Organic Wine, A Reprieve for the Allergic
Written by Jennifer Jordan
Filed Under: Wine Types
When I was a kid, I developed an allergy to peanut butter, something I loved to eat by the spoonful. While others ate it, mixing clumps with strawberry jam and putting it between two slices of bread, I stood by drooling; then, with a sense of defeat, I went to stick my head in my Easy Bake Oven. To me, there was nothing worse than being five years old and having a peanut allergy; it's the equivalent to having a wine allergy when you're over 21.
Lucky for me, I'm not allergic to wine. I've self-tested with hundreds of bottles and I can declare that I would definitely know by now. Definitely. But, many others aren't that lucky; some people do have wine allergies, an allergy that hinders their ability to savor one of life's greatest pleasures. This allergy leaves people with an empty wine glass, an empty wine cellar, and a unyielding impulse to look up to the sky and scream, "Make me allergic to diary, make me allergic to cats, make me allergic to my siblings, but please don't take away my Cabernet."
While no one wants a wine allergy, those who have one are forced to take it seriously. This is particularly true for people allergic to sulfites, compounds often used as a means to preserve wine by helping it to avoid oxidation and spoilage. Unfortunately for those with sulfite allergies, sulfites are added to a vast majority of wines. Because of this, checking the label doesn't just become a matter of hoping to find the best tasting wine, it also become a matter between being well and being ill.
When someone who is allergic to sulfites drinks wine containing this compound, they run the risk of experiencing an allergic reaction - an allergic reaction to wine makes a wine hang over look like a walk in the park. Some people may experience sneezing, or hives, while others may have difficulty breathing and need emergency medical attention. Sulfites can also cause anaphylaxis, the most severe of allergic reactions. During this kind of reaction, a person's blood pressure dangerously drops and their bronchial tubes narrow, making it increasingly harder for them to breathe. If left untreated, this can lead to death in a matter of minutes. For these reasons, many people with sulfite allergies avoid wine altogether: not even the greatest wine in the world is worth compromising health.
However, luckily for those affected by sulfites, organic wine has come to the rescue, wearing a red cape and giving those allergic to regular wine a second chance.
Organic wine doesn't necessarily mean "sulfite free," a tidbit of information extremely important to those sensitive to even the most minute levels of sulfites. In fact, wines are rarely sulfite-free; sulfites occur naturally in wine. However, conventional wines go above and beyond those naturally occurring, adding many more sulfites to their finished product. Organic wines, on the other hand, tend to believe that the naturally occurring sulfites are enough - they don't want to compound the situation.
The true definition of organic wine depends on where the wine is produced. For wines sold in America, the National Organic Program, the federal agency overseeing the production of organic food, has mandated that any wine claiming to be "organic" must not contain any added sulfites. Wines merely claiming to be made with "organic grapes," however, aren't subject to these regulations. Along these lines, wines that are sold outside the US are governed under their own rules: these wines generally have added sulfites, but the amount is roughly a third of the amount found in conventional wine. Thus, for those with sulfite allergies, it's important to read the label very carefully.
Drinking organic wine isn't just limited to those with sulfite allergies - it's not a secret club people are allowed into by submitting their medical records. Many people simply find organic wines better tasting, healthier, and good for the environment.
Organic wine is composed of grapes that are grown in an organic vineyard with organic farming techniques. Essentially this means that the grapes are grown in a manner void of artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides and full of natural fertilizers. These vineyards also contain cover crops between their vines and work to attract beneficial insects, insects that will feed on harmful pests. Though no scientific evidence provides credence, there is speculation that drinking organic wine instead of conventional wine decreases the chance of a hang over. This has led many people down an organic path, a path paved with the healthiest of soil.
While not widely available, organic wine has recently begun to gain in popularity. Sommeliers are finally beginning to get the hint as bottles of organic Pinot Noir approach, tapping their fingers and impatiently saying, "Ahem." Still, organic wine remains harder to find than conventional wine - many restaurants do not serve it and some liquor stores have either no collection or one that is minimal. But, rest assured, there are places to find it, and soon they'll be more..
Online is a great place to start, booming with shops that will ship organic wine to your house. Organic food stores - such as Whole Foods - have jumped on the band wagon as well, obviously needing a ride from drinking too much organic wine. There are also certain liquor stores that do carry a large selection of organic wines. To find one in your area, try calling around, doing an Internet search, or going to www.wine-searcher.com.
It might take a little research, but you'll be rewarded once you are cradling that organic wine in your hands, one end of the straw in the bottle the other end in your mouth. Then, it will all be worth it...naturally.