Posted by bruce-bradley on April 14, 2015 at 7:00 PM




Often, when talking about wine, the subject of sulphites come up. People will say, “Oh, I’m allergic to sulphites. It gives me a headache, or makes me sneeze, or sometimes maybe grow a new arm… (okay, I’m joking here)” I always say, “Oh, alright.”—then move on to whatever might be pertinent. To me, saying that they’re allergic to sulphites is kind of like saying “Oh, I’m glucose intolerant”. Everyone is, these days. It’s a popular malady.


Most likely, the thing that is causing their symptoms (where the wine is concerned—except for the new arm…) is histamines in the wine. We do use sulfur—people have been using sulfur in wine for more than six thousand years—but the amounts are pretty tiny, and we monitor them very closely.


When working with wine, there are two types of sulfur that we look at—free and total. When we add sulfur to wine, the “Free Sulfur” is the sulfur that blends in with the wine and floats around, fighting bacteria and oxidation. Over time, the sulfur molecules bind with the wine molecules and you’re no longer getting any value from them. Those molecules still need to be monitored, and that’s called “Total Sulfur”. Most winemakers tend to keep their wines at about 25 parts-per-million free sulfur while aging and will want to keep the total sulfur under 200 parts-per-million. Over 200 parts-per-million total and the sulfur begins to become detectable on the palette, especially in white wines. No winemaker wants you to taste sulfur in their wines.


I did get a headache one time from sulfur in wine, but it was my own darn fault. I was working swing shift at Inglenook Winery and I was sent up to the big barrel room in Rutherford. I got there in time to take over from a cellar worker who was loading a tanker truck with wine that was being taken to bottling. It’s a common practice to “bump-up” the free sulfur in wine right before bottling, and I knew that. I also knew that if one makes a sulfur addition to wine and doesn’t do a good job of blending it in, the sulfur goes straight to the bottom of the tank. But I kinda forgot those things at that moment…


Well, I finished filling the tanker and sent it on its way. I was about to wash out the tank I had emptied, when I noticed there was still wine dripping out of the open gate. I decided “What the heck—it’s going to get washed down the drain anyway…”—so I saved myself a glass and drank it with my dinner. Bad move. The wine tasted great, but it gave me a headache that lasted three days.


Thank God, I didn’t grow a new arm.:)


Here are my picks for this week:




2010 Merlot

Columbia Valley

$8.00 at SPD Market in Nevada City, CA


Vanilla-Blueberry-Black Currant Aromas. Ripe, cherry-berry fruit. Good mouth feel, good balance and finish.




2011 Cabernet Sauvignon


$6.99 at CVS Pharmacy in Grass Valley, CA


Concord grape nose. Dusty red fruit. Good balance and mouth feel. A hint of licorice. Smooth finish.




The Original


Cabernet Sauvignon

California – 2013

$7.99 at Safeway in Grass Valley, CA


Rich aromas of dark red fruit—blackberry and vanilla. Doesn’t disappoint the palette. Rich cherry-berry fruit, a little tart in the finish. This is a wine that will improve over the next 3 – 5 years at least.




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