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I drink a lot of red wine and I notice that some red wines indicate "contains sulphites" while other red wines do not mention sulphites at all. Do all red wines contain sulphites? Or is it just the wines that indicate they contain sulphites that actually have sulphites?

I am thinking that it would be best to purchase wines without the sulphites if possible. - Helen



All wines contain sulphites, generally in the form of sulphur dioxide. For most people, however, this is nothing to be alarmed about. Several jurisdictions around the world mandate that labels carry the warning when the sulphite content exceeds a certain threshold. A small percentage of people, notably some asthmatics, can have seriously adverse reactions to the compound, which, in high concentrations, gives off the smell of a freshly struck match.

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Although sulphur dioxide is naturally present in wine, most wines contain an added dose of the chemical, which is widely used as a weapon against unwanted microbial activity and as a shield against oxidation, or exposure to air, which can spoil wine.

If you want to minimize your sulphur dioxide exposure because you suspect you are allergic, you might want to stick to red wines, which tend to have the lowest levels. White wines are generally treated with more of the compound because they don't have the natural protective barrier against oxidation provided by tannins. Sweet wines generally get the biggest sulphur dose.

Have a wine question?

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Decanter newsletter and on The Globe and Mail web site.

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