TOOLS WE LOVE / for wine collectors

Leah Jorgensen Jean

FEATURE: Üllo Wine Purifier

After writing my last post on Decanting Older Wines, I promised to review a tool that was mentioned – the Üllo Wine Purifier. It has received a number of favorable reviews and product recommendations online.

While I’m writing this in my “Tools We Love” category, I’m not sure I can actually endorse this product as I tool I love, but, rather, I’m motivated to offer more guidance for the tiny segment of the population that will potentially have a true reaction to “sulfites” in wine and reach for this product to remove the “sulfites” from a poured glass of wine.

When I first learned about the Üllo Wine Purifier, I thought it was designed to remove larger colloidal material left in wines, perhaps potential “off” chemicals fallen out of solution from old wines (per the point of mention in my previous post on decanting older wines), but also in unfiltered or natural wines – the real culprits for histamine production, which I’ll get to in a moment.

After doing some basic research, I learned this product was put on the market to remove unwanted “sulfites” from wine. That’s when I paused, took a deep breath, and realized there’s some basic education needed here about “sulfites” and other chemical compositions in wine that cause allergic reactions, headaches, etc.

The founder of Üllo Wine Purifier is a chemist, however, he is promoting false or mis-information about “sulfites” that have been linked to a myriad of health problems that some people experience when drinking wine. So, I am going to take the claims that are on the Üllo website and provide more accurate information.

I have a degree in Enology, the science of winemaking, and another one in Holistic Nutrition. Discussing “sulfites” and health issues “caused” by wine is in my wheelhouse! I specialized in digestive diseases, nutrient deficiency, but, also, I have written academic assays on the truth behind the health claims about “sulfites” in wine.

Let’s dive right in!

Üllo’s website promotes on the “Our Story” page: “…wine is best enjoyed the way the winemaker intended – free from the sulfite preservatives added during production and with lower histamines.”

I’m a winemaker who uses SO2, the industry standard sulfur-based chemical. Let me break this down for those who aren’t familiar with chemistry. SO2 is Sulfur dioxide and Sulfur dioxide is not a sulfite, but a closely related chemical oxide. This is important because the chemist at Üllo is incorrectly using the term “sulfite”.

SO2, the chemical I use in winemaking, is used for two things. It is an anti-microbial agent used to prevent the growth of undesirable fault-producing yeasts and bacteria. It also works as an antioxidant to safeguard the wine’s fruit integrity while protecting it against browning. The latter is especially important with white wine. Red wines have high levels of polyphenols that can absorb oxygen. Tannins, for example, are a type of polyphenol and absorb oxygen, as do anthocyanins – a group of chemicals that give wine it’s color. As red wines have more tannins and color compared to whites, they are also more stable than white. So, you do not need to add as much SO2 to red wine as you do to white wine.

From my point of view, as a professional winemaker, if I were to ever suggest the “best enjoyed way I intended my wine” – it would always be free from microbial infection and the resulting byproducts of said microbes, including biogenic amines and heavy-loaded histamines. No professional winemaker would ever say that the wine is best enjoyed as they intended – “free from sulfite“. Unless they are natural winemakers who don’t use it. So that sentence doesn’t make any sense and does not represent the majority of professional winemakers. And, here’s the real clincher – the part about the “lower histamines”. Wines with lower to no histamines are wines that actually have SO2 in them to prevent spoilage microorganisms and their biogenic amine byproducts to taint the wine. The second word in biogenic amine is amine, as in histAMINE. The four biogenic amines most commonly found in wine are putrescine, cadaverine, histamine and tyramine. Take a moment to consider what putrescine and cadaverine might smell like. Levels of biogenic amines tend to increase during malolactic or “secondary” fermentation. The greatest increase in biogenic amine levels is usually during the aging process.

You can geek out here on the science of Biogenic Amines in wines HERE.

The point is, whether they mean to or not, Üllo is implying histamines are somehow related to “sulfite” additions in winemaking. Again, SO2 is not a sulfite. Sulfur Dioxide may trigger reactions in particularly sensitive patients who follow low histamine diets. They might also serve as histamine liberators – triggering the release of the body’s natural histamine. But adding Sulphur Dioxide to a wine is not the same as adding histamines to wine (!!!).

“Üllo’s Wine Purifier is a first-of-its-kind product that gives consumers the option to remove chemical additives, for a healthier, more natural way to enjoy wine.” 

The only chemical additive it has claimed to remove is “sulfite”. Again, Sulfur Dioxide is the chemical that is added to wine. Suggesting that removing the SO2 that was added to wine is somehow making the wine healthier and more natural is not really accurate.

Now, a micro segment (<1%) of the population will actually have a reaction to Sulphur Dioxide. An adverse reaction from ingestion of SO2 is more commonly an intolerance rather than an allergic adverse reaction. Although the most common symptom is asthma, foods and food additives are not common triggers for asthma. Furthermore, adverse reactions to SO2 in non-asthmatic and non-sensitive individuals are rare. 

So then let’s talk about regulation. Winemakers are only allowed to use a very, very small amount of SO2 in wine production. In fact, there is significantly more SO2 found in a salad bar or a jar of pickles than a bottle of wine. To that end, the OIV reported:

“Approximately 20-200 mg/L of SO2 may be added during winemaking (Ough 1986) and approximately 10-50 mg/L is formed by the yeast during fermentation,which is usually bound to acetaldehyde on formation. Therefore, when wine is analysed for the concentration of total SO2, a small amount will always be measured regardless of whether sulfur dioxide was added or not during the course of winemaking. Naturally occurring levels of SO2 in wines are usually around 10-20 mg/L. In most wine consuming countries, wines containing sulfites greater than 10 mg/L mustinclude a statement on the label making the consumer aware that sulfites are present.” (“SO2 And Wine: A Review” from International Organisation of Vine and Wine, March 2021).

Finally, the Instagram account of Üllo in its bio claims to restore wine to its natural state.  As a winemaker, I am perplexed. Winemakers are regulated on how much SO2 they can use, so they’re not adding anything that will harm or even effect the majority of wine drinkers. Removing the very substance that actually stabilizes a wine and prevents microbial and other problems to occur in bottle does not restore a wine to its “natural state”. If I had the time, I would use this product on my wine and see what the chemistry is afterwards. But, aside from chemistry, I love my wines in bottle. I have them in bottle 100% as I have intended them to be. This product could not result in a wine better than what I have put out into market because I put it out into market exactly how I intended it to be.

I’m assuming this product was made intentionally for industrial sized wine production. I don’t want to hate it. But I’m not convinced their claims and intentions are really useful. Having someone who identifies as a chemist suggest he can make a winemaker’s wine better, more natural, or healthier – I’m not buying it.

So, yeah, I’m not buying it. I’ll take a hard pass on this product. If anyone else has had real results that have shown a real improvement in a wine, I’d love to hear from you!