Monday, March 23, 2015

You probably AREN'T allergic to sulfites!

For the last 25+ years sulfites in wine have been vilified as the baddies that cause physical distress in the form of headaches and sinus pain. In reality, it is most likely other factors that cause those problems.  The obvious one would be drinking too much! But there are many other possibilities. 

Why 25+ years? That was when Senator Strom Thurmond, teetotaler that he was, succeeded in getting the warning label about sulfites on wine bottles.  Even though there are more sulfites in a glass of orange juice, wine was singled out.  And here's the crazy part, less than 1% of the population is really allergic to sulfites! 
Sulfites are a naturally occurring byproduct of fermentation in wine.  There is no such thing as wine without them.  Anywhere from 35 to 75mg per bottle can show up, but in the US any wine with more than 10mg has to carry the warning label. Are you better off choosing wines with no added sulfites? Usually.  Wines that have no added sulfites will more truly express the personality of the grape.  However a little added at bottling goes a long way to preserving the wine and guaranteeing that once you open your precious treasure it will still be delicious.

Be sure to read this excellent article by wine writer Lettie Teague, columnist for the Wall Street Journal, "Wine Headache? Chances Are It's Not the Sulfites."  It's truly eye-opening! Her reviews of wines claiming to have no sulfites are quite damning as she declares them undrinkable.  Possibly the most important take-away from this article is a simple one; good quality, clean, well-made wines are the key to avoiding headaches and other alcohol-related ailments.  It's that simple.  And moderation of course.