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22 Mar 2022

Sulphites in wine: CO2 detection is highly recommended in poorly ventilated environments

Sulfur compounds and wine, a long common history:

Invented about 8000 years ago, a few centuries before the wheel, wine is one of the oldest drinks in the world after beer and water. Ancient mythology is steeped in this symbol with venerated gods, Dionysus for the Greeks, Bacchus for the Romans. The use of sulfur compounds in the production of wine is equally ancient.

According to some legends, the Romans added sulfur, extracted from the Etna volcano, directly to the wine to help its conservation. Although these legends are probably true, it is only at the end of the 15th century that a German royal decree was found. The latter allows the insertion of sulfur compounds. The presence of sulphites in wine did not appear 10 years ago, but its mandatory labeling on bottles did.

Sulphites, a natural and essential element in winemaking:

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is involved in several stages of the winemaking process. Its antiseptic properties prevent the appearance of harmful microorganisms, such as bacteria. Therefore, its presence in the bottles prevents the wine from going through a second fermentation or even producing vinegar. Sulfur dioxide is also an antioxidant, This is the reason why it prevents the wine from tasting like cider. Yeasts, which are intended to produce alcohol, naturally produce sulfur dioxide, which is therefore found in all living beings.

Sulfur dioxide is mostly used during the final bottling stage. European standards have set maximum levels of sulfur dioxide to be used in wine. Red wine should not exceed 160 mg/L of sulfites and white wine 210 mg/L. The latter may contain more sulfite because transport and storage are more delicate.

Are Sulphites responsible for headhaches?

The presence of the words “contains sulphite” on bottle labels has been the source of much debate. The parallel between sulphites in wine and headaches is based on the origin of the sulfur used.

Anthropogenic sulfur is never totally pure (burning of fossil fuels) unlike natural sulfur. For this reason, many independent winemakers are starting to limit the use of sulfur, and when they do use it, they choose natural sulfur .

Many people believe that sulfites are responsible for the “hard aftermath”. Paradoxically, sulfur is found in dried fruit, egg yolks, and a large number of vegetables, the excess of which does not cause morning-after headaches. These are mainly due to dehydration caused by alcohol and not by sulphites, whose presence is regulated and limited.

So that the amount of sulfur in wine becomes truly harmful to human health, you would have to drink very large quantities every day. So remember, to avoid sulfur poisoning, drink small amounts!

Find all our gas detection and respiratory protection equipment for winegrowers, particularly for the prevention of CO2 risks in wine making.

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