Winelander – April 23, 2021


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Aphone call from my good friend Ernie has had me doing some research on the possible effects of Sulphites and Histamines on wine drinkers as last year after he had enjoyed a glass of his favourite red had what he called a “turn” and could this be related to either of the above?

The truth of the matter is probably beyond a call from me but I can relate what several more informed experts have to say and then leave the conclusion to you. I have over the years had the question thrown at me but as it is something I have never experienced cannot put myself in other’s shoes however several years ago Shirlene, my wife, found that one day she had an upset stomach after enjoying a glass of premium red and this started to happen on a regular basis causing her to stick to white wine which seemed to not have an effect, this lasted for around a year and the problem disappeared, the cause of which even the doctor found hard to explain.

There is a limited truth to the effects of histamine which is present in cheese, fish, meat, yeast products, vegetables including tomatoes and spinach, and wine, it is known to be vasoactive which means it constricts the blood vessels. However, responses such as itching, sneezing, a runny nose, or watery eyes usually occur only when large amounts, exceeding a normal diet are consumed.

Histamine, a biologically active substance is found in a great variety of living organisms and is distributed widely throughout the animal kingdom and is present in many plants, bacteria and insect venom such as bee stings.

The higher levels of histamine found in red wine compared to white wines are probably due to the fact that red wine undergoes a malolactic fermentation which in most white wines doesn’t although many Chardonnays are made using this fermentation process. Double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have shown no correlation between histamine in wine and adverse reactions however perhaps an indulgent evening eating and drinking a selection of highly concentrated histamine related foods may lead one to believe the culprit for a sneezing attack or itchy eyes can be blamed on the last glass of red wine! There again the nasty side effects could also be related to the bad conversation, irritating music or even the rude waiter!

Sulphites such as sulphur dioxide have been used in processes such as winemaking for many years and it was the Romans who first found that by adding this in the winemaking process stopped the fruit from spoiling when after crushing the grape reduced the effects of oxidisation (those of us who can remember enjoying “The Life of Brian” can be forgiven in wondering what else did The Romans do for us?). Unfortunately 5-10% of people with asthma are also allergic to sulphites and the combination of the two can be dangerous and eating or drinking foods or taking drugs with sulphites can be life-threatening.

As additives sulphites can do many things including preventing spoilage and preserving food and beverages by preventing the growth of mould and bacteria. They can stop fruits, vegetables and seafood from discolouring and they can also maintain the strength of certain medications.

Foods and beverages that may have sulphites added include apple cider, avocado dip, beer and wine, condiments, jams, gravies, and molasses, dried fruits and vegetables, fruit and vegetable juices, peeled potatoes (including French fries) pickled meats and vegetables, restaurant food and other prepared foods, shrimp and shellfish. Sulphites can also occur naturally in asparagus, chives, corn starch, eggs, salmon and dried cod, garlic, leeks, lettuce, maple syrup, onions, soy and tomatoes.

By law, Sulphites cannot be added to food that is intended to be eaten raw such as fruits and vegetables and when used as a preservative in food preparation or processing must be listed as an ingredient and as such is shown on the labels of wine bottles which is why Ernie contacted me. Symptoms of a sulphite allergy may include Itchiness, upset stomach, dizziness, drop in blood pressure and even trouble breathing.

I hope this has been informative but I also know from experience that after an enjoyable evening of great food and consumption of fabulous wines the fogginess the following day is usually blamed on that final last glass or two of Tawny Port!

This month I had the pleasure of enjoying several bottles of Rosemount Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon from their Diamond Range at the silly price of $7 instead of $16. I wonder if a new label is on the horizon and stocks need to be moved as it mystifies me why a good wine is discounted to this level. Anyway Rosemount in the 1980s was the darling of the Chardonnay set and their family made wines were very popular. Established in 1969 by Bob Oatley they rose in popularity especially in the $7-$15 (same price thirty years later!) price bracket until they were bought by Treasury Wine Estates in 2001 for a reputed 1.5 billion dollars, at this time they were also one of Australia’s largest selling wines in America. Within a couple of years, the Rosemount brand had declined and is now just a shell of its former self, their vineyards have been sold off and founder Bob Oatley passed away in Sydney on Jan. 10th 2016 aged 87.