Sulfites in wines, party tipple & decanting red wines

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wine clinicWhat are sulfites and should I be worried about them?

Sulfites are naturally occurring elements in wine. Vintners have been using sulphur in various forms for years. Sulphur is used in the vineyards, in the cellars, and during bottling to help protect your wine from spoilage. Many people believe that the headaches they get from drinking wine are due to their allergic reaction to these sulfites. Actually, very few people are allergic to sulfites and almost all vintners have been working tirelessly to bring the levels in their wines down.

Why do some wines give me a headache? Is it because of the sulphites?

No. Sulphites can cause very severe allergic reactions in a small number of people, even death in extreme cases, which is why there’s a warning on the bottle, but sulphites don’t cause headaches. The most likely culprits are the histamines in wine. Red wines have higher levels of histamines than whites. The histamines are in the skins of the wine. Red wines spend time macerating on their skins to extract pigment, tannin and flavours. Tannins and flavonoids help to preserve red wines, resulting in less sulphites than in many white wines. So, if you’re getting a headache after drinking red wine, it is likely to be a reaction to the histamines, which can be prevented by taking an antihistamine before starting to drink.

What wines should I serve at a large party?

Your best bet are Indian wines (both red and white) and there are numerous good ones to choose from. As for imported wines, in white wine, look for midrange Chilean, New Zealand or South African Sauvignon Blancs. For a red, I’d go for an Argentine Malbec. Its fruity flavours and gentle tannins work very well with our cuisine. If you are looking for an affordable bubbly for a crowd, it’s hard to beat a Prosecco. Reserve your top wines for when you are dining with a small group of friends who will drink thoughtfully and appreciate the wines’ quality and distinct flavours.

If I want to remember a bottle of wine, how can I remove the wine label?

To remember a wine, you can always take a digital picture of the label, of course. But if you want to keep the actual label try the oven method. Heat the oven to 180° C (350° F). Switch it off and place the empty bottle in it for a few minutes. When the bottle is really hot remove it carefully from the oven. Lift a corner of the label and peel it off carefully. Alternatively, especially if the label is glued on strongly and won’t peel, let the bottle cool and boil it to remove the label.

How important is it to decant red wines?

The reason why people decant wines is to separate any sediment that may have accumulated in an old wine and to allow the wine to “breathe” by contact with oxygen. However, it’s not always necessary. Many wine drinkers enjoy tasting a wine from the first sip to the last. If the wine is so tight that it needs decanting, we can decant it; if we decant first and then find that the wine lost some fruit to the air, there’s no going back.

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