You know, of course, that there are sulfites in your wine. On the back of each label the percentage of sulfites is listed in the bottle you just uncorked. Wine is volatile food product, and sulfites act as a preservative. The use of sulfites in winemaking began in the 1900s to stop bacteria and other yeasts from growing. Sulfites also help make red wines redder.
Because 5% to 10% of people with asthma are severely sensitive to sulfites, which can trigger an allergic reaction, the U.S. requires that sulfites be labeled above 10 parts per million (PPM). But many food products contain sulfites in much higher levels than in wine. Dried fruit, frozen foods, and prepared soups, for example, all are extremely high in sulfites.
As wine warms, more molecular sulfur is released, which can give off an unpleasant aroma of cooked eggs. Some expert tasters can smell sulfites in wine at around 50 PPM. But becoming one of those experts is not easy. A recent WSJ article (here) profiles three women who have Masters of Wine diplomas, considered to be the highest achievement in the wine world. To obtain this diploma can take years and cost thousands of dollars. Worldwide, there are only 312 MWs, with 34 from the U.S.
In an article on sulfites (here), Will Lyons, who writes the WSJ’s European wine column, suggests that if you are worried about allergies to sulfites, eat some dried apricots. “If they make you sneeze, you may have a problem with sulfites. If not, I would have that second glass of wine.”