Speaking Volumes: Sulfites in wine not to blame for headache

September 5, 2012 

I often hear someone complain that they can't drink certain types of wine because the sulfur dioxide contained in the wine gives them a headache. Next, that same person says "I only drink wines that don't contain any sulfites." Well, there is no such thing as a wine that doesn't contain any sulfites because sulfites occur naturally during the fermentation process, but what may vary in wine is the amount of sulfur dioxide that the winemaker adds during the winemaking process.

Why do winemakers add a chemical like sulfur dioxide? Because sulfur dioxide is the No. 1 preservative that is used during the winemaking process and its' use has two extremely important purposes -- to prevent bacteria from spoiling the wine and to protect the wine from oxidation. Unquestionably, sulfur dioxide is the most important additive that is used in winemaking.

The use of sulfur dates back to the Romans, who would burn sulfur candles in wine containers prior to filling them with wine because they had learned that this practice kept their wines from having a vinegar aroma. Other early wine traders learned from the Romans and followed suit and then, in the late 1480s, the practice became legal the first time for winemakers in what was then Prussia.

According to the FDA, well less than 1 percent of people are allergic to sulfites, so sulfites can't be the reason that many people have headaches after drinking wine. So then, why the head

aches? After watching my friends drink wine over the years, I would have to say that being over-served is the real problem.


The 2011 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc hails from the Marlborough region of New Zealand and retails for around $11 a bottle. This Sauvignon Blanc has the aroma of tropical fruits, along with flavors of passionfruit and pineapple.

The 2011 Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc has a very smooth mouthfeel and it contains the flavors of lemon and peach, with a slight bit of minerality. It pairs nicely with pan fried trout and grilled asparagus.

For an interesting Pinot Noir, try the 2010 Nobilo Icon, which start with mocha aromas and hints of blackberry followed by cherry and plum flavors that are accentuated by a silky finish that has subtle hints of oak. In producing the Icon wines, the fruit is hand selected from a variety of vineyards in order to use high quality fruit to heighten the flavors of the varietal. The wineries vineyards were founded by Croatian immigrants Nikola and Zuva Nobilo in the early 1940s. In addition to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, the winery also produces a Pinot Grigio.

Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at jimrawe@gmail.com.

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