prevent a secondary fermentation of the additional sugar added. Many white wines will fall into this category of sweeter wines.

If a wine is stored at a warmer room temperature, the sulfites in the wine can be affected. The hotter temperature will release free sulfur compounds and the smell that comes with them.

This can be remedied by chilling the wine and using a wine decanter. It is important to properly store wine on its side and avoid warm storage.

What Are the Side Effects of Sulfites?

2 glasses of red wine

Many people who are concerned about the sulfite levels in wine will seek ways to learn how to remove sulfites from wine. What are the side effects of drinking wine with sulfites? How common is it to have an allergic reaction? 10% of people with asthma will have an allergic reaction to sulfites.

Asthma-like symptoms are the most common reaction to sulfites for the small percentage of people (about one in one hundred) who have an adverse reaction to sulfites. Typical asthma symptoms will include chest tightness, coughing, and wheezing.

These symptoms are more typical for people who have asthma and have an aversion to sulfites. The level of reaction can range from mild to life-threatening.

The Red Wine Sulfites-Headache Conundrum

Most people who claim they are allergic to sulfites claim they suffer from severe migraines or headaches if they drink red wine. It may be true they are suffering from headaches or migraines after drinking the red wine, but it is most likely not because of the sulfites.

One reason may be that they are dehydrated after drinking alcohol. People prone to migraines are more likely to get one after a night of drinking. Another idea to look at is the histamine and tyramine factor.

Tyramine and histamine are natural chemicals that some people have reactions to, as well. The leading reactions are headaches and high blood pressure. Here’s a fun fact for you.

White wine contains more sulfites while red wine contains more histamine. Therefore, if you are prone to headaches after drinking red wine, you may be having a reaction to histamine, not sulfites.

Severe Reactions Are Rare

Severe allergic reactions like anaphylaxis are extremely rare. Symptoms of anaphylaxis can range from rapid heart rate, hives, flushing, wheezing, upset stomach, diarrhea, syncope, dizziness, and tingling in the mouth and throat or difficulty swallowing.

For those who have severe reactions, avoiding wine is the best bet. However, some may have success if they learn how to remove sulfites from wine.

Why Do Some People Have Reactions to Sulfites?

man goes to sleep after taking a bottle of wine

Many scientists are baffled on why only a small amount of people have adverse reactions to sulfites. It is clear that this occurrence happens more with people who have asthma.

One possible explanation is that sulfur dioxide gas (SO2) acts as an irritant and those who already have a difficult time breathing may have stronger restrictions of the airways when inhaling sulfur dioxide smells during the swallowing process.

Sulfite Oxidase Enzyme Deficiency

There is also a chance that some people with asthma may have a partial deficiency of the sulfite oxidase enzyme. This enzyme helps to break down sulfur dioxide.

For people who have shown a true allergy to sulfites, if they want to partake in wine, it would be most beneficial to learn how to remove sulfites from wine.

Methods On Removing Sulfites
from Wine

There are several methods that sulfite removing enthusiasts claim can get the job done. One method of how to remove sulfites from wine that is quite simple and inexpensive is to add hydrogen peroxide to the wine.

Hydrogen peroxide has a strong oxidizing agent that will react to the sulfites and help to neutralize them. There are some winemakers who attempt to manipulate the sulfite levels in their wines by carefully adding safe levels of hydrogen peroxide to their winemaking process.

The Brown Bottle Is Not Recommended

This practice is frowned upon by a good deal of winemaking experts, however. It is also not practical to take your brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide from the medicine cabinet and pour some of it into your wine.

For one, you do not know the safe levels to use. You could end up ruining a perfectly good bottle of wine, and you could also make yourself sick. Improper levels of hydrogen peroxide will change both the color and flavor of the wine. Drinking too much hydrogen peroxide can be toxic and cause vomiting and upset stomach.

Sulfites Removal Drops

With that said, there are products on the market that contain hydrogen peroxide and are marketed for the removal of sulfites from wine. DropIt, Just The WIne, 2SO2GOm and UBFree are such examples.

