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Are my headaches caused by sulphites? If so, why not from all vintages of the same wine?

The question

Sometimes when drinking white wines I immediately get a blistering headache. A sip or two is all that it takes. Oddly, I have had a pinot gris from the Okanagan which was fine, but when purchasing a new vintage of the same wine, I get this reaction. Is it sulphites? If so, why not from all vintages of the same wine?

The answer

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That's an interesting twist to a subject – sulphites – I'm asked about constantly.

Yes, I suspect you may be reacting to sulphites, though I hasten to add I'm not a physician. White wine tends to be higher in the substances, which may be added by way of a related compound called sulphur dioxide which curbs spoilage and bacterial growth. In small doses, sulphites are harmless to most people, though a tiny proportion of drinkers can have serious reactions. And I should also add that all wine contains sulphites, which are also produced naturally during fermentation. Red wines contain tannins that help curb oxidation, so they generally require less in the way of added sulphur dioxide.

In your case, I'm using some deductive logic. If a person reacts badly to red wines as well as whites, I'd say the bigger problem is more likely attributable to alcohol itself or to amines, natural chemicals that are copious in red wines and give many people headaches. Do you react to dried fruit? That can contain lots of natural sulphites, by the way.

As to the interesting twist concerning vintage variation, I'm guessing that, too, points in the direction of sulphites. Depending on the year the wine was bottled, a winery may add more or less sulphur dioxide, either because the juice required it or simply because the bottling line happened to be set up to add more.

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Wine & Spirits newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.

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About the Author
Life columnist

Beppi Crosariol writes about wine and spirits in the Globe Life and Style sections.He has been The Globe's wine and spirits columnist for more than 10 years. In the late 1990s, he also wrote a food trends column called The Biting Edge.Beppi used to cover business law for ROB and previously edited the paper's weekly technology section. More

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