Friday, January 25, 2008

About Those Sulfites

I am sometimes asked if we sell any wine that contains no sulfites. The truth is that there is no such thing, since grapes already contain (albeit small amounts) of sulfites. What people really want is a wine with no sulfites added, or a 100% organic wine. There is a widespread belief that sulfites in wine cause headaches. While it's true that red wine can cause headaches in some people, it's not the sulfites.

Sulfites, when referred to wine, is really sulfur dioxide. Winemakers mostly use it as a preservative. Without it, wine spoils very easily in the bottle and finer wines cannot be aged like they do. The benefits of sulfites in wine have been noticed by winemakers for hundreds of years, going all the way back to the Romans, so it's not a new thing. Sulfites are used as a preservative in many foods. In fact, pizzas often contain more sulfites than wine. Sulfites in very large quanities (much larger than what you get in wine) can potentially be harmful, and some people, about 1 in 20,000, are allergic to sulfites. But there is no medical evidence that sulfites cause headaches. So if headaches are a problem for you, it will do you no good to drink an organic wine. If not the sulfites, then what?

Nobody really knows what causes headaches from red wine, but there are theories. The most widely accepted is that histamines in the wine are the culprit, a result of aging the wine in oak barrels. If you get headaches, you might want to ask your friendly kybecca employee which reds have not been aged in oak and see if that wine works better for you. But red wine naturally contains many chemicals, so it may be a while longer before we know for certain how to prevent the headaches. My advice is to find a few brands that don't give you the headaches and stick with those, or drink more whites and roses.

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