This is a great question and one that is so relevant in the wine industry where there has been a renewed focus on bio dynamic, organic and sulphur free wines.
The most important part of the question is to understand what the UK is talking about when they say ‘Sulphur Free’ wines. To understand this we need to understand exactly what sulphur is.
Chemically speaking sulphur is a natural substance (antioxidant) which occurs in some fruit based products. Sulphur is also commonly added to these products to act as a preservative for benefits such as colour enhancement.
When talking about sulphur and wine it is important to understand the elements of free versus bound sulphur, as ‘Sulphur Free’ wines are wines without free sulphur. All wines have an element of bound sulphur and therefore no wine is technically ‘Sulphur Free’. The level of free sulphur found in a wine is dependent on the type of wine produced; red, white or sweet.
A component of bound sulphur is the naturally occurring antioxidants found in the skins and stems of grapes. This means in red wines you will find a high level of bound sulphur in the juice because throughout the winemaking process the juice has lots of contact with the skins. As a winemaker then we don’t need to add much sulphur to assist with the winemaking process. A small element of the added sulphur will bind to the juice and the remainder will be free sulphur.
In the case of white wines there are no natural occurring sulphides because the juice has limited contact with the skins/stems after harvest. As such more sulphur is added by most winemakers to achieve the desired finished product creating greater levels of free sulphur in these wines. This is again heightened for sweet wines.
A good winemaker will try to get the highest proportion of free sulphur to be ‘bound’ that they can. At best this will be about half the amount bound.
In terms of the health benefits of sulphur free wines this mainly relates back to allergies. Free sulphur can cause an allergic reaction such as nausea, breathing difficulty and sneezing. However most often people are not allergic to the sulphur element of wine they are allergic to the natural tannins or histamines from the grape skins, even organic wines can contain these types of allergens. Only the individual will know how their allergies work.
Here at Tahbilk we do add an element of sulphur to all of our wines. We believe that it is a sensible approach to insuring that we produce a sound, quality product and this is consistent with the majority of the wine industry. Sulphite agents, when properly handled, are not intrinsically toxic to humans or to the environment.
The wines to try at Tahbilk with the least free sulphur are our aged reds. The amount of sulphides in a wine will decrease in time as the wine is aged.
We hope this helps you figure out which Tahbilk wines will work best for you!