Myth Busted: The Top 5 Myths about Sulfites in Wine

“A myth is a way of making sense in a senseless world. Myths are narrative patterns that give significance to our existence.” ― Rollo May

Invariably any number of folks who work in the wine-biz or wine-trades, whether it's your favorite tasting room in Napa or the wine bar down the street, will be asked about the health effects of sulfites in wine and its supposed link to headaches.This has become even more a question in our health-conscious nation, where even the question of where their food comes from and whether it's ethical are a topic of daily discussion. Since food and wine are so tightly tied together, it's only natural that questions about chemicals that perhaps is potentially lurking in our vino, should also be addressed. Thus the focus on sulfites has become more mainstream, especially since a law was introduced and passed forcing producers to add the phrase "contains sulfites" to the ominous warning label found on wine bottles.

The team at Vine Crowd has compiled a list of the top five myths about the sulfites found in wine we all drink every day. Done in a style, which I believe to be a similar [style or fashion] to the folks on the once [hugely] popular show Mythbusters. A fascinating show, where they take a common sense approach [aka. scientific method] to prove or disprove popular recurring myths. So, sit back, buckle-up as it's going to be a bumpy ride in the wine-wagon today on our way to discover together what is really going on in our wine and like some popular nineties show once proclaimed, "the truth is out there".

1. You or someone you know is allergic to sulfites.
NOPE, not true. Someone’s been badly misinformed. Sulfites are something that our body naturally produces at a normal rate of about 1,000mg a day. Compare that to the average 10mg per glass of wine and it’s pretty clear that if someone was allergic to sulfites, their problems would be a little more severe than a life without wine. There are, however, individuals that have high sensitivities to sulfites. We’ll get to that in a second. Oh 

2. The sulfites in wine are extremely high.
Again, not true. Sulfites are a part of the winemaking process all around the world. They are added in moderation in order to preserve wines for aging. They are also added to other foods for the same reason – anything from the vegetables in a salad bar to dried fruits will contain added sulfites. Sulfites in an average glass of wine will measure 10mg, whereas a 2oz serving of those bright orange dried apricots typically has 112mg. Yep, over 10 times as much as a glass of wine.

3. Sulfites give you headaches.
FALSE. Probably the biggest myth of all. There has been no link to sulfites and headaches in research groups – even among people with high sensitivity to sulfites. Even among the highly sensitive people, adverse reactions (mainly asthmatic) only presented themselves when subjects were given four times the normal amount of sulfites in a single glass. This is not to say that some people don’t get headaches when they drink certain types of wine or alcohol, it just shows that it’s not the sulfites that are causing them. New research is showing that headaches may be related to the type of yeast used in fermentation.

Clarification: "I wanted to clarify that the infamous ‘red wine headache’ is very real for some people, but as mentioned above, it’s not the sulfites that are causing them." ~ Jennifer Kaplan

In the June issue of the Harvard Health Letter, it says ''The red wine headache is a real if poorly understood phenomenon." and according to Marian Burros that quote is what she would call "a masterpiece of understatement."

4. There are less sulfites in white wine.
It’s probably safe to say that we all know someone that doesn’t drink red wine “because of the sulfites.” In reality, white wines have slightly more sulfites than reds.

5. There are more sulfites used in American wines.
Surprise, things listed in bold are still NOT TRUE. Though winemaking practices differ in each country and region, a number of sulfites used in winemaking tends to be the same among Old World and New World countries. Several studies show that sulfite levels are similar throughout Europe and the US specifically. The fact that the US has a sulfite warning label but Canada and European countries do not tend to add to this myth.

Other Resources: For more information on the topic there's a great article posted entitled; Eating-well the puzzling red-wine-headache by Marian Burros who writes for the NYT. And one other insightful article on the subject; Red Wine Headaches vs. Sulfite Allergies.

This article is cross-posted at Vinecrowd.com and posted here courtesy of the author Jennifer Kaplan who was gracious enough to allow the Cuvée Corner Wine Blog to post it here in its entirety. I believe the information contained in this article is important and will be helpful for the vast wine swirling and slurping public to get their heads around this sometimes controversial topic. Jennifer Kaplan article does just that with a very common sense approach to dispelling the myths about sulfites.

I hope everyone found this article at the very least helpful and make others feel a little more comfortable about the sulfites found lurking in their wine glass. I believe we can say this myth was emphatically busted. So until next time, remember to sip long and prosper cheers!
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