WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

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WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby Robin Garr » Mon Jun 26, 2006 12:02 pm

No sulfites added

Every summer during vacation season, when North American wine enthusiasts head to Europe to see the sights and enjoy good food and wine, I get a flurry of E-mail questions like this:

<i>We just returned from a trip to France and the wine was markedly different than the wine in the U.S. No hangovers, headaches, stuffiness - we could drink considerably more wine than we can in the U.S. with absolutely no side effects! We were told by some friends that there are no sulfites added to French wine (though the U.S. makes them add them to any French wine imported into the U.S.) Is that true?</i>

Well, no, actually it's not. Sulfites are a natural, organic preservative that humans have been using in wine and other foods for several thousand years. The only difference between France and the U.S. is that the U.S. requires a warning label, and warning labels create the unfortunate impression that where there's a warning, there must be something dangerous afoot.

And in fact there is, but that danger threatens only a relative handful of individuals - sulfite-sensitive asthmatics - for whom any exposure to sulfites could trigger potentially fatal respiratory problems. But sulfite-sensitive adults already know what they must avoid - a list that includes wine, fruit juice, sausages, salad bars and many other foodstuffs that routinely use sulfiting in production.

As I wrote when we last featured this topic on Sept. 1, 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) includes sulfites on its "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) list of food additives. But U.S. regulators have <I>also</i> required since 1987 that all foodstuffs containing more than 10 parts per million (ppm) of sulfites must bear a warning label. Curiously, moreover, regulators set a maximum limit of 350 ppm for sulfites in alcoholic beverages, while allowing some processed foods up to 6,000 ppm.

If you get a headache or a stuffy nose after drinking wine, you may be allergic to something - very likely the histamines in some red wines, or in the case of hangovers, simple over-indulgence. But it's not the sulfites.

So why do so many travelers (me, too!) report being able to enjoy a little harmless over-indulgence on vacation without the recriminations that would surely ensue at home? My guess, frankly, is that it's mostly psychological. We're traveling, we're relaxed, we're having a great time, and we shrug off minor irritations that would seem more bothersome on a working day. Whatever the explanation of this happy consequence, I can say one thing with certainty: It doesn't have anything to do with sulfites in the wine. To repeat: The only difference between the wines we drink in France (or Italy, or anywhere else in Europe) and the wines we enjoy at home is the warning label.

By coincidence, over the weekend I also picked up a modestly priced California wine that's labeled "organic sulfite free," terminology that requires a little explanation. Under relatively recent federal regulations governing organic labeling, a wine made with organic vineyard practices but using sulfites as a natural preservative must be labeled "Made with organically grown grapes." To qualify for the label "organic sulfite free," it must have no sulfites added during production; however, it may contain up to 10 parts per million naturally occurring sulfites, a small dose that occurs as a byproduct of fermentation. In short, "sulfite-free" isn't, really, although the sulfites are at such a low level that even sensitive individuals shouldn't be able to detect them.

<table border="0" align="right" width="170"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/dail0624.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Nevada County Wine Guild 2005 "Our Daily Red" California Red Wine ($9)

A blend of Fresno Syrah and Carignan and Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon labeled as "Certified organic by guaranteed organic certification agency," "USDA Organic" and "Organic Sulfite Free," this is a very dark ruby wine, showing a distinct haze when it's held up to the light. Simple red-fruit aromas focuse on plums and berries. Tart and "grapey," red plums and wine grapes and a tart, zippy snap of citrus that borders on sour. A distinctly prickly tickle of just-perceptible carbonation suggests that it may be prone to a secondary fermentation in the bottle, which would not be a good thing. I'd rate it as drinkable but not well-balanced, with some indication that it may be less than fully stable on the shelf. (June 24, 2006)

<B>FOOD MATCH:</b> Simple, fruity and acidic, it serves well with red meats from burgers to my choice, pan-seared rib eye steak; it should also make a decent vegetarian match with Cheddar or other relatively mild cheese.

<B>VALUE:</B> It's idiosyncratic, but not a bad value under $10, provided you're willing to take the risk that it has held up in the bottle.

<B>WHEN TO DRINK:</B> I suggest treating a wine made without preservatives as you would fresh fruit: Enjoy it while it's fresh, but don't expect it to last.

<B>WEB LINK:</B>
The winery Website goes into some detail about organic production and labeling at this link.

<B>FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:</B>
Query Wine-Searcher.com for prices and vendors for Our Daily Red.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby Hoke » Mon Jun 26, 2006 2:17 pm

Excellent article, Robin. Well done.

