You Probably Aren’t Allergic to Sulphites, Don’t Hurt Me
A good friend posted a video of an ad for this magic device that “removed sulphites” from wine and thus “prevented hangovers”. This is like suggesting you can prevent car crashes by removing the car doors. I have no clue whether this funnel-with-stuff-in-it can truly alter a wine’s chemical composition by quickly pouring wine through the magic wine hole, but it doesn’t matter. Sulphites don’t cause hangovers. Alcohol does.
Ok, just…. No,…stop yelling at me. Yes, I know that sulphite allergies are real, yes I know that the reaction you had to that Chilean Cab was real, yes I know that the bottle said “contains sulphites” on it and you then logically declared war. All I’m saying is that there are MANY components in wine that you could react to, and - statistically speaking - sulphites probably aren’t the culprit.
I’ll readily admit that sulphites have suffered from terrible PR. Out of all the allowable additives in wine, it’s the only thing the label warns you about (besides booze, more on that below), and it’s far from the worst thing you can do to a wine, in fact, it’s something that wine does to itself:
The heroic yeast that turns (meh) grape juice into (yay) wine produces sulphites during fermentation to prevent other kinds of bacteria from joining the party and stealing all this awesome sugar it’s eating. You won’t find wine without sulphites because they are inextricably part of its Origin Story. You can find wine with no added sulphites, but you’d best drink it quick (or hope it wasn’t sitting long) lest you discover why they were added in the first place:
In the 1600s, the Dutch – tired of buying great wine down in Bordeaux only to find it smelled like donkey once it got back to Holland – figured out that if you dropped a sulphur candle down into a barrel and let it burn a bit before filling it, the wine wouldn’t spoil. In this age, when we think of additives we picture an Autobot from The Matrix injecting robo-serum into frightened, screaming grapes (if you’re drinking Factory Wine this might be the case, who knows, the factories have no windows), but sulphites can be introduced quite naturally, and in small administrations can help keep the wine stable and ageable. Many organic wine certifiers allow some sulphites in organic winemaking; indeed many Natural or Low Intervention winemakers administer some sulphites because they want the wine you buy to taste like the wine they made.
If you can eat dried fruit, store-bought jam, dried nuts, canned tomatoes or a plate of French fries without reaction, then sulphites aren’t your nemesis. Maybe you could be friends. Maybe you could swap recipes. Histamines in red wine, often blamed if not mentioned on the bottles, share a similarly unfair scarlet letter – some people react to them, but they’re far more prevalent in many of the foods we eat and if you don’t react to cheese, fish or meat (which contain 10 times the histamine count), then they aren’t your suspect either.
Yes.. for sure I understand that I’m not really helping. There’s no easy answer to why people react to certain wines and not others. Wine is a living thing, and largely an accurate portrait of the place it was born into, including the potential allergens surrounding it. Since red wines use skin contact after crush, there’s more environmental character: the skins interacted with those surroundings for months. If you find a wine that causes no reaction, continue to drink it and from the estates surrounding it, and try if possible to stick to the same vintage, because different things can happen to that vineyard from year to year.
Although sulphites and other things like yeast, acid and tannins can be problematic for some, the likely culprit is the reason we all came here to begin with: Alcohol. Alcohol sensitivity is a thing, the best way to handle it is to drink less and drink better. We can help.