'Contains sulphites'

Wine appears to be exempt from declaring its ingredients on the label. All other foodstuffs have to list in minute detail what they contain, but not wine. However there is a phrase that is almost never missing from the back label: 'This wine contains sulphites'.

The rationale is not immediately obvious as sulphites occur naturally in wine and cannot exist otherwise. The problem is that while the human organism can usually absorb them without difficulty, some people are allergic.

The EU has been gradually reducing permitted levels over the years, but there are still winemakers who abuse the system, adding as much sulphur as they want, without declaring on the label that their wine contains sulphites - obligatory if there is more than 100mg/litre.

Sulphites are used throughout, in the vineyard, at the grape pressing, during fermentation and prior to bottling. If the wine comes in a box, or any other container where it cannot 'breathe', more suplhites have to be used. Without sulphites, allegedly, the wine has no protection from bacteria and oxidisation. Sulphur and wine are fellow travellers whether they like it or not. Until now.

Scientist Dr Emma Cantos-Villar and her team at the Instituto de Investigación y Formación Agraria y Pesquera de Andalucia (IFAPA), collaborating with Bordeaux, Seville and Cadiz universities, has pulled off a miracle that people have been trying to achieve for centuries. They have discovered the exact dose for an extract made from recycling the prunings of the vine, a material rich in cardiac protection components and anti-ageing qualities that can replace sulphur dioxide.

The implications are tremendous, not just for wine but also for other foodstuffs that depend on sulphur for their preservation, such as fruit, vegetables and fish. A truly wonderful first for Spain that has worldwide ramifications.