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Snooth User: mommycat

New to wine

Posted by mommycat, Nov 21, 2013.

Hi, I am new to wine. I have had wine before but one time I got a severe headache after. Someone told me that it was probably sulfites in wine that caused headache.  So I have not had anymore since then.  However, I recently read an article mentioning  that sulfites in wine do not cause headache because sulfites are also found in dried fruit, which does not give me a headache.  The article also mentioned that a headache from wine could be caused by additives found in many New world wines but not in Old world wines.  So I am willing to try wine again.  I read old world wines are wines from France, Italy & Spain.  Any suggestions? 


Reply by napagirl68, Nov 22, 2013.

Hi Mommycat,

Sorry to hear about your past headache.  Hard to say what the issue was, but it prolly wasn't sulfites.  One can have sensitivity or intolerance to certain wines.  Sometimes it can be difficult to figure out.  I have multiple allergies, so I understand :-)  There are some wines that I just cannot drink, but my reaction is more of flushing/hives.

That said, headache-wise, I have found that mass-distributed, inexpensive wines give me a headache.  I also currently don't do well with big tannic reds, though some of the higher price end ones are ok.   You don't mention what wine gave you a headache.... good to know?   

Where do you live?  As far as recommendations, I am very California-centric since I was born and raised here, and there is a plethora of wine.  Getting great Cali wine can be difficult at times for those out of state tho.

Back to your issue.. if you had wine before, and once had a horrible headache, it could be that wine is somewhat of a migraine trigger for you.  The stars may have aligned that day, with the addition of wine, to cause a migraine. 

As far as old world wines, I'm sure others will come along to advise... I do know/like some, but am hesitant to recommend until I understand what you like, and what caused your headache.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Nov 22, 2013.

There have been many discussions on here about what causes headaches (and leg cramps, and bad romances, you name it) when drinking wine.  Best guess is its histamines, esp if it happens with red wine, which actually has no more and often less sulfites than white wine.  NG is correct that additives show up in wines that are made in large volumes, but the word "additive" can be anything from things derived from grapes themselves (coloring from darker grapes, for one), to acids meant to balance the wine... Although I think it's a bit of a misnomer, and there are no real standards, it's usually the case that wines from wineries in the "natural wine" movement will not use these kinds of interventions.  In general, independent or artisanal winemakers are less likely to manipulate their wine, so the ingredients you could react to would be fewer--grapes, yeast, that's pretty much it. 

Reply by GregT, Nov 24, 2013.

Welcome Mommycat.

It seems like you've been reading a bit, but unfortunately what you've been reading has been uninformed if not flat out wrong.

As mentioned above, it's not sulfites that cause headaches. Moreover, ALL wine contains sulfites because they are part of what you get when the grapes grow and yeasts do their work. In other words, they show up naturally, whether you add them or not. They are added to fruit and wine to prevent oxygen from destroying the fruit and wine. And they're added in very small quantities.

As Fox noted, there's a movement regarding "natural" wine, which people say means wine with "minimal" sulfur. In other words, they use a meaningless term to define another meaningless term. It's silly because that implicitly sets up an alternative - people who use "maximum" sulfur.

What the hell is that? It's like a chef saying he's going to dump so much salt into his dish that it will be inedible. Who doesn't use "minimum" amounts of sulfur? Duh.

And BTW, the people who claim to be making "natural" wine add sulfur to wine just like everyone else, particularly if they want to ship from Europe to the US or vice versa. Moving it around, especially overseas, is not particularly great for wine.

"Old world" refers to Europe, which is weird because Australia is much older and yet it's considered "new world". But those are based on the voyages of Columbus and Magellan and really don't mean all that much in terms of wine. It is flat out wrong to assume that "additives" are found in new world wines and not in old world wines. Whoever wrote that article is utterly ignorant and most likely trying to persuade you that his or her preferences are justified for some reason.

Now let's think about logic. If you're a huge company, say Gallo, and you want your wine to have a little more acidity or ripeness or whatever, you have grapes from all over that you can blend to get what you want.  If you're a small producer with a few acres of vines, you don't have those options. So if there was a big heat spike and your grapes got a little too ripe, you can't mix some less ripe grapes - you have to add acid. On the other hand, if your grapes didn't get ripe enough but frost is on the way, you have to pick and then you add sugar. You can't take grapes from the other, sunny side, of the mountain or valley. And that's what happens in places like Burgundy where they can add both sugar and acid when they need to.

The main thing to remember is that rules regarding wine tend to be based on what doesn't need to be done in that specific location. So if the weather is cold and wet, it's usually illegal to acidify the wine because you will never need to. If it's sunny and warm, it's usually illegal to add sugar because you never need to. Therefore in Spain, Italy, and the south of France, they can acidify the wine by not add sugar. In Germany and north France, they can add sugar but not acidify. And to illustrate how stupid the rules are, when there's a super hot freak vintage like 2003, the rule-following law-abiding Germans petitioned for permission to acidify! So the rules exist as long as you don't need them. When you do, you just get them changed.

Therefore, whatever anyone tells you about old or new world wines, take it with a grain of salt. Everyone who drinks a few glasses of wine seems to want to start blogging these days and most of them have no idea what they're talking about.

Oh, and just so you know, they don't call it "adding sugar". They call it chaptalization, because it's named after a guy called Chaptal. It's not added to the wine to make it sweet, it's added to the juice so that the yeast has enough sugar to change into alcohol. To make the wine sweet you just leave a little residual sugar - in other words, the yeast doesn't ferment all the sugar in the juice. Generally you don't add sugar, except in Sauternes where the wines are supposed to be naturally sweet. Hey - gotta have product to sell!

Reply by mommycat, Nov 26, 2013.

Thanks to everyone for the info.  I will try to stir clear of mass produced wines for now.  Also, a friend told to try white wines.  I have also been told that some red wines may cause headaches, not sure if that is true either.  I guess it will be just a trial and error method for me.  I plan to go to some wine tasting soon too.  Any suggestions for good starter wines?  I also find some wine to more bitter than others.  I have read that wine is an "acquired taste", just like espresso, which I LOVE.  However, when I first started drinking espresso, it tasted like battery acid.  I now pick espresso over regular coffee any day.  I had no idea there was so much to learn about wine.  I never knew that there were so many different types of grapes and that different regions affected the way a wine tastes.  I need a "Wine for dummies" book.  

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