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Suffering Sulfites

Naturally occurring chemicals are part of wine fermentation

By Christina Waters

MANY WINE DRINKERS ASK, "What's the problem with sulfites?" In a word, nothing. Sulfites occur naturally in the fermentation process by which grape juice becomes wine.

However, some people are allergic to sulfites. And most wines contain not only small amounts of naturally occurring sulfites, but also sulfites added by winemakers.

Why add sulfites? Sulfites have been added to wines for hundreds of years to prevent oxidation--destruction of wine's delicate chemistry by exposure to oxygen--and microbial contamination.

The addition of sulfites also allows wines to grow older without damage, and hence mature and age into more complex creations.

Wines made from organically grown grapes and produced without sulfites may be easier for those with allergies to enjoy, but aficionados feel that sulfite-free wines lack dimension and complexity. Since these wines must be consumed while young--usually within 18 months--they often feel flat and one-dimensional. Or they can taste vibrant and fruit-forward.

It all depends upon your perspective.

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From the July 2-9, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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