Sulfites in Wine? Don’t Worry it’s Still Organic (At Least in the EU)

My friends who used to give me fragrances now give me organic wine and works of art instead. In that new spirit, I recently received two bottles of organic wine purchased in Germany, but I learned (from reading the label) that the red (Cabernet sauvignon) came from France and the white (Chardonnay) from Italy.

two organic wines from germany

If you care to read the labels, you can see that this organic/bio wine contains sulfites. However, that’s not what you’ll see on organic wine produced in the US. But, I’ll come to that later.

In fact, I have also learned that this particular wine doesn’t carry an European Union (EU) organic label that is now required for all organic EU products including wines according to a recent EU directive.

But, I found other labels from which I concluded that this wine received at least two other certificates: one of organic quality (Bio-Siegel-EG-Öko, a German organic certificate) and one of geographic origin (a EU certificate of Protected Geographical Indication or PGI). If you think that’s too much information, you haven’t seen anything yet.

EU Organic wine label

A curious organic wine drinker may also discover that Europeans have many more organic and other certifications up their sleeve. After some research and lively discussion with friends, I concluded that these quite mystify an average shopper and overload him or her with information (something like a label-induced hypnosis). I mean, how much knowledge is needed to make a simple (and for some health-related) decision regarding, for instance, a level of sulfites in organic wine.

By visiting this web site, you will learn (from a French example) that there are myriad of EU wine certificates in France. So, there are organizations such as Nature&Progrés (N&P), Demeter and FNIVAB that issue organic certificates, each with their own limits on sulfites in wine.

sulfites in wine mg/l

 Sulfite content in wine mg/l

France, also, has its own organic certificate called Agriculture Biologique. The certificate is issued to products that have more than 95% organic components. What made me wonder is that many of the above French organizations have standards for sulfites in wine that are far more strict than even the most recent EU organic label. In other words, the EU organic label may not be the holly grail of the EU organic wine.

EU Organic Label

Now, an intrigued person will logically formulate a question: aren’t sulfites in wine by definition a non-organic ingredient? Something like sodium nitrite in foods. Yes, they are, but some winemakers consider them inevitable in the process of winemaking.

However, there is a considerable debate over this and many consider (FDA included) that organic wine should conform to its organic definition. Hence, no additives such as sulfites are allowed in US organic wine. To be quite precise, sulfites are allowed, but in virtually homeopathic quantities.

But Europeans respectfully disagree (Canadians too) saying that organic and additives can somehow happily coexist. From my own experience, this thinking is not limited to wine only. Once, I (almost) purchased chicken franks in Italy labeled as “Bio-Organic”, certified by the Italian Agricultura Biologica which contained several artificial preservatives including E250 a.k.a Sodium Nitrite.

The EU organic wine has sulfites added, but the amount allowed is somewhat lower than that of the conventional wine. As I mentioned, the concern about sulfites in wine is mostly health-related. Also, sulfites are considered to be one cause of hangover. There are other health concerns too and some of them are summarized here. Hence, there is a recommended upper limit per day of sulfites which should not be exceeded.

The World Health Organization (WHO) advises a maximum intake of 0.7mg of sulfur dioxide per unit of body-weight per day. That translates into one third of 750 ml bottle (2 glasses?) for conventional EU wine, and a bit less for EU organic wine.

The US has its own label for organic wine that contains sulfites. It is labeled as wine “made with organic grapes”. Personally, I find it more honest and in line with true organic principles. But, since the EU organic wine can contain sulfites, if such wine is imported by the US, it will be labeled (as per US regulations) as wine “made with organic grapes”. But a US wine “made with organic grapes” can be sold as “organic wine” in the EU. Essentially, the wine you drink may or may not be considered organic depending on where you are. Yes, it’s funny, but only secondary to quite baffling. I am hoping for some kind of a global agreement there. Really.

Now, one fine thing about wine is that you can discover both good and moderately priced wine (this is what I call win-win). Also, whenever I can I choose organic. Choosing organic isn’t and shouldn’t only be about me, but also about farmers and the planet among other things. Anyway, the great thing about the two wines I received is that each bottle reportedly costs only 3.99 Euro (around $5). Both wines also tasted great and we drank it merrily while supporting organic wineries in France and Italy. I can only make a reasonable guess that I didn’t exceed my daily sulfite intake, because Bio-Siegel web site doesn’t provide any information in that regard. Maybe one reason that the question of sulfites in wine is still unresolved globally is that after two glasses of wine your thoughts tend to go astray. Wink

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  1. Thank you for this information. It was very valuable.

  2. I am a single mom from Germany, always on lookout for great and healthy deals. Your wine came from a German store called Muller. It sells all kinds of organic stuff. I also buy their organic wines and they are very good.

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