While I am a proponent of organically grown grapes I am hesitant to purchase any of the "Organic Sulfite Free" wines...simply because the vast majority of my past experiences with them have been disappointing. I've seen/tasted too many problems with biological taint or with premature degradation. The wines, as a geneal rule, simply aren't stable enough to survive the commercial environment. If I could purchase such things as they are freshly made, before they get packaged and shipped, and could consume them immediatley, that might be a different thing. And of course, I live in a place where I can do that, whereas most people don't.

The truth is, as distressingly liberal as I appear to some of my more rigidly traditional wine friends, I like the tradtional ways of making wine, and haven't found any "sulfite free" wines that I considered worth the effort. Organic growing, yes; organic winemaking, not really interested.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby Peter May » Mon Jun 26, 2006 2:20 pm

EU now requires the sulphite 'warning' on wines - since November last year.

I'm at Sirmione on Lake Garda enjoying some local varieties I've not come across before, and they've got the warning.

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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby Mark Donaldson » Mon Jun 26, 2006 4:44 pm

Robin,

Perhaps another reason travellers to Europe are not feeling the effects of 'over-indulgence' is the alcohol.

With the alcohol levels in many California wines sitting in the 13.5% - 14% or higher it's not surprising. 'Regular' Bordeaux AC sits at 12.5% with many other AOC's and table wines at 12% or lower. Table wines all over the EU are 11% or lower. That can be a difference of up to 3 or 4%!After a few glasses, that adds up.

A beer comparison.

In pubs the UK, you will see the alcohol % posted for draught beer on boards next to the bar. 'Social' pints, which one may have several of in an evening, are usually around 4.5% or lower. 'Strong' beer is around 5% and anything higher is thought to be a bit too much. Stella sits at 5.2% and is used by young drinkers to get drunk - they are known as Lager Louts. The difference between a social pint and the lager-lout is only 0.7%.

The other thing folks tend to do on Vacation in Europe is drink bottled water with dinner - something we don't do that often in North America.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby Robin Garr » Mon Jun 26, 2006 4:57 pm

Mark Donaldson wrote:Perhaps another reason travellers to Europe are not feeling the effects of 'over-indulgence' is the alcohol.


Mark, I thought about this but decided to reserve it for a follow-up because I honestly don't believe it's much of a consideration any more. Certainly in some limited situations - the Loire, maybe, or the Rhine and Mosel - the local wines are sufficiently lower in alcohol to make a perceptible difference even at relatively sane consumption levels.

But to be frank, the days of most American tourists quaffing <i>vin ordinaire</i> are over, and to some extent, so is <i>vin ordinaire</i>. Even in more normal vintages than 2003, alcohols approaching 13 and 14 percent are normal in the Rhone and Provence and much of Italy and not unusual even in Burgundy and Bordeaux.

And even if California wines are still coming in a bit stronger, in the first place I don't see a difference of 1 percent alcohol having much of an impact on intoxication at reasonable consumption levels; and frankly, I don't think most of the mail I'm getting comes from folks who are swilling Turley every night with dinner. :)
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby Paul B. » Mon Jun 26, 2006 6:10 pm

As a home winemaker, frankly, I can't see how not adding sulfites is anything but inviting spoilage of one's wine. I don't think I'd ever risk my efforts by not appropriately safeguarding the wine from premature oxidation and bacterial spoilage. Just my 2¢ ...
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby Dale Williams » Mon Jun 26, 2006 6:58 pm

I'm sure there are nice no sulfites wines, but I keep thinking of those ......er.......funky... Coturris.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby Robin Garr » Mon Jun 26, 2006 7:00 pm

Dale Williams wrote:I'm sure there are nice no sulfites wines, but I keep thinking of those ......er.......funky... Coturris.


Dale, my experience with no-sulfite wines, like Hoke's, is that they are unstable at best. One of the best I've tried, a <i>Comme au Cayenne</i> from Languedoc, still had a problem - it had obviously been handled so anaerobically that it took on a nasty reductive funk, exchanging one set of sulfur compounds for another. :-Þ
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby Rahsaan » Tue Jun 27, 2006 7:03 am

While I am a proponent of organically grown grapes I am hesitant to purchase any of the "Organic Sulfite Free" wines...simply because the vast majority of my past experiences with them have been disappointing.


I agree, especially when you're talking about French wines shipped all the way to the US. But, some outfits seem to do better jobs than others.

