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Frequently Asked – Sulfites, Grocery Wine…

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Before we get to the “Frequently Asked” I wanted to share that my favorite wine book Wine Folly Magnum Edition, just won a James Beard Award in the “Best Beverage Book” category. It would make a great Mother’s Day gift for your wine curious mom.

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You Ask, and I Answer

 

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Frequently Asked Question: What are Sulfites in wine? 

Answer: Sulfur dioxide (or Sulfites) is a natural compound and is actually a by-product of fermentation. Thus all wine has sulfites to some degree. That said, sulfites are added to many conventionally produced wines and acts as a preservative. Wine labeled “certified organic” in the United States, it is safe to conclude that there may be only a minimal amount of added sulfur dioxide.

It is also safe to assume that you are not allergic and it is not what causes headaches for 99% of the population.

Only about 1% of the population has a sulfite allergy, and those folks will almost certainly also be asthmatic. Sulfites are common in most processed foods but also in orange juice (significantly more than wine), all dried fruits (ditto), bottled lemon/lime juices, molasses, sauerkraut, onions, peanuts, eggs, black tea, vinegar, and other fermented foods all contain natural sulfites. So do some otherwise healthy vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, garlic, onions, chives, and leeks. So if you have an allergic reaction to all of these, then you may be part of this select one percent (1%).

Frequently Asked Question:  Do they cause headaches or flushing when I drink wine? 

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Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash

Answer: NO they do not. The culprits for these ailments are Histamines and Tyramines.

First, this probably happens to you more frequently with red wine than with white. And for that, you can blame higher levels of Histamines and Tyramine. In fact, Histamines in red wine have been measured to be in some cases up to 200% higher in red wine, than what you commonly find in white wine.

The simple explanation for wine headaches is, histamines dilate your blood vessels and bring on the flushing and inflammatory sensations. Histamines may also cause sneezing and a stuffy nose. Tyramine gets credit for two effects. Tyramine is responsible for initially constricting and then dilating your blood vessels causing your blood pressure to rise slightly, just enough to induce a headache. Of the two, histamines seem to bear more of the responsibility.

But remember from the last Frequently Asked Readers, dehydration also causes headaches, so stay hydrated while drinking any alcohol can help prevent some headaches.

Frequently Asked Question:  How can I minimize or prevent a wine headache?

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Photo by Manu Schwendinger on Unsplash

Answer:

Stay hydrated: Drink at least one full, 8-ounce glass of water per each glass of wine. Water is your best friend as drinking alcohol can cause dehydration. Frequently, I forget to intersperse water with wine while drinking at home so I will chug several full glasses of water before I go to bed. The latter is not foolproof, but I rarely get hangover headaches.

Histamine issues: You can try taking non-drowsy, anti-histamines before drinking wine. This should limit flushing as well as histamine related headaches

Tyramine issues: Try taking an Aspirin, Ibuprofen or Vitamin B6 before you drink wine.

For a more in-depth read go to The Wine Cellar Insider.

Frequently Asked Question: What does “clean-crafted™” wine mean?

Photo by Gabriel Gurrola on Unsplash

Answer: This is a new catchphrase that is popping up in newspaper stories, online magazines and on social media. The catchphrase has been trademarked by Scout & Cellar**, a relatively new online and in-home (think Tupperware parties) wine seller that only sells wine that they have lab tested to ensure that there are no additives or other chemical compounds in the wine they sell.

** I have had one occasion to try three wines (a red, white and rosé) guaranteed clean-crafted by Scout & Cellar. I, nor my tasting companions found any of these wines fit the style of wine that we prefer to drink. When the opportunity arises, I will try any of their other wines.

I personally do not have a heightened sensitively to additives, nor do I have a concern about the wines that I choose to drink. That said this option might be important to you. 

Follow Up Question: Does this mean all other wine has additives and other chemical compounds? 

Photo by Alex Kondratiev on Unsplash

Answer: NO, but…

Winemakers may use roughly 75 different products to remedy flaws, tease 
out flavors and filter and clarify wine. Additionally, if the farmer growing the grapes uses pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers they too can residually end up in your wine. (Just like they can be found in the fruits, vegetables and meat products that we eat.) It should be noted that there is no law requiring bottles to be labeled with 
these additives or residual chemical products (other than sulfites). 

That said, organic and biodynamic producers (farmers and winemakers) typically adhere to “minimal intervention” procedures when growing grapes and making wine. Certainly, there would be no pesticide or herbicide residual effects as that goes against organic and biodynamic practices. But there are organic additives that could be used and not disclosed.

