Debunking Wine Myths: Big Bad Sulfites

You’ve seen it on wine bottles before: “Contains sulfites.” Ooooh, scary! Right? Well, thanks in large part to US labeling laws, you may have attributed your post-vino headache or congestion to the wine’s “sulfites.” You may have even “discovered” that you are allergic to them.

Hate to break it to you, but you most likely aren’t. 

In fact, only an estimated 8% of the world’s population suffers from wine allergies. Of that, only 1% can be directly attributed to sulfites.

For centuries, sulfur has been used in winemaking, acting as a natural preserver of wine (it’s one of the reasons wine can age). It inhibits yeast from fermenting further, and it acts as an antioxidant. What more, it is also naturally occurring in all wine. Now, the FDA requires the “contains sulfites” label for those folks with true, hand-to-heart allergies—particularly severe asthmatics—which circles back to that 1%. Real talk: If you can drink a glass of good ol’ OJ, you’ve already consumed more sulfites than a glass of wine. In fact, tons of every day foods—guacamole, dried fruit, fruit toppings, corn syrup, shrimp, pickles, relish, maple syrup, soft drinks and fruit juice, to name but a few things—contain more sulfur than wine. 

contains sulfites

So. What is your body reacting to, then? If you’re experiencing frequent headaches when enjoying wine, there are one of two things happening: over-consumption of wines with higher alcohol by volume, or you have a sensitivity to the tannins in heartier reds. The solution for these problems is easy: drink plenty of water, or try drinking lighter reds with fewer tannins.

Are you congested and blotchy? You may be allergic to the histamines that naturally develop in fermented products; the histamines inside grapes themselves; or the other incidental allergens that make their way into wine (which is an agricultural product, after all). In this case, it’s hard to say which wines will set you off, so it’s hit or miss what you drink.

If you really would just rather avoid the sulfite question all together, pick up a bottle of organic, biodynamic or natural wine, which tend to have lower to no additional sulfites than those that naturally form during winemaking. Also, note that white wines typically contain more sulfites than reds, if that is, in fact, your worry. Regardless of your reaction to wine, below are some delicious low-sulfite options that can help you rest easy.

Domaine Rimbert 2012 “Les Travers de Marceau” Saint-Chinian: Hailing from Southern France’s Languedoc-Rousillon region, this Saint-Chinian bottling is naturally produced, meaning no chemicals, fertilizers or pesticides go into the making of this wine. Wild yeasts induce fermentation, while the grapes are hand-harvested for this beaut. Expect this blend of Mouvedre, Syrah, Cinsault and Carignan to have notes of blueberry and raspberry with a slight undercurrent of earthy leather. I’m a big fan of drinking this wine with gyros from my Greek place.

Ravines 2011 Finger Lakes Pinot Noir: Drink in some local New York state flavor with this engaging Pinot. Provence-raised Morten Hallgren and his chef wife, Lisa, produced this wine at their Finger Lakes Ravines property, hand-harvesting and fermenting single varietal wines into a classic style. What they produced with this food-friendly red is a delicate sipper with ripe cherry and plum, subtle spice notes, and characteristic earthy aromas, thanks to some time in new French oak.

Domaine Cousin-Leduc, Le Cousin Rouge “Le Groulle” Loire: This wine is produced from an ancient grape on the brink of extinction called Grolleau. Deep purple in color and gamey on the palate, it’s an interesting varietal that smells of wild berries and earth. The producer, Olivier Cousin, not only saved Grolleau but is a steadfast believer in natural wine production: no chemicals, sugars, enzymes or sulfites are added to his wine. With his trusty horse, Joker, all of his Demeter-certified biodynamic wines are hand-harvested and undergo wild yeast fermentation.

Do you suffer when drinking wine? How do you deal? Let’s chat below!

[Featured photo by McCanon | Flickr]

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