Are any of Kermit's wines (beaujolais?) without added SO2? Chambers did well by some bottles of Peyra, although purchased elsewhere in the US they were a bit skunky to me..

Otherwise, even in France, I agree, can be risky..
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby KarlLung » Tue Jun 27, 2006 12:38 pm

Living in Hong Kong which has no wine production, we drink wine from around the world most of the time.

My experience is that the headache related mainly to cheap wines, rather than where they are coming from. In fact, what I understand is that Bordeaux do use quite a lot of sulphite mainly because its proximity to the sea (i.e. humidity => fungeal disease). On the other hand, Australia and CA use less because of the drier weather.

Therefore, I am still quite confused what is causing the hangover.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby Hoke » Tue Jun 27, 2006 1:06 pm

Therefore, I am still quite confused what is causing the hangover.


And we will all continue thus until a valid scientific (controlled, rather than anecdotal) study is made and published, karllung.

Your theory about cheap wines is okay---considering that cheap wines probably don't benefit from as much care and concern as the pricier ones (or at least you'd think so). Better natural ingredients, greater handling, etc. But on the other hand many people say that some of the very best and purportedly least harmful to their systems were the cheap paysanne carafe/calice wines of the European countryside. So wassup with that?

You do touch on one important point vis a vis sulfite levels though: in particularly wet or humid areas, it's safe to assume there will be more sulfite use than with wines from drier areas. And in particularly wet vintages you'll generally see skyrocketing levels of sulfites.

Me, I think the whole sulfite thing is a manufactured tempest (see Robin's original post on this). And now that the EU requires the same label warning, I think it will be more of a tempest in Europe. Sadly.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby Oliver McCrum » Tue Jun 27, 2006 1:36 pm

I don't think the majority of sulfur in bottled wine comes from application in the vineyard, I think it comes from SO2 added for biological and chemical stability during winemaking.

Anyone who has headaches should be sure that they aren't allergic to red wines; I believe this is much more common than true sulfite sensitivity. I ask people who ask me about this whether they are more likely to have problems with red wine than white, and most say yes.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby Robin Garr » Tue Jun 27, 2006 1:39 pm

Oliver McCrum wrote:I don't think the majority of sulfur in bottled wine comes from application in the vineyard, I think it comes from SO2 added for biological and chemical stability during winemaking.


Absolutely so. I doubt that any significant amount of sulfur makes it through from the grape to the bottle; surely even the tiny amount of sulfites generated during fermentation contributes more.

Anyone who has headaches should be sure that they aren't allergic to red wines; I believe this is much more common than true sulfite sensitivity. I ask people who ask me about this whether they are more likely to have problems with red wine than white, and most say yes.


True, too - and almost surely the histamines. This argument needs to be footnoted, though: If the symptom is headaches, the culprit is almost certainly not sulfites. Sulfites don't cause headaches.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby Robin Garr » Tue Jun 27, 2006 1:40 pm

karllung wrote:Living in Hong Kong which has no wine production, we drink wine from around the world most of the time.


Karl, a warm welcome to you ... it's a pleasure to have another Asian participant in our group. The more round-the-world perspectives we have, the more we can all learn.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby James Roscoe » Tue Jun 27, 2006 3:36 pm

I always thought much of the whole hangover issue came about b/c of dehydration. I suppose that's another myth I've been living with.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby Hoke » Tue Jun 27, 2006 3:49 pm

James Roscoe wrote:I always thought much of the whole hangover issue came about b/c of dehydration. I suppose that's another myth I've been living with.


Nope, not a myth. You're right, James: dehydration is one of the aftereffects of alcohol consumption. The more excessive consumption, the more dehydration, the more hangover effect.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby James Roscoe » Tue Jun 27, 2006 5:30 pm

So Hoke, the little bottles of water do help? I suppose they also decrease the intake of alcohol.




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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby Dave Erickson » Tue Jun 27, 2006 5:46 pm

When people complain to me about sulfites, I ask them: Can you drink a glass of orange juice? Can you drink a cup of tea? Because if you can, those beverages have far higher sulfite content than wine. So it's something else that's causing the problem--as repeatedly cited, histamines are a likely culprit.

I have long been irritated by the Frey "Natural Red" wine, which is labeled organic, and also labeled "no detectable sulfites." If there are no detectable sulfites, then the sulfites have been removed, no? And if they've been removed, then the wine has been chemically altered. Where, then, do they get off labeling it "natural"? Grrr!

