What is Low-sulfites Wine?

What is Low-sulfites Wine?

The Snapshot

Low-sulfites wine is a type of wine with a lower sulfur dioxide content than conventionally made wines, where little or no sulfur dioxide is added to the wine.


For those of you who are not familiar with what sulfur dioxide is and why it’s used in winemaking, you should think of it as the winemaker preservative of choice. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is usually added to wine upon bottling, but it can also be added to pre-pressed grapes, and fermenting grapes, for its antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.

In the past, from the Middle Ages onward, it was also used to sterilize barrels - a practice which later came under scrutiny. As Master of Wine Isabelle Legeron mentions in her book "Natural Wine", burning sulfur wicks to "shield and stabilize wine in the barrel" was a common practice among Dutch traders dating back to the end of the 18th century.

Given this relatively long history, why is there so much debate in the wine world over the use of sulfur dioxide? Let’s explore some of the reasons.

1 There are different types of sulfur dioxide used in winemaking: in the past, it was "elemental" sulfur dioxide; in modern winemaking, sulfur dioxide is a synthetic chemical product.

2 Alternative winemaking approaches and their impact: natural winemaking, which explicitly advocates against the use of sulfur dioxide, is perhaps the best example.

3 Increased consumer health awareness: more and more wine lovers are showing an intolerance to wines with high quantities of added sulfites - the main symptom is usually a headache.

Thus, adding sulfur dioxide to wine has become perhaps the most controversial and divisive practice among wine lovers and winemakers all around the world.

Sulfites & Sulfites

Contains Sulfites

By law, all wines that contain more than 10mg per liter must be labeled with the statement "contains sulfites". It doesn't matter if it's 25mg per liter or 150mg per liter: the labeling doesn't specify the quantity. Even wines where no sulfur dioxide was added are labeled in such way: "contains sulfites" is written on the back label, and for a very simple reason.

Natural Sulfites

Sulfites form naturally during the winemaking process: in fact, yeasts produce a small quantity of sulfur dioxide which is released into the wine. Although there are winemakers who claim that their wines have zero sulfites, the truth is that there are naturally formed sulfites in wine as a byproduct of fermentation

Added Sulfites

Sulfites are used in modern winemaking to eliminate bacteria at different stages of the winemaking process:

When grapes are harvested and brought to the winery.

When grapes undergo fermentation.

When wine is transferred from vessels in the cellar.

When wine is bottled - also to sterilize equipment.

Low-Sulfites Wine: Natural, Organic, Biodynamic, Vegan.

Pretty much all of the wines on Primalwine.com have lower sulfite dioxide content than conventional wines. The attribute "low-sulfites" embraces all other wine categories.

Natural winemakers, with minor exceptions, are all against adding sulfites to their wines: this has to do both with health concerns, but perhaps most importantly with preserving a wine's true character. Sulfur dioxide does work really well as a preservative, but it tends to "numb" the wine down: to an extent, it's as if the wine would lose its liveliness.

As we have seen, the USDA explicitly forbids the use of additional sulfites for wine to be labeled and sold as "Organic", therefore it's safe to say that all "USDA Organic" wines are also very low in sulfites.

Is Low-Sulfites Wine Headache-free?

At Primalwine.com we think that it would be irresponsible to make such a claim, and for two very simple reasons:

1 There is no scientific proof that sulfites cause a headache. Wine-related headaches are in fact highly subjective and can be caused by a wide array of factors.

However, there are people who might have developed a form of intolerance to higher quantities of sulfites in wine manifesting itself as a throbbing headache.

2 Low-sulfites and no-added-sulfites wines nevertheless contain small quantities of sulfites. Sulfites form naturally during the winemaking process.

There is no such thing as wine with zero sulfites: beware of retailers who boast to sell “zero sulfites” or “sulfites free” wine, it’s nothing more than a cunning marketing gimmick.


At Primalwine.com we believe that low-sulfites wine is better than wine with higher quantities of sulfites for essentially two reasons:

1 No-added-sulfites means that the wine can showcase its true character because it’s natural liveliness has not been stun by high doses of sulfur dioxide.

2 An overall low quantity of sulfites is definitely safer for all those wine lovers who display forms of intolerance to sulfites.