Posts Tagged ‘sulfites’

Wine allergies & sulfites

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Another quickie…

Just about every time I do a wine tasting I’m told by at least one person that they are “allergic to red wine & must be allergic to sulfites. Well, I’m no expert, but I did just read one of the best responses to such an inquiry (on Wine Spectator online).

Here it is…

A: Sulfites get the lion’s share of blame when people have an allergic reaction to wine (or have a next-day reaction from overindulging), but according to allergist Neil Kao, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, only 1 percent of the general population has a true allergy to sulfites. That goes up to about 4 to 5 percent among people who have asthma. Kao says that an allergic reaction to sulfites would begin with tingling, redness, itching and a swollen tongue, and then depending on the severity, progress to hives or an asthma attack. For more information on other potential allergens read our previous Q&A on  and the .

But none of this is particularly helpful to know if your guests want to avoid sulfites in wine and you need to serve them something fitting that bill. Here’s the deal: the fermentation process for wine produces very low levels of sulfites naturally, so there are few wines with no detectable sulfites. Many winemakers also add sulfites to wine after fermentation to increase the wine’s shelf-stability and prevent undesirable bacteria and yeast growth, but some don’t and they (or their importer) occasionally advertise themselves as such. One shortcut if you don’t want to do your own research: in the U.S., the certified organic label indicates that the wines were made without added sulfites (but note that that is different than wines with the “made with organic grapes” label, which can contain added sulfites). U.S. law requires that all wines with sulfites in excess of 10 parts per million be labeled with the disclaimer “contains sulfites,” but some people with sulfite allergies may be sensitive to wines with less than that amount.

Have a question about wine and healthy living? .
Browse our archive of previous .

Hope this clears things up for some of you.

Happy allergic-LESS reaction red wine tasting!


“Contains Sulfites”

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

We’ve all seen it on the back label of a bottle of wine…

…but what does it mean?

Sulfites are a preservative.  They are found in dried fruit & are commonly used in salad bars.  They are added to wine to preserve the wine & prevent it from spoiling.

Some people are allergic to sulfites.  Others believe that the sulfites in wine are what cause them to get headaches from wine.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were no sulfites in wine?  And what of organic wines – isn’t that sulfite free??

Well, ALL wine has sulfites.  Sulfites are naturally occurring on the grape skins.  Since red wine gets its color from the skins red wines have more naturally occurring sulfites than white wines.  But white wines generally have more sulfites added than red wines.  So there is no and will never be any sulfite free wine (as far as I understand) – or at least none that will last more than a few days (hours?).

As to organic wine, it not only has the naturally occurring sulfites, but almost all has added sulfites – otherwise the wine would spoil relatively quickly.  BUT…and here is the difference, organic wine, to maintain their organic classification, can only add a specific (small) amount of sulfites.  YES, it is still there, BUT it is also added in smaller amounts.

SO, now that we have cleared that up I want to tell you about a real cool technology I just read about on  The technology, called SurePure, uses light to purify wine REDUCING (but not eliminating) the need for sulfites.  Something about the technology “deactivates microbes” (whatever that means)  reducing the likelihood of spoilage.   Apparently it is already used in the juice, dairy & beverage industries.  And now it has been approved for use in South Africa.

No idea whether this technology will work for wine, how far its use will spread or whether it will enable those who suffer from red wine headaches to drink wine worry free.  But it does sound like an exciting development…

Happy light purified wine tasting!


Headaches from Red wine

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

This is a topic I have covered before but just saw some interesting and cool news that I felt compelled to share.

As reported by Wine & Spirits Daily (with a more comprehensive article form the SF Gate here);


Researchers in South Africa are testing technology that uses ultraviolet rays to zap unwanted microbes and yeasts in wine, which would reduce the need to add sulfites that make some people feel bad. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that only a small percentage of people suffer a true allergic reaction, but it is still a concern for many drinkers.

The interesting news here is that if this technology proves to work (I admit skepticism) wineries will not have to add as much or possibly even ANY sulfites to wine to prevent oxidation.

In addition to the cool technology I find it of interest that the author feels the need to clarify (something I have previously written about) that the number of people who are actually allergic to sulfites is “a small percentage”. Which is not to say that they are not suffering from headaches caused by red wine.  Simply that it is not (as they often suspect) the sulfites that are causing the headache.  It is likely one of the hundreds (if not thousands) of compounds in wine that the person may be allergic to that is causing the headache.

On an unrelated note please look out for a new blog header (the fuzzy one on top just ain’t too flattering), my wines for Passover post and some other exciting new additions to the Wine Tasting Guy site in the not too distant future.

But for now…

Happy headache-less Wine Tasting!


Red Wine headache

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

There is certain to be lots of drinking this holiday season.  And with drinking comes the inevitable hangover headache.  Drink too much of anything, and you are sure to be hit with a hangover the next morning.

