Ask Wine Wizard

Can you give me some guidelines on whether or not to add sulfite to my wine?

TroubleShooting

Don Harris — Thousand Oaks, Calif. asks,
Q

I read in a wine book that the sulfite residue from sulfite sterilizing solution used to clean bottles provides adequate sulfite. Some members of my home winemaking club, Cellarmasters, add no sulfite. Others add a precise measurement based on pH. What do you suggest?

A
Wine Wizard replies: To sulfite or not to sulfite: That is the question. It’s one that fires hot debates in the cellars of wineries worldwide. Sometimes seen as a personal choice, the use of sulfites in winemaking requires a delicate sense of balance and a light (though judicious) hand. Otherwise, your wine can be irreparably ruined. Sulfites serve several purposes in winemaking. They provide antimicrobial, antibrowning, and antioxidant activities in musts, juices, and wines. Naturally, since winemaking is not a sterile process (and there are always the droves of spoilage organisms waiting for a chance to get in on the action), it’s important to keep this in mind when making decisions about how much sulfite to add and when. Sulfites added at bottling are intended to further protect the wine once you have no more control over it. A high enough sulfite level — most winemakers will say about 40 parts per million (milligrams per liter) — will retard the growth of most microorganisms in the bottle that could cause off odors, unsightly precipitates, or even secondary fermentation. However, be
Response by Alison Crowe.