For many people, white wine and the sulfites it contains can give them a headache. While sulfites may not be good for your health, they are beneficial for the wine. In fact, they are what allow it to increase its aging potential. Sulfites, derived from sulfur, contribute to wine preservation, and winemakers often use them. But what about champagne? Is sulfite-free champagne a myth or a reality? What is the sulfite content of champagne?
Table of Contents:
- Champagne: What Are Sulfites?
- The Role of Sulfites in Champagne
- Champagne: Adding Sulfur is an Ancient Practice
- Champagne and Sulfites: Does It Affect the Taste?
- Natural Champagnes
- Should You Fear Sulfites?
Champagne: What Are Sulfites?
Present in varying amounts in wines, sulfites are chemical compounds derived from sulfur. Speaking of wine without sulfites is like speaking of wine without sulfur. In fact, many expressions are synonymous with it, such as without sulfur dioxide, without SO2, or without sulfur anhydride.
Grape grains naturally produce sulfites. In fact, regardless of the grape varieties, all wines naturally contain sulfur. So when we talk about champagne without sulfites, it would be more accurate to talk about champagne without added sulfites. Or better yet, communicate the sulfite level in champagne. Because that's where the issue lies.
Indeed, considering that wine naturally contains sulfites, regulations focus on its level. Since 2005, European regulations require the label "contains sulfites" if the sulfur level exceeds 10 mg/l. These sulfites are added to the wine, especially white wine, to prevent sugars from fermenting again once in the bottle. Sulfites are added as a preservative.
However, with champagne, it's a different story. If no law requires the exact sulfite level to be mentioned, it is possible to find champagnes with low sulfur levels, around 20 mg/liter. Indeed, the sulfite content in champagne is naturally lower. It's evident, as the carbon dioxide in champagne acts as a preservative, there's no need to add other preservatives.
The Role of Sulfites in Champagne
Due to the yeast and the fermentation they produce, champagne is unstable. Consequently, it is in constant evolution. Thus, during the various stages of production, bacteria and yeast can interact with its nature. Let's take a brief overview of the various stages of champagne production.
Thus, during the various phases of production, sulfites in champagne may degrade, transform, or simply be assimilated. However, they play four major roles in relation to champagne, including that of an antioxidant and antiseptic. They are essential, so having sulfite-free champagnes seems illusory.
Those present in champagne, whether added or not, have four major roles, as mentioned:
- Preservative: This is one of the main roles of sulfites. They protect the wine from oxidation by combining with oxygen.
- Antifungal and antiseptic: Their role is to inhibit the development of bacteria contained in yeast. Thus, alcoholic fermentation can be controlled.
- Controlling and stabilizing: They allow the development of yeast necessary for alcoholic fermentation.
- Clarifying: Sulfites contribute to the breakdown of grapes, promoting the release of tannin and aromas. They also clarify by removing polyphenols.
It is therefore evident that the association of champagne and sulfites is inevitable. And that sulfite-free champagne does not exist due to their entirely natural production. The problem lies rather in the addition of sulfur to champagne. Is it really necessary?
Champagne: Adding Sulfur is an Ancient Practice
If we go back in the history of champagne, it was in 1487 in Germany that the addition of sulfur to wine was first authorized. However, it was during the Roman era that the first vineyards in Champagne appeared. In the Middle Ages, the monks cultivated non-sparkling champagne. It was only the monk Dom Pérignon who discovered how to make it sparkling. Conservation techniques had to be employed. The history of champagne is rich, which is why we invite you to discover the history of champagne and its key dates to remember.
The levels of sulfites in champagne or wine differ depending on their classification. Here are the recommendations:
- For conventional wine: between 150 and 200 mg/l of SO2 is accepted
- For organic wine: between 100 and 150 mg/l of SO2 is accepted
- For biodynamic wine: between 70 and 90 mg/l is accepted
- For natural wine: between 30 and 40 mg/l is accepted
- For S.A.I.N wine: no addition is allowed. This wine can only contain traces that come solely from sulfite naturally produced by the grapes.
