Sulfites are a naturally occurring byproduct of winemaking. If you drink wine, you’re consuming sulfites. With that said, the natural levels are quite low, and what people really get worked up about is the use of sulfur dioxide, or SO2. At relatively low levels, it can dampen fruitiness in wine, and at higher levels, it can lead to off-putting smells like eggs or burnt matches. Most importantly– at least to natural wine fans– SO2 kills native yeasts and bacteria that exist naturally in the vineyard, masking some of the terroir and sense of place inherent to the wine.

Now for the other side of the story: sulfites are indispensable in winemaking as a whole. They’re antioxidants, keeping wine from turning to vinegar as it ages, and they stabilize wine so storage conditions don’t need to be perfect at all times. They’re also antiseptics, killing yeast and bacteria that can cause undesirable flavors, or spoil the wine entirely. They allow winemakers to respond to problems that can arise before, during, or after fermentation, and they can be used to prevent malolactic fermentation or a secondary fermentation in the bottle.

Some of our favorite winemakers avoid adding sulfites, and some of our favorite wines on the planet are made with little or no added SO2. So what’s the verdict? The answer is: whatever floats your boat.

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