Cheers to Answered Questions: Discussing Preservative Free Wines

It seems like the large selection of wines we have today is only set to grow. The newest thing on the menu are organic, biodynamic and preservative free wines.

Organic and biodynamic refers to vineyard practices. The main rule for producing such wines is having fertile and pure soil, one that excludes the use of herbicides, pesticides, artificial fertilisers and some other chemical compounds. However, these two types have their differences as well and they may or may not contain preservatives, meaning that’s a completely different aspect.

Simply put, preservative free wines have no added preservatives in their winemaking process. However, during the winemaking process, sulphur dioxide is released which is a natural preservative. So, technically, “no preservatives added” is more correct than preservative free wine. When looking at the wine label, if you see “contains sulphates” or “preservative 220”, this means that the wine has sulphur dioxide in it.

What is Preservative 220?

Generally speaking, sulphur dioxide is one of the most commonly used preservatives for making wine. According to the Australian law, there is a maximum amount of sulphur dioxide you can add to a wine – 300 mg/l. However, a lot of wines have around 150 mg/l or even less mainly because of their natural sulphur.

Why Do Winemakers Add Preservative 220 to Wines?

The purpose of adding this preservative is to keep the wine in best condition without ruining its flavour. In other words, preservatives are used for keeping the grapes and wine safe from bacteria and oxidisation. This goes especially to oxidisation, since once exposed to oxygen, the wine slowly starts to oxidise and deteriorate. That is why a lot of winemakers use the preservative 220 to neutralise any oxygen that might come near the wine. Once properly sealed, the wine is ready to be sold.

Is This “Preservative in Wine” a Bad Thing?

No, especially when talking about Australian wines. Since most of them contain less sulphur dioxide, they are not dangerous at all. The main reason why some people prefer sulphite free wine is them being sensitive to preservatives. This means that preservatives in wine, beer or even dried fruit can cause them migraines, sinus irritation or asthma. While these are the main symptoms, other people who are allergic to sulphate can experience itchy throat, runny nose, abdominal pain, skin rash hives, hypertension, anaphylactic reactions, etc. So, unless you are allergic to preservatives, you will be completely fine if you drink wine that contains added preservatives.

How Long Does Preservative Free Wine Last?

Generally speaking, in some ideal conditions, no sulfate red wine can last 5 years while no sulfate white wine can last 3 years. However, under normal circumstances, red wines can last 3 years, while white wines can last 2 years.

Can Preservative in Wines Cause Headaches?

Another misconception about wines is that sulphates can cause headaches. Well, the truth is that dried fruits have more sulphates in them than wine, so if this food hasn’t given you a headache, drinking wine with sulphates won’t either.

….so, what gives you the headaches then?

Since headaches usually happen when drinking red wine, the main reason for them is the phenolics. Also known as polyphenols, these chemical compounds come from the grape skins, stems and pips and they find their way into the wines when the skins are left to ferment. Although this compound is the main reason for the positive antioxidant properties in red wine, it has been proven that it can cause headaches. In white wines, the polyphenols can cause histamine production which in fact can cause headaches in some people.

Which Wine Has More Sulphites?

Red wines contain a lower amount of sulphates than white wine. The main reason for this is the tannins in red wines. Tannin contains natural sulphur dioxide, so the level of additional preservatives is kept at a minimum. During the production of white wines, the skin of the grapes is immediately removed after the grapes are crushed which is the reason for the lower amount of natural sulphates.