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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Dec 08, 2019
SO2 in bottled wine
by: Robert

Regarding 224 (Potassium Metabisulphite), this is used by smaller wineries who don't have the means or skills to use 220 (SO2 gas) that large commercial operations do... Also note that some small winemakers don't even have means or skills to monitor sulphite levels in wines, in which case a lot of guess work is involved with a high chance that over sulphiting can occur... If 224 is used with wines that have had some acid additions to reduce pH, and monitored with correct analysis to ensure over sulphiting has not occured, then there is little to be concerned about, unless one is actually allergic to SO2 of course. As already pointed out, SO2 levels in bottled wine can rapidly reduce over time. It is typically at its highest level at the time of bottling, to ensure the wine is bacteria free and take care of any oxygen that may have been taken up at that time. If the wine is stored for a year or two after bottling, there is way less sulphite around when the bottle is opened. Buying young wine, ie in the same year of vintage, has a higher chance that the SO2 level is still up there...

Jun 02, 2019
Preservatives is bad for you
by: Edson

I used to have massive allergies reactions drinking wines with preservatives

Since I started only drinking Australian wines with no preservatives added I feel much better

I did notice drinking some French wines with preservatives didn’t cause me much allergies

Now I understand why there are so much preservatives in Australia wine

Thank you for the post

Nov 26, 2018
Sulphur dioxide and sulphites
by: Mike

I'm no chemist, but I don't think the sulphur is the problem, but the sulphites. My best friend can drink wine with 220 (SO2) no problem, but anything with 224 meta-bisulphites (wine, prawns etc) gives her a migraine. I have noticed much less hangover effect since we cut 224.

Feb 25, 2017
Not the only Villian in this story
by: Leigh w Dryden

Sulphites rightly or wrongly are the cast as the real wine vaillan here but what is overlooked is that sulphites are naturally occuring in the grapes any way all be that in very small quantities but they are evident.

There are more sulphites present in butter and peanut butter for example than in wine and in many cases up to 4 times that of wine but you do not hear about these products causing headaches,

There is no doubt that the over sulphring of wine is not a good thing but for me drinkers hsould more concerned about the other chemicals whicha re regualrily used by some wine makers to stablize thier wines and also the quality of the fruit that is being used.

Singling out Suphites is one thing but it is not the only cause of wine drinkers beceoming ill due to its consumption

To much folklore here and not enough facts in play by the average wine drinker as all they tend to pick up is the headline and not the story.

Feb 12, 2016
Sulphur is not the bad guy!!
by: Andrew Scott

I just want to chime on here and say that sulphur gets an undeservedly bad wrap when it comes to wine...

Whilst I agree with Darby that overuse of sulphur in a wine is undesirable, I hardly think it's fair to tar the entire Australian Wine Industry with the claim that our wines are unpleasantly oversulphured and throw around figures like "250 ppm" as if thats the norm when in fact it's the legal maximum - a level that most 'quality' wine producers will never willingly approach.

On the other hand, do people realise that 300ppm IS the norm for products like dried apricots? I dont hear a lot of people complaining about raging headaches after consuming a few saltanas... probably because hypersensitivity to sulphur dioxide is very rare.

For the most part, the alergy-like symptoms that people blame on sulphur is actually caused by histamines. A family called "biogenic amides" are among the most notable culprits.

Feb 12, 2016
by: Anonymous

Just a quick note on SO2Go - its essentially bleach which binds up the SO2 in the wine to form Sulphuric probably best just to leave the minute levels of SO2 in the wine. Try an anti-histamine with your next wine as its probably bio-amines in the wine (naturally occurring) that people are actually sensitive to. And why add SO2 to wine in the first place? Try judging at a wine show where very few people use enough SO2 - its like a step back into the medieval times of spoilt, undrinkable wines. Oxidation and microbial spoilage are real issues, not made up by 'big pharma' to sell more SO2!!

Nov 11, 2015
So2go is far better than Pure Wine
by: Anonymous

So2go has been around for years and is very user friendly. Available in an easy to use 3ml sachet to treat a bottle of wine or a cool 5ml spray bottle for a glass of wine. Easy to carry in a purse or pocket!!

May 28, 2015
Preservative 224 as a depressant
by: Rosey

I recently had a glass of white at the end of a busy day. The next morning I was down, very down. There were tears and bad thoughts. It was quite distressing.
I checked the preservative on the label of the wine and it was 224. A new one to me. Usually it's 220.

I Understand that some people may be more susceptible to preservatives but this was disgusting. I will be on the alert for 224 as I never want to feel like that again.
I also agree with the previous comment about Italian wines. From the tiny store in an old village to the large wineries. Not one headache or reaction.
Why do we need to add things to our products.

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:

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,

Mar 11, 2012
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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