Right out of the gate, I don’t feel there is a problem with a trace of sulfite in wines. But it is the No. 1 complaint I hear about wine consumption. “I get a headache from drinking wine … must be the sulfite in it. I must be allergic. Is there a wine that is sulfite-free?” Enough of those questions and I had to do some digging so I could understand enough to answer this common misunderstanding.
If you have a consistent headache from wine, chances are good it’s not from the trace sulfite in it. Instead it is more likely coming from the alcohol or histamine-like compounds, mostly in red wine, so you should have an allergy check. Perhaps an anti-histamine tablet would solve the problem.
Sulfite is a natural byproduct of the fermentation process. Elements are also in bread, salad ingredients, meat, seafood and the list goes on. The human body itself contains about 6 ounces of natural sulfite, mostly in amino acids that help in making all sorts of body parts.
Most wineries add sulfite to their wines after fermentation to preserve flavor and help prevent oxidation. Oxidation is the enemy of wine in that it will sour it and turn it brown in a short time. The U.S. requires warning labels on wines because a small percentage of people (like asthmatics) can suffer from allergic reactions. Other countries don’t require the warning so consumers of these wines think they are sulfite-free. I “googled” the net and came up with one winery in Oregon that describes itself as “Eco Wine … Organic Sulfite Free Wines.” The winery is Amity and it specializes in Pinot Noir. Oregon has always been my favorite Pinot Noir appellation and Amity has been a medal winner with its version, most recently scoring at the San Francisco International Wine Competition this year with the highest rating for Pinot.
The winery describes this winning ’07 Pinot Noir as “eco-organic without sulfites.” The federal agency that polices such things made the winery change the label to “no detectable sulfites.” The price is $27 at the winery. The winemaker is Myron Redford and he has been doing sulfite-free wine since 1991. He also has a Chardonnay/Pinot Blanc blend that is sulfite-free. Visit www.amityvineyards.com or call (503) 835-2362, ext. 1 for details.
Aussie wines slipping but Rieslings holding up
At the recent San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival Sommelier Blind Tastings, one of the wines chosen was an Australian White Riesling from the Clare Valley.
It had most of the sommeliers baffled as they had just identified a Riesling from Germany, the birthplace of this delicious grape. I thought it was a smart stroke to place the spotlight on an Aussie white, as the reds just haven’t performed that well lately. This year’s harvest has had dismal weather to contend with and in the recent past, an ocean of wine has hit the U.S. from “down under.” Of course when we say Aussie Red, we mean Shiraz. As of last year, about 50 million cases of surplus have been returned, exports have dropped 13 percent, and 12 percent by value. The rush to wine riches is the main culprit. The wines are too sweet, too much alcohol, a fake fruit taste and oh so similar. I personally enjoy a great Shiraz, sister of the Rhone Valley French Syrah, grown extensively in California. But the trend in Australia is to get away from quality. But back to Rieslings, and this is the varietal that seems to bring back the Aussie charm in winemaking. They are well-made, structured wines with a hint of lime and a nice fullness.
Try these: Killkanoon 2007, Clare Valley, $18.99; and Pewsey Vale Vineyard, 2008, Eden Valley, $13.99.
— Backyard Vineyards in San Diego County is the subject of a talk by vineyard consultant Pete Anderson starting at 6 p.m. Dec. 8 in the Surfside Race Place at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Sponsored by the San Diego Horticultural Society, admission is free to members and $5 for nonmembers. You will learn about development of small vineyards by homeowners. Pete is the foremost expert in winemaking in backyard vineyards since 1977. For more information, call (760) 295-7089 or visit www.sdhortsoc.org.
The beautiful new Pasquale Del Mar Restaurant presents its first elegant wine dinner with the Italian legend Antinori starting at 7 p.m. Dec. 9. Featured speakers are Italian wine experts Marco Barat and Antinori’s regional manager Lorenzo Mottola. An Italian four-course feast paired to the wines will be served highlighted by a grilled plate of meats served with Antinori’s Super Tuscan Guado al Tasso. The cost is $100 per person. RSVP at (858) 259-0504.
— Keyways and Ponte Vineyards in Temecula Wine Country will host a spectacular monthlong holiday celebration that includes more than 100,000 solar powered lights through Dec. 29. The show of lights is from 6 to 9 p.m. nightly and includes horse-drawn wagons through the vineyards, award-winning wines, Christmas cookies and unique gift shop items. For more information, call Ponte at (951) 694-885. Keyways number is (951) 302-7888.
Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. His columns can be viewed at www.tasteofwinetv.com. He is one of the top wine commentators on the web. Reach him at [email protected]