But forgetting about the hangover in general for a moment, what I want to discuss today is a common misconception regarding the cause and effect relationship between RED WINE and headaches.  There are many people who frequently come down with a headache following some red wine drinking.  This is indisputable.  What I want to clear up however is people’s fear of the RED WINE HEADACHE, and what those who suffer from said headache can do to avoid the uncomfortable after-effect.

I have heard from countless people about their presumed allergy to red wine.  Or allergy to sulfites.  How they can drink white wine, but not red.  I have learned a lot about this, including the concept that in all likelihood many people who think they are allergic to sulfites probably are not.  FYI – dried fruit and salad bars contain a much higher level of sulfites than does red wine.  And oh yeah, white wine has plenty of sulfites as well, both naturally occurring sulfites and added sulfites (usually).

As always, if you have specific questions feel free to be in touch.  But without further ado, I’d like to reprint an article written by Jennifer Rosen (for titled Red Alert: taming the red wine headache.  A funny & informative read.  One that I hope clears up this issue for many of you who fear the RED WINE HEADACHE…



Judging by my e-mail, an alarming number of you have quit drinking red wine because it gives you a headache. Do not go gentle into that good night! As inventions go, red wine ranks right up there with indoor plumbing, novocaine and the wheel. More than a great pleasure, it’s been shown to prevent heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer, memory loss and memory loss. (Note to self: drink more red wine).

I’ll bet people nag you, “Oh, come on, try a little. You’re just being hypersensitive!” At last, you are vindicated, because now your condition has an official name. If you’re one of those folks who gets a pounding headache, perhaps with nausea and flushing, within an hour or less of drinking even a small glass of red wine, you have Red Wine Headache Syndrome.

Since RWHS research has nothing to do with weight loss or baldness, and it’s not sexually transmitted, it doesn’t get much press. But, rest assured, scientists are working hard on your problem, and the latest studies conclude…that they haven’t the slightest idea what’s going on. Which is a big improvement over when they thought they knew, and were wrong. But there is still hope for you. Let’s start by busting a few myths.

First, the culprit is NOT sulfites. All wine contains sulfites, or SO2. For thousands of years, winemakers have welcomed its stabilizing effect, adding it at crucial intervals during vinification. Only American labels require the ominous warning, “Contains Sulfites,” if the level exceeds ten parts per million. This happens to be about the level you get if you don’t add any, since SO2 is a natural presence on grape skins. That’s why another label you might have seen, “No Sulfites Added,” is a bit disingenuous. However, the point is moot anyway, unless you are one of the very few, severely steroid-dependent asthmatics who actually is sulfite-sensitive. If so, you react much more violently to dried fruit, hot dogs and many other processed foods, because they have thousands of times the SO2 found in wine.

Second, it’s probably not the histamines, unless your headache comes with itching, sneezing, shortness of breath and diarrhea. If so, red is indeed the enemy, since the devil is in the skins, which give red its color. Good news! Taking an antihistamine before drinking should prevent the reaction. Just make sure to choose a non-drowsy formula, if you want to remember the evening instead of being remembered as the one who slid under the table.

The latest theory is that RWHS is caused by prostaglandin, which certain people lack the wherewithal to metabolize. Scientists admit that it might be caused by yet another substance, probably something in the strains of yeast or bacteria found in red wine. But they vow to soldier on until they’ve cornered the enemy, despite the obvious strain of having to drink all that leftover red wine in the lab.

But, more good news! Former sufferers are getting results from prostaglandin-inhibitors, namely Ibuprophin & Nuprin, as well as the weaker, but workable, aspirin. Take them less than an hour before drinking and chances are no headache will develop. If you should wake up the next morning with a headache, what you’ve got is known as “a hangover,” a medical condition that definitely deserves more research.

Best bet is to test this preventative with just a few sips of wine. And since I’m not a doctor, though I play one in the bedroom with my boyfriend, you should certainly consult your M.D. first.

So, now you, too, can be a wine snob, with your very own Wine Syndrome! When the conversation turns to MLF or carbonic maceration, try tossing in, “I find the aggressive delivery of RWH in this Volnay surprisingly muted by the prosto-inhibitors, don’t you?” Then smile mysteriously and enjoy, at long last, your red.

Sulfites & wine

Saturday, September 6th, 2008

I recently came across an article discussing Sulfites.  Sulfites (AKA Sulfur dioxide or SO2) are a common topic as they relate to wine.  I have met many people who believe they are allergic to sulfites or get headaches from them.  I have also heard claims that white wine or organic wine does not contain sulfites.  Both not true – although organic can contain lower levels of sulfites than other wines.  Sulfites are added to wine to protect against oxidation, and are used at varying levels be different winemakers.  And yes, there are many who try to add as little as possible.


