Letter: Wine and Sulfur

Very nice article by Cari Wade Gervin on the book Naked Wine ["Wine Revisionism," Pulp, Sept. 29, 2011]. Let me comment on an issue raised in the book about sulfur. Yes, sulfur and its chemical offspring are present in the natural and/or manipulated winemaking process, and many winemakers from the past even saw fit to add sulfur preservation additives to help stabilize wine for long, often hot ship, train, or truck passage to drinkers around the country or around the world. It seems clear from Alice Feiring's work that she may suffered from some allergic reaction to wines that she perceived had large amounts of sulfur present and she had witnessed sulfur being added to wine while being made. The ATF is charged with monitoring chemical composition of wines marketed and sold in the U.S. They have acceptable standards for sulfur-based preservatives and all are measured in the parts per million range; so even at the high end of the ATF scale for acceptable amounts of sulfide preservatives, there is still a very small amount per bottle.

The common complaint among many wine lovers that I hear a lot—"I get a headache from drinking even small amounts of certain wines (red and white)"—could possibly be from an allergic histamine reaction to residual yeast rather than sulfur preservatives. Many winemakers admit freely to yeast manipulation in nearly every stage of the process. Unfortunately, this practice is not as scrutinized as closely as sulfur preservative manipulation by the ATF or anyone else.

Wine is truly a living thing and it gives us pleasure in youth and from years of aging. If you think you suffer from reactions to certain wines, consult an allergist or ENT physician to be sure.

Howard Gilmore