These products are small bottles containing mostly hydrogen peroxide and water and are used to reduce the levels of sulfites in wine. The way they work is you simply place the recommended number of drops or sprays in your wine and, as a result, have removed those pesky and harmful sulfites.

The drops methods have proven to be successful in lowering the level of sulfites by up to 80 percent.

The Classier Method for How to Remove Sulfites from Wine

Using a wine decanter can also help reduce the level of sulfites in your wine. WIne decanting is mostly done with older red wines. Pouring the wine from the bottle to the decanter aerates the wine and allows for the release of pent up compounds such as sulfites.

Decanting also separates the sediments from the wine that have built up over time in the bottom of the wine bottle.

When you pour wine into the decanter, the first thing to happen is the evaporation process. The evaporation happens instantly, quickly releasing chemical compound elements and alcohol. The first thing to be released is the aromatic elements of the wine, which is why some people open their wine to “let it breathe.”

The sulfur dioxide compound elements are also released from decanting and evaporate the quickest.

Not the Norm, But It May Work

It is not common to decant white wines. However, for the purpose of effectively and quickly removing sulfites from wine, pouring white wine into a decanter may be beneficial.

This process can help the sulfites quickly escape and evaporate naturally. Decanting can help reduce sulfites from wine by up 60 to 80%.

Wine Filters and How to Remove Sulfites from Wine

Another option for removing not only sulfites but also histamines is to use one of the many wine filter products currently on the market. Some come in the form of a wand that you place in your wine glass. Others snap onto the top of the wine bottle and the wine is poured through, and yet others are entire contraptions that you empty the wine into.

The Pure Wine brand has two products called The Wave and The Wand. The Wave sells for around $10 and is snapped onto the top of the wine bottle. It works as both a filter and aeration system.

The Wave claims to remove both histamines and sulfite preservatives as you pour your wine. It also says that it does not affect the taste, color or alcohol level of the wine. It can be used for both reds and whites and the product can restore opened wine back to its natural state with the oxidation process.

The Pure Wine Wand is placed inside the wine glass after you fill it with wine. This product works as a filter and claims to take out all the sulfites and histamines as well.

Both of these products strongly are marketed as items that allow you to enjoy wine without a headache or hangover.

Other Wine Filter and Aeration Products

Another product that can help you solve the problem of how to remove sulfites from wine is the Vinluxe PRO Wine Aerator, Diffuser, Pourer and Decanter.

It claims to be the top-rated wine aerator in the world. It also claims to make any wine taste better and to remove sulfites. Another top selling product is the Üllo Wine Purifier with 4 Selective Sulfite Capture Filters.

It claims to restore the natural purity of wine by removing all the unwanted preservatives such as sulfites and histamines. Some other products for filtering wine are available from the Rabbit and Vinturi, Zazzol, and Empino brands, to name a few.

Choosing What Works Best For You

In review, the sulfites in wine may or may not be the cause of your hangover headaches or migraines after partaking in your favorite wine libation. If you are unsure if you have sulfite allergies or sensitivities you can take the food challenge.

Try some foods that are high in sulfites like dried apricots, for example. If you have a severe reaction or feel asthma-like symptoms, then there is a good chance you may be allergic to sulfites. Also, if you smell an open bottle of wine and immediately sneeze, this is a sign you are sensitive to sulfites.

Reviewing How To Remove Sulfites From Wine

white and red wine and grapes in the side

We have covered the few options for removing sulfites from wine. You can try the drops or sprays containing the hydrogen peroxide which claim to reduce sulfite levels in wine safely.

There is also the simple and elegant method of decanting your wine to air out sulfites and other chemical preservatives naturally. Lastly, you can try the many different aerator and wine filter product methods on the market. There is a great degree of varying costs which allow for you to try these systems on any budget.

If you have severe allergies to sulfites, there is also the option to abstain from drinking wine, but if you can’t do that, you can use any of these other methods to remove the sulfites from your wine.

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