From slow beginnings, preservative-free wines are growing in number and popularity. Wine expert Max Allen finds out why and what it means for our health.
The sulphite effect
For most wine drinkers, the presence of sulphites in wine at these normal doses is unremarkable and unproblematic. But a tiny proportion of us – much less than one per cent of the population – are highly allergic to S02. For these people, drinking wine with even very low levels of sulphites can be very dangerous and lead to an anaphylactic reaction. This is why most wines have an allergen statement on the label such as “contains sulphites”, or “preservative added” (see breakout for more on this).
A larger minority of people, however, are realising that they are sensitive to sulphites. They develop milder, allergy-like reactions such as wheezing, flushed face and sneezing when they drink wine – especially big-volume, commercial wines that can contain higher levels of SO2.
At the same time, general concerns about wellness and additives in our food are encouraging consumers to seek out wines with no added sulphites.
Winemaker Aaron Mercer has also seen the demand for preservative-free grow in the five years he’s been at leading NSW organic producer Tamburlaine Organic Wines in the Hunter Valley. He’s responded by increasing the range of wines made without added sulphites, including delicate whites from grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc and even a sparkling wine made from early-picked Chardonnay grown in the cool region of Orange. Making good sulphite-free white wine is harder than making red without SO2 as it’s more prone to oxidation, and Mercer says he’s learned a lot from the experience.