The laws in Europe and the USA are very different when it comes to labelling wine bottles and the amount of sulphites they contain. And, since this is Europe, we won’t bother with the laws in America, except to say that they have the labelling part of the laws wrong.
In Europe, a wine can be labelled as being made from organically-grown grapes if the wine contains less than 100ppm (parts per million) of sulphites. There are other elements in making organic wines, but we’ll concentrate on the sulphites levels here.
Typically, the better winemakers (whether certified organic or not) will use less the 50ppm and, since sulphur is a natural by-product of the fermentation process, it is impossible (and undesirable) to have zero sulphites in wine. It is worth noting that our bodies produce sulphur on a daily basis, and there are far higher dosages of sulphur used in other foodstuffs.
I think the problem with high levels of sulphites in wines is that these wines are also very likely to have been subjected to herbicides, pesticides and systemic fertilizers. And, since there is no evidence that excess sulphites in foodstuffs causes headaches, it is far more likely that the overall excesses of chemicals used in badly-made wines is what gives that feeling of ‘oh, I didn’t think I drank that much last night’.
So, while there is a focus on sulphite levels, it is the overall cocktail of additives that are the enemy, and it is a good thing that there is measurement of sulphite levels, as this helps to identify the winemakers that care about their vines and make wine properly.
The problem, of course, is certification, but that’s another story, and another article. Which is here somewhere.