Sulfites are an easy target when it comes to wine causing headaches. I mean, they are the reason people get headaches after drinking red wine, right? Laws even require that all wine in the United States have “contains sulfites” on the bottle. This is not the case with other foods and drinks that contain sulfite. Why not? Why only wine? These are interesting questions.

There has been research done lately about this very topic. There is a very small portion of the population (as in one percent) that is allergic to sulfites. The allergic reaction shows not through headaches, though, but through exhibiting asthmatic reactions. In fact, there are a very low number of people that have ever complained about headaches after they drink white wine, which has a higher amount of sulfite than red wine.

So, what is causing headaches in people drinking red wine in moderation?

There are biogenic amines in the wine that are known to have physiological effects. Specifically, these amines are histamine and tyramine. Most individuals have the enzymes in their digestive tract that inactivate the biogenic amines. Those who don’t tend to get headaches.

Many doctors suggest taking an antihistamine before enjoying red wine to fight against the histamine in the wine for those effected. Tyramine is believed to cause migraines. These two amines are in very small amounts within the wine, but the effects are increased because they are in alcohol.

The histamine and tyramine both are by-products of the malolactic fermentation process in winemaking. This is where lactic acid is produced from malic acid converting, thanks to lactic acid bacteria. Only a few types of the bacteria are responsible for producing the amines. We, as consumers, cannot tell which red wines will have them, though.

Unfortunately, there are no sulfite-free wines. The sulfur dioxide, or sulfite, is a natural by-product of the fermentation process, so wine can never be sulfite free. That is, unless research is done to find a way to change or remove the gene that codes to produce sulfite.

Will switching to organic wines help? Well, yes. They have a lot less sulfite but have been shown recently to have a higher number of biogenic amines than the non-organic types.

Is all this information giving you a headache yet?

Adjusting the juice and wine making is a critical step. It is also a rather easy step. Using a simple titration kit that you can buy at a wine shop, you will need to measure the acid content. For dry reds, you will want an asset level that is around 6 to 7 g/L. For dry whites, the asset level should be between 6 ½ to 7 ½ g/L. If your levels are off, you will need to add tartaric acid to your wine in intervals of 1/8 teaspoon. After adding a little tartaric acid, check the acidity again carefully. Continue to add it until you reach the desired level of acidity. Make sure to always have tartaric acid on hand when you are making wine. You can find it at your local wine making shop. I tend to forget to buy tartaric acid for I start a batch of wine. Luckily, my neighbor who works with roofing Edmonton always has extra on hand for me to use.

You will also need to use your hydrometer to measure the sugar level. For both reds and whites, the must level should be about 22° Brix. If you need to bring the concentration of sugar up, you can make your own sugar syrup with 1/3 cup of water to 1 cup of sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil in a pot and then remove it from the heat immediately. You will need to let this mixture cool before adding it in 1 tablespoon at a time until you reach the Brix degrees desired. If you need to lower your level of sugar, you can use water or juice to dilute your must.

To provide the perfect environment for the yeast cells in the wine, you may need to adjust the temperature of your must. You can do this through gently warming up the juice to bring it to pitching temperature without damaging the wine quality. Just be careful not to boil it.

If you find that your grapes are too cold, you can heat a little of the juice in a microwave and then mix it back into the pail and test the temperature again. You can also opt wrap an electric blanket around the fermentation pail, but this will usually take longer.

Racking the wine must be done on a regular basis. Racking is a method that separates the fermenting wine from the sediment. To rack the wine, use a clear plastic hose to siphon the fermenting wine into another jug that has been sanitized, leaving the sediment behind. Top off the wine and put on a fermentation lock.

Not much feels better and more satisfying than using fresh grapes to make your first batch of wine. The best time to start a batch is the early fall when the grapes are at their ripest in the vineyards all over the country.

Depending on where you live, there are many kinds of grapes that you can choose from. The classic choice for flavor is Vitis vinifera, with its historic authenticity and beautiful character. The grapes in this family from Europe includes varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, and Chardonnay. These grapes tend to thrive best in the Pacific Northwest and California areas of the United States. There are also many microclimates throughout this nation where the grapes tend to do well. These microclimates can be found in places across the mid-Atlantic states, the Great Lakes, and New York.

