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Is there a way to remove sulphites from wine?

The question

Is there a way to remove sulphites from wine?

The answer

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There are two ways, though I would only recommend one.

I'll mention the first and most effective way merely for trivia's sake; you probably don't want to try it at home. It involves adding a drop or two of hydrogen peroxide – the stuff sold in drugstores for disinfecting wounds – to a glass of wine.

As you may know, sulphites are commonly used in making wine to curb microbial growth and guard against spoilage due to oxidation. People who are sensitive to the compounds may experience respiratory distress in the form of coughing or wheezing (or worse in the case of some asthmatics), though this affects a small minority of the population. Sulphites react quickly to oxygen when exposed to air and tend to dissipate over time.

Hydrogen peroxide, a strong oxidizing agent, quickly reacts with sulphites to neutralize them. There was a time when some wine producers actually added hydrogen peroxide to their juice to reduce sulphite levels, but it's now frowned upon, if not illegal in many jurisdictions. Hydrogen peroxide solutions sold for medical use are very low in concentration, but they're not meant to be ingested. At high concentrations, the substance can be corrosive.

It's also possible to reduce sulphites simply by aerating the wine, either by swirling it in a glass or sloshing it around in a decanter. Sulphites are pretty volatile, which is why the mere smell of a high-sulphite wine causes certain sensitive people to sneeze. Fred Freitag, medical director of the headache centre at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, recommends the aerating practice to patients who believe they may be sensitive to sulphites. "Open it up for at least half an hour and let it breathe," he told me recently. "Or if you really want to get the sulphites out, decant it."

The maker of one of those fancy funnel-shaped aerating tools sold in wine-accessory stores say its model, the Decantus Aero, reduces sulphites by up to 56 per cent. I can't vouch for that figure, but there you have it.

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Wine & Spirits newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.

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About the Author
Life columnist

Beppi Crosariol writes about wine and spirits in the Globe Life and Style sections.He has been The Globe's wine and spirits columnist for more than 10 years. In the late 1990s, he also wrote a food trends column called The Biting Edge.Beppi used to cover business law for ROB and previously edited the paper's weekly technology section. More

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