Sulphur Preservatives in Wine

by Michael Bond
(Brisbane, Australia)

Michael Asks


Why do some wine makers use preservative 224 and some use 220. Is there any technical difference or is it local or personal choice?

Darby Says
Sulphur additives in wine

The most common preservatives used in wine are 220 sulphur dioxide (used as a gas) and 224 potassium metabisulphite auseda as a solution. Both have two effects. They reduce the possibility of spoilage of the wine by wild yeast and bacteria and they stop the wine from oxidising.

All wine contains some sulphur say about 10 parts per million. About 250 ppm can be added in the winemaking process, depending on the philosophy of the winemaker.

People's ability to perceive sulphur in wine and their reaction to sulphur varies greatly. Asthmatics are paticularly sensitive.

In my view many Australian wines have too much sulphur. Our wines need more help with added preservatives and antioxidants than say French or Italian wines because our wines are lower in acid. Ripe fruit from warmer vineyards have lower natural acids.

Back in the old days when we bottles bulk wine in the backyard we used the metabisulphite to sterilise the bottles, probalby on the rough old aussie rhubric of "if a little bit is good, more is better." Perhaps that's why we had some nasty hangovers.

I'm not sure of the reasons why winemakers use 220 rather than 224, I just wish that they'd be more careful.

Maybe some winemakers can chime in to this discussion by leaving a comment.


Comments for Sulphur Preservatives in Wine

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Aug 20, 2013
Preservative 220 purpose again..
by: AustralianShopper

I can recognize the purpose of this additive in wines delivered to the public in cask, but to see it overseen in bottles aimed to be consumed (aka not collectible style, $5 unlabelled and overmarketed), I wonder about it's purpose again.
I was thinking that our Australian Labelling standards have created a question that was a safety initiative in the first place.
My question to the Wine Merchant was: "Do you sell a wine that I can buy that DOES NOT HAVE PRESERVATIVE 220 IN IT?.. I was going for the idea of Wine Cellar keeping seems outdone by this preservative. He said no, even the most expensive bottles contain it.
I'm confused about, but still curious...


Oct 30, 2012
Removal of Wine preservatives
by: Julie

There is another great product that eliminates preservatives, available in many independant liquor stores, health food stores and pharmacies throughout Australia and New Zealand. It is called "so2go" and is sold in handy spray bottles for your glass or a sachet that goes in the bottle (750ml). Works a treat. See: www.so2go.com.au

May 14, 2012
Preservatives in wines
by: John Northcott

I recently put in a question as to why Australian wine makers put preservative in wines as for me it makes them undrinkable, well Guess what I delved further and found out about a product called "Pure Wine" it comes in a small bottle and is available from BWS etc, and it works, follow the instructions and once again you will be able to enjoy a drink or two of Australian wine, I did not believe that it could work but it does, so for those like me that finish up with severe hay fever and running noses give it a go, for the first time in over 30 years I have been able to have a glass or two and not have nasty side effects.
John Northcott, jhrbnorthcott@bigpond.com

Mar 11, 2012
Preservatives
by: John

I cannot drink Australian wines without getting severe Hayfever, eg Sneezing, nose running and eyes watering, whilst in France and Italy recently I tried their wines and had no such problems so it was a joy to have a few glasses of wine, the difference seemed to be theirs lacked preservatives, why do we have to poisen our wines with these preservatives, if we didnt I could enjoy a few wines with my meals, I also noticed I got up the next morning feeling great in France and Italy, not so here with our wines, Please winemakers give us pure wine and ill promise Ill buy some but untill you do you have lost my custom.

Mar 02, 2010
More on sulphur in wine
by: Darby

Tom Mansell provides a good commentary on all of the sulphur compounds in wine in an article in the Palate Press blog.

See the article here.

The question remains why do we use so much of it?

Mar 01, 2010
More about sulphur in wine
by: Duncan Harris

Duncan Harris of HARRIS ORGANIC WINES says
Sulphur additives in wine

The most common preservatives used in wines are 220 sulphur dioxide (used as a pure gas) and 224 potassium metabisulphite (PMS) used as a solution. Both have the same two effects. They reduce the possibility of spoilage of the wine by wild yeast and bacteria and they stop the wine from oxidising. However the PMS (224) also has other elements in very small quantities, such as Cd and Pb.

All wine (even preservative free) contains some sulphur dioxide as 10-50 parts per million can be produced naturally by the yeast fermentation. 250 ppm is the maximum allowable in table wines in Australia and 350 ppm in dessert wines. This can be added in the winemaking process, depending on the philosophy of the winemaker.

People's ability to perceive sulphur in wine and their reaction to sulphur varies greatly. Asthmatics are particularly sensitive. For more additive information. Click on sulphur dioxide.

In average Australian wines white wines the total SO2 is 125 ppm and red wines 60ppm. Unlike French or Italian wines where acid levels are generally in balance with the fruit sweetness. Australians with riper fruit from warmer vineyards have lower natural acids, but are allowed to add tartaric acid to achieve acid balance.

Many winemakers make their wines to a formula such that the pH is adjusted by the addition of acid to high levels so that sulphur dioxide is efficiently used. The higher the acid the lower the pH and the more effect the SO2!

Winemakers use PMS (224) in commercial wineries these days due to health and safety issues. It is much safer and cheaper to weigh out a quantity of powder than use a gas bottle to dissolve the 220 gas in rain water.

I recommend that you only drink wine with sulphur dioxide 220 as it is a pure form of SO2. One must also remember that SO2 is readily broken down and so aged red and white dry table wines will be very low in SO2.

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