If you have ever had a glass of expensive wine in a restaurant and after 20 minutes your nose clogs up with snot and all the other unpleasant signs of an allergy attack where you become a sniffling sneezing nose blower, then you know it’s the wine. Embarrassment. It doesn’t matter if it is expensive wine or not, my wine allergy comes from the sulphites. Over the years, I heard the word sulphites and the suggestion that it and the chemical sprays that are used on grapes could be the reason for my allergic reactions. Wine was not something that I enjoyed or knew much about. It was an allergen to be avoided. “Try white wine or try red wine.” I was told. No matter what I tried it was usually an unpleasant experience.
As it happens, my niece Sabina’s partner, Udo Göebel of WineMatters is a wine connoisseur and importer of wines. During a phone conversation with Sabina, she mentioned that Udo thought it was probably the sulphites in the wine that caused my allergic reaction. Hmm, maybe I’d better ask him, “What are sulphites?”
Here’s the word on sulphites from the expert. Sulphites are naturally occurring in wine in very small amounts. It is sulfur dioxide or SO2. When wine grapes are picked by machines by the truck load the growers throw sulphites over them to preserve the freshness of the grapes. Because the large wine producer takes his grapes to the co-op to be processed and waits in line with other producers to offload the grapes more sulphites are thrown on the grapes. Sulphites protect the grapes from oxidation and the growth of bacteria. The longer the grapes have to sit around before processing, the more sulphites are used. (Fine, sounds reasonable)
Does that mean all wine has the potential to give me an allergy attack? Is there hope for me to enjoy a glass of wine? There are smaller wine producers who process immediately and do not add as much sulphite to the wine. Second choice is a wine that is at least three to five years old. Five year old wine is recommended. Over time, in older wines sulphites bond with the oxygen and become something else like SO3. It changes into something less harmful. Caveat emptor: I am not recommending that anyone reading this who is sulphite sensitive try any wine, at all. In fact, sadly I remember there was a famous art collector in Minneapolis who died at a dinner party from wine. He was an asthmatic and suffered a fatal reaction to the wine.
“True allergic reactions only occur after exposure to an allergenic protein. Since sulphites are not proteins, a reaction to sulphites is not due to an allergy but to a sensitivity. Regardless, a sulphite-sensitive person may experience the same life-threatening symptoms during a reaction to sulphites as occurs during an allergic reaction. Those who have asthma are most at risk to sulphite sensitivity and other forms of sulphite reactions.” From the Canadian Food Inspection Agency http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/fssa/labeti/allerg/sulphe.shtml Retrieved June 14, 2011.
For more information on sulphites go to Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sulphite
http://www.morethanorganic.com/sulphur-in-the-bottle “More than organic” a site that promotes natural French wines to the English speaking world.