Are sulfites added to wines for shipping?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Are sulfites added to wines for shipping? Like an Italian red wine being shipped to the U.S.?

—Dorthea, Fairfield, Conn.

Dear Dorthea,

I’ve never heard of a winery adding sulfites only to the wines being shipped to one country or another. Sulfites are a naturally occurring byproduct of fermentation, and most winemakers also add additional sulfites to protect wine against oxidation and bacterial spoilage.

But the same wine sold here in the United States will have a label mentioning the sulfites in wine while the same wine in Italy will not. That’s because wherever a wine is sold, it has to adhere to the laws of that country. And here in the U.S., labeling laws require the mention of sulfites, while they are not required in other parts of the world. So there isn’t a different set of wines sold here and abroad, just the same wines with two different labels.

Only about 1 percent of the population is sulfite-sensitive (that number goes up among asthma sufferers). There are some serious reactions to sulfites, including hives and respiratory problems, but they are not to blame for the headaches and hangovers that some wine lovers experience. Definitely talk to your real doctor if you have concerns about a sulfite allergy, as there are sulfites in many types of foods including dried fruit and molasses.

—Dr. Vinny

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