Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Change of Heart

Just when I am warmly wrapped in my self security; just when I know exactly what I think about an issue; just when I have made up my mind, along comes a fact to slap me back to reality.

In my last blog entry, I stated the following: “I’m for the Nutritional Facts labels—I am not so sure about the Ingredient labels.”

Not any more, not since a story broke recently concerning copper in a New Zealand wine.

An unidentified German company declined to accept a shipment of bulk wine from New Zealand because it contained 3.6 parts per million of copper; in Germany, the maximum is about half that, but in New Zealand the maximum is 5 parts per million. According to any thing I’ve read, the New Zealand maximum seems way too liberal. In the U.S. the feds set the maximum under 1 part per million.

The human body needs copper as a trace mineral, but it definitely doesn’t handle copper too well in large quantities. One of the serious dangers is liver damage; one of the milder yet discomforting dangers occurs when copper is out of proportion to other trace minerals in the body: heart palpitation, which reminds me of something I read a few weeks back.

A researcher in Berkeley, California claims to have developed a computer gadget that can analyze the wine in your glass for potential allergens connected to biogenic amines (histamine, tyramine, etc.) This fellow said that he got the idea while researching biogenic amines and connecting his heart palpitation when he drinks red wine as a reaction to the amines. Well, maybe he drinks too much wine with copper in it!

Anyway, all of this has made me rethink my position on Ingredient Labeling. (You see, even the self-secured are prone to doubt—we don’t tell people, except that I just told you.)

When I wrote about the labeling issue I stated that not much is added to wine. That was both true and misleading. If you add a substance to wine that is dangerous, what does it matter that you don’t add much else? Copper is added to wine, but not routinely—I hope!

To be brief, wine is subject to the formation of hydrogen sulfide, especially when the juice may have come into the fermentation tank with a nutritional imbalance. During fermentation, the yeast plays a role in converting and releasing compounds and when conditions are right on the nutritional scale, hydrogen sulfide can be one of the results of that activity. Also, high residue of sulphur from spraying grapes against disease during the growing season can cause hydrogen sulfide to form in wine.

This form of sulfur is not to be confused with sulfur dioxide which is commonly called "sulfites" on the warning label.

You know that party trick: you have a glass of wine in front of you that smells like an old egg and when you drop a penny into the glass the rotten egg smell vanishes? That’s what copper does to hydrogen sulfide.

Sometimes when hydrogen sulfide forms in wine, it can be released by simple aeration. Sometimes the winemaker can simply stir the wine with a copper rod.

It’s been reported, but not accepted outright, that the airtight nature of screwcapping causes another problem connected to sulfur compounds.

The progression of hydrogen sulfide can lead to a more serious problem known as “reduction,” which takes that rotten egg smell to odoriferous heights. The reason a winemaker aerates to fix the hydrogen sulfide problem is that the sulfurous compounds in wine cane be subdued in the presence of enough oxygen. But bottled under screwcap, wine is supposedly in a vacuum and that means the sulfurous compounds in the wine would be starved of oxygen—reduction might take place.

Some, including the respected Jamie Goode, who’s on my blog roll, have accused wine producers of adding copper to their wines before screwcapping the bottles. If Goode and others are correct, and wine producers are adding copper before bottling under screwcap as a preventive measure, the science says that they are dead wrong: the dangers of copper are high enough that adding it should be as a curative only, and a finely-tuned measured one at that.

Since that New Zealand wine was a bulk product—read, cheap—it may have been a wine needing a fix, and that would explain the copper. Still, it does not explain the high level, since, by all accounts that I’ve read, it takes a lot less copper than 3.6 parts per million to fix hydrogen sulfide or reduction problems.

There’s another possibility, however, for the high copper addition: New Zealand has been in the vanguard of the screwcap revolution. Perhaps, their wine industry has taken to dumping copper into wine as a preventive measure. Scary.

In any event, if copper is allowed in wine (and at higher than necessary levels) the next question is what else is allowed?

