Saturday, February 13, 2016

Sulphites in Wine, Part 1

Tempest in a teapot...apparently, unless you actually have the sulphite allergy or are one of the 5-10% of asthmatic people who are sulphite sensitive.  Sulphites, by the way, are most often ingested through breathing during a meal. The red wine headaches so commonly reported also seem to be unrelated to the sulphite controversy since white wines have more sulphites.  Red wines do contain histamines which may be the problem and let's not forget that alcohol, itself, can cause a headache.

Here's the low down: 1986 is the year sulphites became controversial.  The 1970's and 80's saw a marked rise in sulphite usage in foods.  Sulphites are a preservative and in the case of wines, they prevent browning of color.  In 1987 the USDA banned sulphites from fresh fruits and vegetables (except potatos) and going forward, wines had to be labelled "contains sulphites".

Now here's the disconnect: some frozen foods contain 6,000 parts per million (ppm) in sulphites; dried fruit may have 3,000ppm; french fries, about 2,000.  Ordinary white wines may have up to 350ppm; reds typically have about 50.  While most fruit juices have more sulphites than red wine they are not tarred with the sulphites label like wine is.

So this definitely does not make sense unless you are an old timer in this business like I am.  I remember wines that tasted sulphurous and I remember having breathing issues while drinking wine so maybe wine was more adulterated before 1987.  The Franzia boxed wines were the absolute worst in my recollection and I always thought domestic wines in general were worse than Europeans.

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