For S.A.I.N wines, it should be noted that the combustion of sulfur naturally present in the soil produces sulfur dioxide. Mixed with water, it forms sulfites. This explains the presence of sulfites in champagne. The natural quantity of sulfites in grapes can vary from one terroir to another.
Champagne and Sulfites: Does It Affect the Taste?
From one year to another, due to the use of reserve wines in dosage, the taste of the wine can remain the same. It is also the art of blending that aims to give a consistent identity to the champagnes of a house. This is an art, as you can discover in our article on the art of blending.
The production and marketing of champagne on a large scale, even on an international scale, may require varying the sulfite content in champagne. It is this marketing that may have prompted the European Commission to require the label "contains sulfites." Recall that this label is mandatory as soon as the sulfite level in champagne exceeds 10 mg/l.
When this level is limited by winemakers in their champagnes, the influence on taste is minimal. Indeed, only natural elements can cause a slight change in flavors. This can be compensated for during blending, as different vintages can be used. Wines with fewer added sulfites remain more demanding and fragile. They are generally produced in smaller quantities and distributed nationally.
The winemaker's goal is to preserve and respect the intrinsic qualities of natural wine without sulfur. It also aims to develop good cellar or wine cabinet storage conditions. Sulfite-free champagnes are for immediate enjoyment. The taste is much more natural, fruity, and indulgent.
Purists will naturally prefer sulfite-free champagnes. These so-called natural wines have the advantage of not causing headaches the day after a celebration. So, if you were to try more natural champagnes, you should choose those with low sugar content. We offer you an overview of our champagnes that meet this criterion. Would you like to try them? Here is our selection of sulfite-free champagnes.
- La Cuvée du Dimanche: This champagne is a zero-dosage cuvée. 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay (reserve wines, vintages 2000 to 2014). It is a light, fruity champagne with good length on the palate. It is a very personal cuvée, filled with memories of Sunday meals.
- Blanc des Noirs: With only 0.27g/l of sugar, this 100% Pinot Noir extra brut champagne is a very original wine. It is powerful yet delicate and very refreshing.
- Blanc de Blancs aged in wood: 100% Chardonnay, our Blanc de Blancs aged in wood champagne contains only 0.45 g/l of sugar. Complex and opulent, it will seduce you with its beautiful golden robe and complexity on the palate.
- La Cuvée des Gentlemen: La Cuvée des Gentlemen is one of the signature champagnes of the De Lozey house. With only 0.4g/l of sugar, it can be considered a "natural" wine. This champagne offers a perfect balance between refined maturity and dynamic youth. It is a champagne that will please the most discerning palates.
- 2008 Vintage: Ranked among the extra brut champagnes with 0.4g/l, the 2008 Vintage is one of the least sweet champagnes after zero dosage. The nose is elegant with a lovely range of nuances. It is elegant with notes of citrus and white fruits.
Should You Fear Sulfites?
If in Champagne, the maximum sulfite level allowed is 185 mg/liter, winemakers tend to reduce it as much as possible. The trend is towards the production of natural wines. Houses like De Lozey, engaged in environmental certifications, ensure the preservation of natural elements and respect for their crops. However, it is sometimes difficult to produce sulfite-free champagnes. But in the end, should you really be afraid?
What you should remember is that sulfites in food serve as preservatives. They prevent the proliferation of microbes. They are found in many foods without debate.
Regarding wines, only 1% of people are sensitive to sulfites. But as a precaution, winemakers prefer not to combine champagne and sulfites. In the case of red wine, it is not necessarily the sulfites that cause headaches, but rather the tannins or ethanol. However, to avoid any risk of problems or allergies, the presence of sulfites must be indicated on labels.
In conclusion, now that you know more about champagne and sulfites, it is certain that there is no sulfite-free champagne. But it is also not a myth because the nuance lies in natural sulfites and those added. You now know how to choose a bottle of champagne with the least sulfur possible. With your choice made, you have the freedom to choose your champagne wisely, especially to accompany cheeses.
To learn more, we invite you to discover our tips on which champagne to pair with which cheese. You will learn which cheeses to serve with our extra brut champagne or our zero dosage champagne. These have much lower sulfite levels.