Bartender pouring a glass of red wine

Wine filter could remove sulphites from the bottle as wine is poured

Image credit: Dreamstime

Researchers at the University of Kansas are working to develop an inexpensive filter that could remove 99 per cent of sulphites from wine as it is poured.

Sulphites are a class of sulphur-based compounds which have valuable antibacterial and antioxidant properties and consequently have been used since the days of the Roman Empire to preserve wine.

Sulphites are sometimes added by winemakers, although they can also occur naturally in the process of winemaking.

These preservatives can boost flavour and are mostly harmless, although a small number of people suffer from a sulphite allergy, meaning that the amount of sulphite contained in a wine is tightly regulated. According to the US Department of Agriculture, people with sulphite allergies can suffer chest tightness, hives, stomach cramps, diarrhoea and breathing problems after drinking wine.

In order to prevent these symptoms in people with sulphite allergies, engineers at the University of Kansas are working to design a cheap, simple-to-use device capable of filtering 99 per cent of sulphites from wine – and other drinks, such as fruit juice – as it is poured.

According to Professor Mark Shiftlett, who is leading a group of students on the product, many of the products already on the market which claim to remove sulphites from wine have shortcomings. These sulphite-removing products require drops of a chemical to be placed inside the glasses of wine, for a filter to placed on top of the glass, or for a filter to be stirred through the wine. Some products that his group tested only removed half the sulphites from the wine samples.

“Our idea is that you’d have a device like an aerator,” said Professor Shiflett. “You’d stick it on top of the bottle and as you pour a glass through the device, it removes the sulphites. It would be inexpensive. When you’re at the cash register you’d have these devices for sale. They’d be a dollar or less. You’d buy a handful.”

The University of Kansas device under development works through chemical separation: as the wine is poured through the filter, the sulphite molecules contained within it are selectively bound to the material of the filter and do not pass into the wine glass. This could remove up to 99 per cent of the sulphites in the wine.

The other components of the wine, such as sugars and tannins, which are associated with its flavour and quality, are not affected.

“A year from now, maybe we could go onto ‘Shark Tank’ or go to a big wine producer like E&J Gallo Winery and say: ‘Look, a box of wine could come with one of these sulphite filters on the end of it,’” said Professor Shiflett.

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