I love wine. Unfortunately, wine no longer loves me—the long headache isn’t worth the short buzz. But according to wine expert Olivier Magny, it’s not the wine itself that’s the problem, it’s the type of wine I’m drinking. Cheap wine. American wine. Sulfites in wine.
Olivier, who has taught the art of sommelier-ing to more than 100,000 students at his Paris-based O Chateau, has a problem with sulfites and wine. “Wine should never give you a headache,” he told me. “Good wine—which in my book doesn’t mean expensive but does mean well made—is guaranteed headache-free.”
Anyone who says I can drink as much wine as I want without a headache has me riveted—at least until the third glass. And when Olivier talks about his book, he’s being literal: The man has published three, but it’s his latest, Into Wine: An Invitation to Pleasure, that captured my attention.
Anyone who says I can drink as much wine as I want without a headache has me riveted—at least until the third glass.
So I asked him about sulfites and wine. And here’s what he had to say:
Where do sulfites come from? Sulfites in wine may be of volcanic origin, but when used in cheap, mass-produced wine, they’re usually derived from petroleum and added in high quantities.
So sulfites cause headaches, right? Not exactly. High amounts of petroleum-based sulfites cause headaches; naturally derived sulfites, not so much–unless you’re drinking to excess. (As if!)
What is the purpose of sulfites in wine? Sulfites are antiseptic and antioxidant; they’re used to fight bacteria.
Are sulfites in wine bad? No. Without sulfites, wine has a hard time not reacting to heat, light, oxygen and transportation.
So how do we know if there are high levels of sulfites in wine? The wine has the faint smell of a snapped match and when you taste it, the tip of your tongue might be slightly anesthetized. And headaches are a dead giveaway.
So what can I drink? Some wines sport “no sulfite” labels. Many biodynamic and organic wines like Pacific Rim Wallula Vineyard Biodynamic Riesling 2010, 2011 Jeriko Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 750 mLand 2010 Beaver Creek Fairytale Cabernet Sauvignon Lake County 750 mL are all low to no sulfites. And these were hand-picked by Olivier himself.