Vol. 1, No. 11, March 29, 1999
© Copyright 1999 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.
Sulfites in wine: Why the warning label?
Unfortunately, a very tiny proportion of people are allergic to sulfites, a dangerous and potentially fatal allergy. Sulfite-sensitive individuals who have survived into adulthood 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.
Although the threat is small, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required since 1987 that all foodstuffs containing more than 10 parts per million of sulfites -- which includes virtually all wines -- must bear a warning label. Wines made in the U.S. may contain as much as 350 parts per million, an extreme level, rarely attained except perhaps in cheap jug wines, at which point the sulfur may be perceptible as a pungent aroma resembling a burnt match. (Some processed foods, in contrast, contain up to 6,000 parts per million.)
If you find that you get stuffy or headachy after drinking wine, you are most likely reacting to histamines, a common allergen that occurs primarily in red wines. These symptoms are not typical of a sulfite allergy. If you have any reason to think you may be sulfite-sensitive -- a history of severe asthma, for instance -- you should certainly seek a doctor's advice.
But be reassured that the number of people afflicted by this allergy is vanishingly small. FDA's Adverse Reaction Monitoring System, which keeps track of reported sulfite reactions in the U.S., listed just 1,097 such cases between 1985 and 1995 -- and that year, after nearly a decade of regulation, only six such cases were reported nationwide, involving sulfites from all food sources, not just wine.
(I'll ask your pardon for turning our usual 30-second report into something more like a 60-second read this morning; I get so many questions on this topic, and so many people are concerned about it, that it seemed worth a few extra words.)
If you have thoughts or personal experiences that you'd like to share involving sulfites and wine allergies, drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, as always, please don't hesitate to drop us a line if you'd like to comment on our topics and tasting notes, suggest a topic for a future bulletin, or just talk about wine.
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Charles Joguet 1996 Close de la Cure Chinon ($14.99)
FOOD MATCH: Expecting a lot of aromatics in the wine, I crafted a Near Eastern-style chicken pilaf laced with cinnamon and allspice flavors, and the aroma combination worked very well.
(I'll post this report, along with notes on another Joguet Chinon, on The Wine Lovers' Page later this week.)
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