Regarding the "we don't get hangovers in Europe" comment: I will bet you anything that Americans who drink wine in Europe are drinking it over the course of a meal, and that said meal (if it's in France, anyway) lasts at minimum two hours. Which leads me to the notion that hangover prevention is linked to slower consumption over time, accompanied by food. Just a thought.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby KarlLung » Wed Jun 28, 2006 8:33 am

I do believed that this is probably not due to sulphite, but nor are they due to other reasons mentioned here, such as mood, red vs white, allegy to red, dehydration etc... All these may contribute, but there should be another reason.

I have a lot of "controled experiments" as I often meet with friends on weekends and drink wines. It is the similar group, similar level of wine consumption, mostly red (80% of wine sold in Hong Kong are red), and we always drink lots of water. i.e. these factors does not change, and we do drink wines from different countris/regions. The result is that sometimes we get headache and sometimes don't. The most related factor still seems to be the price of the wine rather than old/new world.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby Howie Hart » Wed Jun 28, 2006 9:23 am

When the term "No sulfites added" is used regarding wines, two things come to mind; Pasteurization and UV irradiation. I have read that some Beaujolais producers use flash Pasteurization, heating the wine up quickly to 158F (70C) and immediately cooling, to stabilize and preserve their wines. UV irradiation is used to preserve fresh juice, such as apple cider, but don't recall if it is applied to wine.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby John Tomasso » Wed Jun 28, 2006 9:39 am

I very recently had a conversation with a distant relative of mine, a home wine maker of some skill.
He claims that he doesn't add any preservatives to his wine whatsoever, and that his wine doesn't spoil because he keeps moving the wine to smaller and smaller vessels as he depletes it, in order to keep the oxygen out. I didn't taste his red, but I tasted his white and it was pretty darned good, from last year's vintage. (100% moscato - haunting floral quality on the nose - medium to heavy on the palate, lacking a bit in acidity but otherwise very good) He makes enough wine to last his family the year, and has been doing so for decades. He claims his wine doesn't spoil. I don't know enough about winemaking to argue with him, but according to Howie, above, not adding sulfites is inviting disaster.

What flaws would one find in wine stemming from lack of sulfite protection?
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby Howie Hart » Wed Jun 28, 2006 10:58 am

John Tomasso wrote:I don't know enough about winemaking to argue with him, but according to Howie, above, not adding sulfites is inviting disaster.

What flaws would one find in wine stemming from lack of sulfite protection?

Actually, it was PaulB above who said that, but I would tend to agree. One question comes to mind. I know of a few others who make similar claims. Does this distant relative make his wine from fresh grapes or pressed juice? If it's made from fresh juice, then more than likely it was treated with sulfites during pressing and/or hot-pressed. If so, then, although he didn't add preservatives, they may have been used. However, he is absulutely correct in preventing exposure to air, as oxygen precence is necessary for spoilage micro-organisms. Also, the fact that he drinks all the wine within a year is significant. Another factor to consider is the alcohol content. I generally make table wines of 10-12%. If his wines are higher, 14-16%, then the higher alcohol content would also discourage the proliferation of spoilage micro-organisms. Spoilage could be indicated by suspended particles floating in the wine, rotting type off-flavors or even vinegar.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby John Tomasso » Wed Jun 28, 2006 12:18 pm

Howie Hart wrote: Does this distant relative make his wine from fresh grapes or pressed juice?

He crushes his own fruit.
Howie Hart wrote: Also, the fact that he drinks all the wine within a year is significant. Another factor to consider is the alcohol content. I generally make table wines of 10-12%. If his wines are higher, 14-16%, then the higher alcohol content would also discourage the proliferation of spoilage micro-organisms.


I was thinking the same thing - the wine doesn't hang around long enough for anything really bad to happen to it. His wine, at least the white I tried, seemed to be higher in alc % then 12% - at least to me.
More research is needed. My grandfather was a home winemaker, and I am seriously considering making some wine in that tradition. Seems a shame to let it die.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: No sulfites added (2005 "Our Daily Red")

Postby Rahsaan » Wed Jun 28, 2006 12:24 pm

the wine doesn't hang around long enough for anything really bad to happen to it.


I guess the speedy drinking does reduce the likelihood that the wine will come into contact with conditions that damage it, but still, stability is not really a function of time is it? And one would imagine that with enough heat for example it could go "off" in one day if it were really fragile?
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