Are sulfides the same as sulfates and sulfites?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Are sulfides the same as sulfates and sulfites?

—Bill W., Miramar Beach, Fla.

Dear Bill,

No. But it’s easy to see how they can get jumbled up, as they’re all sulfur-related. Sulfites and sulfides are both sulfur compounds that have a relationship with wine, but sulfate—a salt of sulfuric acid—is not. Perhaps it would help you keep them straight to think that you might tempt “fate” if you ingest “sulfate,” as it is not meant for consumption.

Sulfites are naturally occurring compounds, found in all wines, that thankfully inhibit microbial growth. You may have noticed the “contains sulfites” note on wine labels, as a small percentage of folks have sulfite allergies, which give them asthma-like symptoms. Most winemakers add more sulfites to help prevent spoilage, though some wines are made without additional sulfites.

That leaves sulfides, which are volatile sulfur compounds. They’re a natural byproduct of fermentation and of certain winemaking practices, and while not harmful, they can contribute to reduced, rotten-egg-like aromas in a wine.

—Dr. Vinny

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