Sulfites and Wine Drinking Myths
In this column, I will try to dispel one of the most irritating and untrue notion about sulfites and wine drinking: too many times have I heard “I cannot drink wine, the sulfites in it give me such a headache!”. A great many experiments have been done on the subject, so not to have to mention a plethora of studies; I’ll just quote one of the researchers, Dr Curtis Ellison an epidemiologist at Boston University School of Medicine. He states “the vast majority (probably 99.9%) of people who get a headache after drinking wine are not suffering because of the sulfites but from other substances in wine, including the alcohol. These people should drink with food; also taking 400mg of Ibuprofen about a half hour before you drink will most of the time prevent a headache”.
In wine the sulfites are present naturally and some are added to prevent bacterial growth and as I write, I vividly remember my dad at spring time, in his vineyard, the copper sulfite apparatus on his back, pumping and spraying away on his vines the light purple mist of the sulfur solution, his outfit, hands and face dyed a bluish tint; or, in the summer, when making his barrels aseptic, shooing us boys away when burning the sulfur wick in the upside down barrels, the acrid smoke and the gun powderlike crackling and sparkling of the wick making for a fascinating scene in the dark cellar…
But, back to science: sulfites are present in most baked goods, canned vegetables, pickled foods, dried fruits and jam and many other foods in addition to wine, as a matter of fact: most wines contain less than 100 parts per million (ppm) of total sulfites, in comparison dried fruits may contain 500 to 1000 ppm.
How often have you heard “I shouldn’t eat those dry fruits -or these pickles-, they give me headache”? !.. To be serious, an extremely small number of people are truly allergic and should be very careful of all these products. For these people, there are a few wines that are made without added sulfites( containing less than 1ppm), but they usually have unusual aromas and are so perishable that they should be refrigerated and consumed within 18 months of their bottling.
Note that wines from around the world contain sulfites, but only when sold in the US do they have to carry on their label “contain sulfites”.
Voila, enough for these darn sulfites, as there is such a great deal of evidence that moderate wine consumption can help us stay healthy.
The virtues of wine far outweighing its negatives:” in the light of the current scientific evidence, it appears that wine drinking can play a role in preventing -or at least in reducing the risk of- a wide range of health hazards”.
For example: studies show that people who consume moderately alcoholic beverages (and particularly wine) have a much lower risk of coronary heart disease than do abstainers; it has also been observed that diabetes occurs less commonly among moderate drinkers than among abstainers and in addition, several other studies document that elderly people who are moderate drinkers, in comparison to non drinkers, have lower risk to develop dementia…
Need I say more? Raise your glass, of red wine, preferably -it has less carbs and calories they say- and toast to the last of winter and remember: “in vino veritas”.
See you at Mille Fleurs or Bertrand at Mister A’s and if you have any questions or comments, give me a call, any week day mornings at 858.756.3113 and please be nice, those sulfites give me a whale of a headache!
Why is it that we so much enjoyed that cheap bottle of wine by the side of the road on that European escapade, munching on the local cheese or cold cuts with some fresh bread?
Back home, we then search high and low for that same cheap bottle and when found, gather a few friends, making it a big deal, crack that bottle but alas!, the wine tastes insipid, flat with no fruit and our friends just look at us wondering what has happened to our taste buds!
It has happened to me and I am sure to some of you, but why?
In my view, wine appreciation is so subjective: enjoying a glass with good friends, a good meal or for a wonderful occasion will enhance its taste ten fold, but we must also take in consideration the provenance of the wine, an inexpensive wine will not be treated with the care that grand crus of Bordeaux or Burgundy will receive: instead of the refrigerated and insulated containers flown across the oceans, cheap wines will come via long boat rides across the seas, subject to days of shaking and rolling in temperatures constantly changing from the very hot to the very cold, on top of deck or all the way down in the hull.
So that bottle of Sancerre that was so delicious with these oysters in Brittany or that bottle of Chianti so rich with a slab of parmesan in Tuscany may now taste like rotgut!
You see wine is a living, fragile thing that doesn’t like daylight, which oxidizes it too fast or much shaking, which bruises it or drastic changes in temperature, which cooks it. You wouldn’t like to be treated that way either!
To take it a step further here is a personal anecdote. I won’t soon forget this great experience: during a trip in Burgundy with some friends, in the cool, dank cellar of Mme Gros in Vosne-Romanee, in a dark corner, her reaching under layers of black soot, cobwebby looking stuff for a bottle of 1959 Clos de Reas with no label, just the chalk markings made by her dad at bottling time, the wine having never been moved from that cellar since its birth, never seen daylight or any change of temperature; she easily popped a pristine cork, poured it gently for all of us and wow!, the taste was so fresh, the color so bright and the aromas so rich that it was unbelievable to us that the wine was that old, yet it was!
