In keeping with the thoughts about all things organic and “green,” here are some thoughts about organic wines including the myths and misconceptions about sulfites! The labeling of these wines is incredibly confusing!!!
Organic wines! Wine can be labeled with four different USDA approved organic designations: 1.) 100% Organic, 2.) Organic, 3.) Made with Organic ingredients, or 4.) Some Organic Ingredients. The sulfite content in the wine is tied to the labeling allowed. Wines in the first two designations: “100% Organic” and “Organic,” cannot have any added sulfites and the level of naturally occurring sulfites must be less than 20 parts per million. Wines labelled “Made with Organic ingredients” must be made from organic grapes, but may have added sulfites. Wines labelled “Made with Some Organic Ingredients” may include some grapes that are not organic and may have added sulfites. All wines with added sulfites and all those with sulfite levels above 10 parts per million must be labelled “Contains Sulfites.”
Sulfites! There is, in truth, no wine that is completely sulfite free. Sulfites develop as a by-product of the fermentation process in very small amounts. All wine, beer and cheese contain some sulfites. Sulfites have been added to wines for centuries, even back to the wine making in ancient Egypt! Sulfites are added to wine to prevent oxidation, spoilage and to allow the wine to age and develop its full flavor potential. Sulfites are added by manufacturers to prevent oxidation in a myriad of foods including frozen foods and processed foods. Very few people are actually sensitive to sulfites. Only about 1% of the population is very sensitive to sulfites. If you are part of the 1% that is
sensitive to sulfites, you will want to chose “Sulfite Free”, or wines with no sulfite added. However, be aware that these wines may lack flavor, do not improve with age and can go bad quickly.
Red Wine Headaches (RWH)! We are not talking about overindulgence here! If you drink too much wine, clearly you will have a hangover. Many people believe that it is the sulfites in wine that causes the dreaded RWH that plague so many people. THIS IS NOT TRUE. There is no definitive research that pinpoints where these headaches come from. They may be caused by a number of different factors, and can vary by person. Some research suggests that histamine and tyramine, which are naturally occurring substances in wine may trigger these headaches. Histamine dilates blood vessels. Tyramine first constricts, then dilates blood vessels and can cause blood pressure to rise. Other experts think tannins are the cause of RWH. Tannin is a chemical substance which comes from grape skins, stems and seeds and is typically present in larger quantities in red wines. It has also been postulated that RWH could be caused by a strain of yeast or bacteria. Some people are sensitive to the differences in growing regions. I can drink red wines from Europe, but suffer horribly from domestic red wines. Other people have the exact opposite problem. If you have issues with RWH, take care not to eat sugary foods with red wine, which can exacerbate the problem. Also, cheap, poorly made wines with added sugar, sulfur, fining agents or higher alcohol content should be avoided. One wine columnist added “If it comes from a box or has a critter on the label then it’s suspect for headache potential!” Some possible home remedies that help sufferers of RWH include: 1. drink a glass of water for each glass of wine, 2. take an antihistamine before drinking wine, or 3. take aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen to reduce swelling, HOWEVER, this is not recommended if you drink heavily as the combination can be damaging to the liver. BUT, don’t give up on red wine!! Try different regions or different varietals. Most people will find at least one type they can enjoy!!
Written by Pat Daniel. Permission to publish by Columbus & the Valley Magazine.