Monday, January 11, 2010

Wine Myths Debunked- Sulfite edition

I think that, in light of me trying to be more informative about the subject that gives me my paycheck, I would like to start progressively addressing some of the myths that are out there about wine. Many of you have been to a dinner, wine tasting, etc, and heard someone say "Oh, I don't drink red wine, the sulfites gives me a headache." Sorry, charlie, the red wine you drink might give you a headache, but it ain't the sulfites.

Sulfites are a naturally occuring chemical compound that are on various parts of the grape. They are also added to the wine in the form of Sulfur Dioxide, as a preservative. In the early 70's, the FDA determined that about 1% of the population has an allergy to sulfites, therefore requiring that the words "Contains Sulfites" appear under the government warning on the label. Because of the proximity to the warning, some people incorrectly assume that these sulfites are a bad thing, then blame a headache after drinking red wine on them. The trouble is that this warning appears on all wines, not just reds. There is such a phenomenon as a Red Wine Headache, but it isn't the sulfites that cause it. You don't hear about people saying they get "White wine headaches", yet white wines typically have more sulfites in them than red wines do. This also goes for dried fruits- sulfites are used there for preservatives, but people don't talk about "dried fruit headaches" either. Even for those that have an allergy to sulfites, the results would not be a headache- but rather shortness of breath. The only people that would get a headache from sulfites would be those that had a really rare combination of a sulfite allergy and asthma.

The answer to the red wine headache is most likely in the other stuff in the wine. Red wine is a chemically complex item, that has hundreds of different compounds in it. If you get a headache from it, the cause is likely either:
a) You drank too much red wine, and have a hangover (most likely)
b) You are allergic to one of the other compounds in it. Try taking a Claritin before drinking red wine and see if that helps.


Celebrate the fact that we have now "Freed the Sulfites" by toasting with a glass of non-headache inducing red wine. I suggest the Hope Estate "Ripper" Shiraz- a really neat wine that is macerated in tanks on trucks while driving across Australia. It should cost you around $15 retail.


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