Mme Gros, that day, gave us another bottle from the same batch and same spot to take back home, we then opened it for the “Lunch Bunch” Xmas party later that year and to our great disappointment, the quality of the wine wasn’t even remotely close to that of its sister bottle in the cellar, 3 months before: it was dried out and shallow on the palate, even its color wasn’t as deep and brilliant…
When I shared that experience with Mme Gros, she promptly reply that it was not a unique occurrence and that it was unfortunately rather typical especially since I had not allowed the wine a long enough period of time to rest after the travel!.. Although I had carried that bottle back to the States with care, the shaking during transport had bruised the fragile old liquid, changing its molecular structure and therefore changing its taste. She then recommended for an old (and worthwhile) wine that has travel quite a distance to let the bottle rest for a period of about a year in order for the wine it to stabilize again and recover a lot of its prior quality and substance, (but never really regaining quite all of it)…
So now you know why some of the tastes can be so different, there is also a popular saying in the wine trade: there no great wines, only great bottles of wine, as bottle variation can be so pronounced.
Voila, those are my story and, remember: “de gustibus non est disputendum”.
These grapes, having already reached full ripeness in October, are left untouched on the vines under a cloak of protective netting (mainly to protect them from birds and heavy rain or hale), until the first deep freeze. During that time, the grapes are naturally dehydrated by the elements, adding to the concentration of flavors, aromas, sugars and acid in the juice. Temperatures dipping below minus 10 degrees Celsius during the months of January and February freeze the grapes solid – no Icewine can be harvested before November 15th-, they are then harvested in the vineyard and then, while still frozen, they are pressed. They must therefore be picked early, almost exclusively at night, and by law for sure before 10 am. During both of these processes the temperature cannot exceed minus 8 degrees Celsius, at this temperature the berries are frozen as hard as marbles. While the grape is still in its frozen state, it is pressed and the water is driven out as ice crystals as it is left behind in the press, pretty fascinating don’t you think? That’s the kind of wine you can get at the best restaurant in santa fe.
This leaves a highly concentrated juice, very high in acids, sugars and aromatics; oak aging adds yet another dimension of complexity and richness.
Originally developed in the cool climate regions of Europe, the production of icewine has now reached the New World, and here, a few California wineries try to duplicate the process. The most sought after North American icewine producer is Inneskillin: the climatic conditions of Canada’s Niagara Peninsula are ideally suited for the production of Icewine and they adhere to the strictest requirements set out by the VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance). In America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia or in Germany, icewine is defined as naturally frozen, this mean that no other method of making icewine is allowed other than the natural method, no artificial freezing method constitutes icewine by definition or label.
Considering that it takes a whole vine or more to generally extract a half bottle of icewine at a Brix of 35 degrees or higher, the price of these little boogers is quite steep, but a 2 ounce serving is plenty as the flavors are so rich and complex that you only have to sip this elixir to experience wonderful enjoyment.
Mille Fleurs offers a couple of icewines by the glass, come and enjoy them with Martin’s great desserts.
I hope you found this entertaining.
Of course all the natural colors of wines are enhanced by beautiful table settings like candle or perfect lighting and especially the proper glassware as I recommended in a prior column.
However, apart from aesthetic consideration, it will be the relative depth of color and the variations in hue which, in combination gives us so much advance information that we supplement later by our sense of smell which is confirmed and enhanced on the palate.
Let’s examine how these observations can be made: once the wine is poured, the tasting glass is tilted at an angle over a mat white background, like a napkin or a regular piece of paper and after having appropriately swirled the liquid, I will check for the viscosity of the wine -we call them legs! -, telling me how extracted and concentrated the wine is, the meatier and heavier wines being usually the richer and probably the most expensive.
I will not buy a wine without viscosity and no legs as it will tend to be insipid and the flavors watered down, simply because that’s what it is: colored water, a step above resides Two Buck Chuck!
Voila, see you soon at Mille Fleurs and Mister A’s and taste the wines at the best restaurant in Santa Fe.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Cognac set out to conquer the world, but it was thanks to the café society in London in the 1700s that Cognac first reached international fame as an after dinner drink or digestive (in France, distilled alcoholic beverages are known as “digestifs”, convenient, don’t you think?). Therefore, the big trading houses who developed cognac into an internationally recognized liquor were virtually all from the British Isles: Hennessy (Irish), Remy Martin (English), Martell (English), etc… These firms, later, in the age of branding, became the big industrial houses of Cognac.
A few notes about the production of that great “elixir”: the areas of principal interest are Grande Champagne and Petit Champagne, taking their name from the Campanian chalk soil, which is very much alike the chalky soil of Champagne. The only permissible grape varieties for the making of Cognac are Ugni Blanc, Colombard or Folle Blanche, which amazingly, if used for winemaking, would make for a very crummy wine! The grapes are brought in the and the juice is fermented, it then goes though double distillation, at the end the product is a colorless, very fruity and flowery infant that is then matured in oak barrels.
At that time, oxidation occurs and evaporation creates what is called “the angels’ share”: evaporation is between 1 to 2.5% depending on the “chai” (distillation house). One wonders why all the people in town are not walking around like zombies!