The Vitis vinifera grapes may not be found in climates that are wetter and colder. There are some hybrids, though, that can withstand cold and disease that can be raised in those areas. Another way to find grapes to make wine is to go to a local produce wholesaler or a winemaking shop.

Regardless of the kind of grapes you decide to use for your wine, the general ingredients, equipment, and techniques remain the same. You can do a brief search online to find a list of equipment that will be needed to make your wine.

The first step in making wine is inspecting the grapes. You do this by picking up a double handful and squishing them to strain the juice, and then use a hydrometer to measure the level of sugar. You can purchase a hydrometer at any winemaking supply shop. The density of the sugar should be about 22° Brix. Also, taste the fruit to ensure that it is ripe, sweet, and slightly tart.

You will also want to check over the grapes thoroughly to make sure they are clean and mostly free of insects and debris from the Vineyard. If you find grapes that look rotten or otherwise bad, discard of them. It is also important that you remove the stems from all the grapes because they will make your wine taste bitter.

Now that you have your grapes picked out and clean, you are ready to start making your wine.

To grow grapes effectively, you need to have between 150 to 200 days that are frost free. This will help you in your production of the vitis vinifera fruit. The vitis vinifera is the classic species used to make wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. The quality of the wine depends a lot on the last frost. Some wines do better in an area where there is a later frost such as Riesling, Gewirztraminer, and Pinot Noir. Others need to have around one hundred and ninety days or more free of frost such as Cabernet, Merlot, and Chardonnay. If you have a less than ideal climate to grow your grapes, you should grow one of the hardier of North American grapes such as the vitis labrusca or hybrid vines like Baco Noir, Chancellor, Chardonnel, or Norton.

The best way to know what to plant is to talk to your neighbors to discover the vines they use to produce their best wines. If there are no winemakers in your local area that grow grapes, called some of your local nurseries and discuss with them the varieties that may do well in your situation.

Overall, the vitis vinifera does great in the Northwest and West parts of the United States. There are also some areas in the Northeast, Midwest, and Southwest where there has been some success growing is grapes. In fact, there are some fine white wines produced in areas of New York and Michigan where the lakes help to moderate the climate. Many growers in the states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia have success growing in their small vineyards. You will occasionally find successful vineyards and other places like Kentucky, but those growers have quite the challenge.

In Canada, the vitis labrusca variety is typically grown because of the harsh winters there. There are some small microclimates in Ontario and the Lake Erie regions, though, that produce some top rate wines such as Rieslings and Chardonnays.

Regardless of where you live, there is a species of winegrape that will do well in your area. Your best bet is to talk to local growers and winemakers to discover what works best for the region you live in.

 

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Recently, while attending a class for wine appreciation, a student asked whether or not wine could be manufactured in a lab. The teacher said, “Yeah, sure,” in response but did not offer any kind of explanation. I was rather disappointed in the response given, since it seemed to reduce wine to a basic kind of drink. I thought it had been a great opportunity for the teacher to educate the students, but one that was passed over.

The answer the teacher gave was correct, nonetheless. Theoretically, wine can be made in a lab. Practically, though, it would be an almost impossible task.

Wine is quite the complex beverage, consisting of thousands of complex and simple organic compounds. Many of these compounds have not even been identified yet, though it has been stated that most of the grape’s chemical compounds in wines that add the flavor and aroma have been identified now. Some of the organic compounds in the wine includes sugars, phenols, acids, alcohol, aromatic and amines compounds. Each of these compounds contribute to the flavors and aromas of the wine. Other organic compounds also found, such as thiols and aldehydes that can give an off-flavor or cause the wine to spoil. Each of the compounds are synthesized within the grapes through the process of growing and ripening. They can also be formed through the process of fermentation from certain yeast and from the operations of winemaking like barrel aging. There are other compounds that are inorganic that come from the soil and the nutrients from it.

Each of the compounds in the wine are in different concentrations. Some are trace amounts while others are measurable.  They come in countless permutations and combinations as well, and are all a function of the many varieties of grapes, kinds of yeasts, differences in practices, factors such as climate and soil, all making creating wine in a lab a pretty impossible job.

It is an interesting question, though. Why should we try to reduce the lovely wines to a solution produced in a lab, though? I think we should all sit down over a glass of wine to explore this question more.