Sulphur with your wine? No, thanks
I’m sometimes surprised that there isn’t more interest in no- and low-sulphur wines. After all, there is a significant minority who are quite badly affected by sulphites, yet there’s not nearly as much discussion about that as there is about, say, gluten intolerance.
Sulphites feature in most wines; whites more than reds, and sweet wines significantly more than both. They prevent oxidation (that is, they stop the juice turning brown), they keep wines stable (important when they have to travel) and they preserve their bright, fresh fruit flavours. The downside is that higher levels can, in some people, provoke headaches and breathing difficulties, though headache can of course also be triggered by the amount you drink.
Even if a wine has no added sulphur (often referred to on the label as NAS), it may well contain some naturally occurring or “free sulphur” as a result of the fermentation process. It’s really the total level you need to be concerned about, which, under EU regulations, can be up to 400mg per litre in the case of sweet wines (200mg per litre is the maximum for whites and 150mg for reds). Natural wine bars will generally stock wines that are a good deal lower than that – in the case of Plateau in Brighton, for example, they aim for 30mg per litre.
The bad news for those who are looking for NAS wines is that they are not that widely available, they’re generally quite expensive and, if you’re used to the bright fruit flavours of conventionally made wines, you may even not like them (that said, like low-sulphur wines, they generally benefit from decanting).
There is, however, a device called Üllo that is designed to remove sulphites from standard wines (currently £69.99, plus extra for the filters). The makers aren’t specific about how, exactly, that works, but the good news is that, from a taste point of view, it has no impact and, if anything, clarifies and brightens wines poured through it. It made a slightly rough-and-ready Romanian syrah, for instance, taste quite a bit better, but that may have simply been the effect of aerating it. In the small print at the bottom of the home page, however, it says, “Üllo is not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent reactions to sulphites”, which makes you wonder what the point of the device is. The website also advises those who suffer from an allergy or sensitivity to sulphites to consult a doctor before using the Üllo. All I’m saying is that it exists, so it’s an option. Up to you.