In the very end expert cognac makers selectively blend different barrels together to create their particular “house style” of cognac, in fact, some houses like KELT take it a step further: they place the barrels on seafaring ships and take them on around the world trips: back in the 18th and 19th centuries they had noticed that the seas movement, temperature ranges and air pressure changes had many beneficial effects on the cognac, so they perpetuate the custom…
I hope this will entice you to punctuate your fabulous meal at Mille Fleurs or Bertrand at Mister A’s with a snifter of Cognac!
Maybe something fun to do when you organize your own wine tasting with friends: a few cheeses of different consistency and flavors (I recommend Aniata cheese shop in the Flower Hill mall), some cold cuts, pâté and such with of course a lot of crusty bread, five or six bottles of special wines and just enjoy each other company… By special, you must read interesting, it is summer time so make sure you include a couple of bottles of “rosé” and I mean a dry rosé like everyone drinks in Europe in the summer: a Provence wine and a dry California rose like Phelps or Miner, wines that have nothing in common with these white Zinfandel that are sickeningly sweet!..You should as well incorporate in the tasting Rhone varietals like Viognier, a Marssanne or Roussanne, or perhaps a Sauvignon Blanc or Sancerre, anything but Chardonnays (I find them too overwhelming in general to be enjoyed as aperitifs), incorporate a Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia and one from Russian River, maybe a Syrah from either the Rhone or Australia, and the fun has just begun! I like to brown bag all the bottles – you can sneak in a cult wine – so that no one is “label conscious”, create some tasting sheets for notes and ratings (wine #1, 2, etc..) then, towards the end of the event, an hour or so later, tally the results, unveil the bottles and read the compiled opinions, usually it is an amazing process that makes for a very entertaining afternoon or evening.
You can tell I am bored with the one dimensional, all taste the same, Cabs, Merlots or Chardonnays, I feel that a complex wine is just that: one that draws its complexity from an assemblage of different varietals taking the best of each “c?page”, adding a particular aroma or scent to the finish product, maybe hiding the rough edges of a Cabernet Sauvignon by bringing in the soft tannins of a Cab Franc or introducing the lush fruit of a Merlot in case of Meritage wines (same as a Bordeaux blend).
So, in closing, experiment and try some Spanish Albariño or Tempranillo, a Rioja or an Italian Pinot Grigio, a Tocai Friulano or an Austrian Gruner Veltliner, a German Riesling or an Argentinean Malbec, you get the idea!
Enjoy and discover the world of wines…
Port is a sweet, fortified wine, high in alcohol due to the addition of a neutral spirit during fermentation. Port style wines are produced in many countries and wine regions around the world, but its origin is with a wine produced in the Douro valley east of Oporto in Portugal. The basics types of Port are wood and bottle aged, wood aged port being white, ruby, tawny, late bottled vintage as well as old tawnies and colheita tawnies, while bottle Port are traditional late-bottled vintage and vintage.
First a little history of Port: it’s origin are closely tied to the geopolitics of 17th century Europe, as both Holland and Britain had declared war on France, they needed an alternative for their citizen’s appetite for French wines. The Dutch and British who were already trading with Portugal (textiles and pottery), saw the merits of the wines produced in the outlying regions around Oporto. They were simple red table wines, and like in Cognac, they started adding brandy to the wines in the hope to stabilize the wines before shipping. The Marques de Pombal, the Portuguese prime minister, who established the Old Wine Co. in 1756, is given credit for creating the port trade as we know it today by regulating it.
Vintage port originates in remote vineyards of the Douro valley that have little in common with the well manicured wines of renowned chateaux of Bordeaux. It was made in archaic conditions and then floated down river more than 100 miles to be aged in dusty old warehouses, under conditions that seem to make a mockery of modern oenology, yet vintage Port remains one of the world’s greatest wines. It is hard to imagine that anything can grow in the Upper Douro Valley. The climate is tough, with temperatures reaching over 110 degrees and while it freezes in winter, the terrain is almost lunar in its ruggedness and desolation. The soil is hard and retain little water and offers little nutrient. Most of the work is done by hand on the steeply terraced banks of the river. These extreme conditions are reflected in the character of the wine, its depth, heartiness and longevity. The making of vintage Port is very similar to that of wine at least in the beginning, first comes the harvest, then the crush, the must (the mass of grapes and juice) is then placed in a fermentation tank or “lagar”, after 2 or 3 days the juice is run off in a large wooden cask, the “tonel”, now comes the different process: while the wine is being racked 77 percent grape alcohol is added to the juice as it enters the “tonel”. The young port then remains in the casks until the spring following the harvest when it is moved by tanker truck to lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia -it used to be floated down the Douro in sail barges-, these casks are then stored in “toneis” (smaller barrels) and left to mature for another year. Blending of vintage lots begins in February of the second year. The final blend is made and samples are submitted to the Instituto do Vinho do Porto for government approval, the young port is then bottled without stabilization or filtration
I always keep an extensive selection of Port by the glass at Mille Fleurs which has grown from my customers demand. Next time you visit, try a glass of Ruby or a glass of Tawny to punctuated a fine meal. Cheers!
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