Jane Morrill, by email, asks: I understand that sodium benzoate can be added to wines as a preservative. I have been diagnosed with a sodium benzoate allergy and am now aware of foods that contain it, so wondered how often it is used in wine and if it is allowed in all regions?
Justin Knock MW, director of The Purple Hand Wine Consultancy, replies: Sodium benzoate is used in the food industry to suppress the growth of yeast, and is permitted for use in wine in some countries for the same purpose so as to avoid refermentation in bottle. However, it is not permitted to be used in wine shipped within the EU – potassium sorbate is permitted and used instead.
So, at this point in time, readers in the UK and EU who are concerned about sodium benzoate have no cause for concern when it comes to wine. Of course the context of this may change over the next 12 months, so it’s a topic worth coming back to next year.
Yeasts are of course essential to making wine, and are only a concern to winemakers if sugar is retained in the wine, or added back to the wine as either grape concentrate or a dosage, at the point of packaging.
The use of sorbates is not that common, but they can be used on wines that have 2-15g/L of residual sugar – including many red and white styles where producers aim to make a wine soft, fruity or mellow.
In practice, wineries would use sterile filtration as a non-chemical alternative to avoid refermentation on these kinds of wines.
(Editor’s note: in the US FDA’s Food Additive Status List, published online, sodium benzoate is categorised as ‘Generally recognised as safe’, but with a limit for use in foods where allowed.)
This question first appeared in the June 2020 issue of Decanter magazine.