Most experts would agree that industrial, mass-market wines will more than likely have undisclosed additives in their wines. It is virtually impossible to make that much bulk wine with fruit from so many different locations, grown in various soil types and have the wine taste the same bottle after bottle, year after year without manipulation. The larger the production, the higher the likelihood of additives.

Frequently Asked Question: What guidelines do you use to purchase wine?

Answer:

Side note: Alcohol distribution is regulated by each state. Licenses are required to import into a state and to distribute in a state as well as sell in a state. Yes, that is three different entities paying fees to each state. Therefore, wine you find in South Carolina may not be sold in Ohio. This is what makes finding a specific wine so challenging.  Below are the guidelines I use when buying wine.

    1. Shop at a small independent wine store where the owner is invested in selling you wine you will like. And will learn your palate for future recommendations. It is here that you will find small-batch wines and other quality wines. You are more likely to find organic wine and biodynamic wine at independent retail stores.
    2. I do not buy wine made in the USA that is owned by a mass producer of nationally branded, industrially produced wine. This is regardless of price.
    3. Rarely do I buy any wine made in the USA, Australia or Chile sold for less than $13.00 a bottle.
    4. I no longer buy Winery Direct/Private Label wine including those from Total Wine or Trader Joe’s. (this is a post all on its own)
    5. I do try to taste the wine before I buy it to make sure it fits my palate. Anywhere a sample is offered I will try it.
    6. If I like the wine I have at a restaurant, I will take a picture of the front and back label and research where I can buy it.
    7. I do buy French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and other Old World wines regardless of how cheaply it is sold. There are a few reasons for this. A) Wine production costs are much lower in the European Union as many wineries, and the vineyards (no debt for land ownership) are family-run businesses with lower production costs that have been around for generations that make excellent quality table wines. B) European Union regulations are much more strict than in the USA, so I have greater confidence in the quality.
    8. I would not buy ANY Australian wines sold at my local grocery stores.
    9. I would only purchase wines on the top two shelves at any grocery store (with the except of Whole Foods).

Frequently Asked Question: What are some reliable brands that I can buy at a grocery store?

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Photo by Fikri Rasyid on Unsplash

Answer: Please keep in mind that I very rarely ever buy wine in a grocery store. That said, some of these are brands I would consider today. This list is based on wines available in grocery stores in my area (Whole Foods and Harris Teeter). I always recommend buying just one bottle first to make sure that you like it. Prices for these producers wines range from $10 to $20 per bottle in Charleston, SC. Some of these wines list the specific varietal because that is what I have had. I would feel comfortable trying any of their other wines based on that experience.

Alamos (it has been a long time, but I would try them again)
Angeline Vineyards
Cambria
Cline Family (these wines will be fruit forward and jammy)
Decoy
Edna Valley
Franciscan
Frei Brothers
Gruet Sparkling Wines* (all of their Sparkling Wines are delicious)
J Vineyard Pinot Grigio (I have not had their other wines, but I would try them based on the rosé)
Joel Gott
Josh Cellars Rosé (I have not had their other wines, but I would try them based on the rosé)
Le Crema
Lioco
MacMurray
McManis Petit Syrah
Napa Cellars (My sister enjoys their Chardonnay)
Rhiannon
Rodney Strong
Steele
Wente
William Hill

Do you have a question that should be included in the next Frequently Asked post? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and I will get you an answer.

That is all for now!

Cheers,

rick


 

 

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6 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this information it’s really informative information. I think it’s helpful for many people. I admire the valuable information that you discuss in the article.

  2. Very informative indeed! I had not heard of “clean crafted” before reading your post. It sounds like another term for “low intervention” which we often hear to express the concept of minimal additives.

    I am curious, why would you “not buy ANY Australian wines sold at my local grocery stores”?

    • It really comes down to the effort involved. Australia makes some incredible wines. I’ve been there and tasted them first hand. But in my experience, those which find their way into most American grocery store chains is not their best effort. They tend to be mass-market, industrially produced wines. Especially when you can select a wine from perhaps France, Italy or Spain at a similar price point. Granted this is just my experience. Perhaps in Canada, you get a much better selection. That is not to say that Yellow Tail, Penfolds or Jacobs Creek and the like, will not match some palates. Again its effort required to find something suitable.

  3. Sulfites get such a bad wrap! I just recently wrote a post on it also.. I know a person who sits and complains that the sulfites cause her such headaches and then will sit there and eat foods that have SO MUCH more! I just sit and quietly laugh to myself.

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