Log In / Join Now

Ask Dr. Vinny

Do you have a question for Dr. Vinny? Ask it here...

Dear Dr. Vinny,

Why use sulfates in wine?

Rod, Beaumont, Texas

Dear Rod,

Oh dear. There is so much misinformation out there about sulfites in wine. I recently went over a whole litany of sulfite issues when a reader asked if sulfites could be removed with a coffee filter. (They can't be.) Here's what you need to know: Sulfites are a naturally occurring byproduct of wine and other types of food, some winemakers add additional sulfur dioxide to deter spoilage, and the vast majority of people aren’t sensitive to sulfites.

But you are further confusing the confusion by asking about sulfates, which are different from sulfites. Even though they are both sulfur-based compounds, sulfates are not safe for human consumption. (Years ago someone taught me an easy way to keep them straight: "You might tempt fate if you ingest sulfate."

You may, however, come across sodium lauryl sulfate in your daily life. It’s a strong detergent and in everything from household cleaners to shampoos. In fact, it’s so strong, that some feel it’s too harsh to be used as a body product, which is why Dr. Vinny uses sulfate-free shampoo, to keep my fur from drying out.

That doesn’t mean I’m anti-sulfates. Epsom salts are made of sulfates, and some beermakers use a version of calcium sulfate to correct mineral deficiencies (that same derivative is used as a coagulant in my tofu). But you will not find sulfates in wine.

—Dr. Vinny

Wine Basics

We break down the basics—how to taste, serve, store and more. Plus:
» Maps of major wine regions
» Grape variety characteristics

How-to Videos

Learn to taste wine like a pro, pull a cork with flair, get great wine service in a restaurant and more

Wine Spectator School: All courses are FREE for WineSpectator.com Members

Learn from the experts and get the most out of each sip. Take one of our online courses or take them all—from the ABCs of Tasting to in-depth seminars on Food Pairing, California Cabernet, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Sensory Evaluation and more.

Browse our course catalog
Check out the professional wine sales and service courses
Learn Wine Forum: Got questions? Get answers

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.