The article, written for the SF Chronicle, contains some stories about winemakers adding as little SO2 as possible.  But what I found most interesting were the following sections…

“Sulfites are present in all wines both as an additive and as a natural by-product of fermentation, and many countries require that their presence be indicated on the label.”

“Sulfur dioxide has been used in the production of wine for centuries – primarily as a buffer to keep wine from reacting with too much oxygen, but also to inhibit microbial spoilage (from bacteria or rogue yeasts) that could lead to off flavors and aromas, and as a winemaking technique to partly control fermentation.  It’s is one of the most useful and powerful tools available to a winemaker.”

How and why sulfites are used in wine

1. At the crusher: Sulfur dioxide in the form of a diluted liquid solution is added to just-harvested grapes at the crusher to protect against oxidation. Much of the sulfur added at this stage is effectively used up during the subsequent fermentation, converting into what is referred to as “bound” form, which has almost no flavor.

2. Barrel cleaning and maintenance: Sulfur dioxide was once the primary agent used to clean barrels and larger wooden vessels like puncheons or upright fermentation tanks; in the 19th century, this was accomplished by burning a sulfur wick, which released SO{-2} gas. Today, while other techniques are used in the cleaning process, winemakers often use a gas form of sulfur dioxide to maintain a sterile environment inside of wooden containers after cleaning.

3. In the winery: Sulfur dioxide is often used when topping up barrels that have lost some volume of wine through evaporation. There is a chance that microbial spoilage can occur at this point, so sulfur dioxide (as a diluted liquid solution) may be added as a preventative measure. Additionally, low levels of sulfur dioxide will protect against oxidation in the barrel.

4. During bottling: The bottling process can be rough on a wine, and there is the chance of overexposure to oxygen. Winemakers will often dose a wine with sulfur dioxide solution just prior to bottling in order to keep it in a reductive state, protected against oxidation. This SO{-2} should dissipate over time, although traces can remain present for longer periods in wines bottled under less breathable enclosures, like screwcaps.

Debunking myths

There are several widespread myths about sulfur dioxide – and sulfites in general. Here are some explanations that should help you to finally avoid that headache in the morning:

Sulfites in red wine cause headaches. While it’s true that exposure to high levels of SO{-2} is an unpleasant experience, there’s no hard evidence that proves sulfites and SO{-2} cause migraines in red wine drinkers. A phenomenon often called “red wine headache” is a combination of several things, with histamines considered one likely major factor. High levels of alcohol and residual sugar are also far more likely culprits than sulfites. When it comes to the negative effects of sulfites, asthmatics are the most vulnerable and need to closely monitor their intake of sulfites – or avoid them altogether. It’s worth noting though, that many foods – dried fruit, for instance – contain higher levels of sulfites than wine. Allergic reactions to sulfites include far more severe symptoms than headaches, like hives and anaphylactic shock.

Red wines contain more sulfites than white wines. The higher levels of tannin in red wines mean winemakers use less total SO{-2} in red wines than in whites. Sulfur dioxide is sometimes used to halt fermentation for wines that will be sweet, including many German Rieslings. Dessert wines, because of their high levels of residual sugar, have even greater levels of added sulfur.

Organic wines don’t contain sulfites. It is impossible to produce a wine without any sulfites, as sulfur dioxide is a naturally occurring by-product of fermentation. Therefore, even wines with zero added SO{-2}, such as natural and organic wines from the United States and Europe, contain small amounts of the compound.

The entire article is an interesting read for those of you who are wine curious enough.

Happy minimally added sulfur wine tasting!


Red Wine giving you a headache?

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

Please accept my apologies for the infrequent posts of late.  This pre-Passover wine season has me running around to tastings and writing all kinds of articles.  I have also been plugging away at my Israel wine project.  BUT, I have not forgotten you, my loyal readers.  I hope you find the following information both informative and useful…

I have over the past few years encountered many people who have informed me that they can not drink red wine as they are allergic or it gives them headaches.  Generally, the people speak of the “sulfites” that wine has added (to prevent spoilage) as the cause of their reaction/headache.  I had learned while taking a class at the CIA in Napa that this reaction to wine as a result of SULFITES was a myth.  Instead, I was informed that it can be any of the hundreds of compounds found in wine (the same compounds that give wine their various aroma’s) that the person is reacting to.

Many of the people were not convinced, and insisted that they knew what they were allergic to.  Well, I am writing about this topic today as Jennifer Fiedler of Wine Spectator wrote a brief piece (found here) in the Health Q & A section.

Fiedler quotes Fred Freitag, associate director of the Diamond Headache Clinic, who verifies that it is likely neither sulfites nor histamines, two frequently quoted culprits, that are the likely cause of headaches.  Freitag says that the likely causes are either; alcohol, tyramine, or as I had previously learned, and of the chemical compounds found in wine.

For more info read the full article

Happy & HEALTHY wine drinking!