Believe me, you have no idea how difficult it is for me to say this: Ingredient Labeling may be the right thing for the wine industry to do.

If anything, Ingredient Labeling might serve to make certain wine companies (and wine industries) act responsibly. As an aside, it might help certain researchers suffering from heart palpitation to look in all directions for the source of the problem rather than to make assumptions and then invent a gadget based on the assumptions.

NOTE: I wrote last time about an organization’s blog that has plagiarized some of my blog entries and that I have contacted Google AdSense about the matter. I haven’t heard from Google, but I could not load up the blog this morning. Until I hear further: There’s an organization operating a blog that sells health products to consumers—it goes by the name Healthfullup. Through the RSS feed, this blog lifts and prints my copyrighted material in its entirety from, without my permission and without paying compensation.

Copper Story

Wines&Vines EuropeanCommission

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
November 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Nutritional Facts

In an editorial, Jim Gordon, Editor of Wines and Vines Magazine, recently talked about the Nutritional Facts labeling proposed for wines. Unfriendly as I am to government labeling, mainly because it usually takes the sleaze road rather than the information road, I found myself agreeing completely with Jim’s position. (I can call him Jim, because for some reason, he thinks I am worth paying to write articles in the magazine! You can read his column by clicking the link below).

In brief, Jim’s point is that if we wine industry people want to keep telling everyone that wine is food, then we best allow the government to treat it as such.

Jim was referring to only 50 percent of the new labeling possibilities. His editorial concerned itself with the “Nutritional Facts” portion of the labeling, which, as I said, I agree should be applied to wine.

First, there’s nothing in wine—nutritionally—that is scary. In fact, there are matters which are quite good to know: wine contains no fat and no cholesterol, and while it doesn’t contain much in the way of protein (or in the way of anything else, really, just some trace minerals and possibly B vitamins, but I could be wrong about that) four ounces of wine contains only from 120 to 150 calories—I’d say that’s energy well gathered!

Another of Jim’s points goes right to the heart of the matter for nutritional facts on wine labels, but he only briefly mentioned it. In some states, my home state, New York, being one of them, wine is treated strictly as alcohol and so, you can’t buy it in a grocery store where, incidentally, beer is sold, which I believe also contains alcohol, unless of course it’s from the big beer companies—that stuff can’t possibly contain much of anything but water, but I digress.

Suppose nutritional facts are slapped on wine labels; how long do you think New York State can hold off the beer lobby when the public starts noticing that its regulation preventing the sale of wine in grocery stores is in conflict with the federal government’s claim that wine is food?

The wine industry was given a federal agency proposal for the new labeling and it reacted to a couple of things it did not like. One of its dislikes was the “Serving Size” that appears on nutritional food labels. The wine industry felt that the use of the phrase was almost like telling people how much wine to drink. The government and the industry settled on “Serving Facts.”

Another thing the wine industry did not cotton to was the feds attempt to show on the label a visual that presented a glass of wine, a bottle of beer, and a shot of booze, proposing that each contain the same amount of alcohol. The problem with that visual is that, when you go to a bar, the spirits drink you are served often contains more than the prescribed one-ounce shot of spirits that measures one drink. Plus, some real beers are much higher in alcohol than the American bland beers. I believe the visual is out.

The other half of the new wine labeling concept is the part that special interest groups like the so-called Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) want to see: ingredient labeling.

As you know from reading food packages, whether or not you know what some of the ingredients actually are (what are "natural spices" anyway, or "red die number so and so?") the labels come with a list of everything that supposedly went into creating the product. The list is organized in the order of volume—the more of one ingredient, the closer it appears at the top, which is why so many products sicken me, as I read the top lines that contain “high fructose, corn syrup, sugar…” After reading that list of cheap diabetes delivery systems, my interest in what is inside the package dwindles to nil.

Wine should come out all right in the ingredient listing message, since, except for the process of fining, filtering, and sulfiting, not much is added to wine. But the problem with ingredient labeling is in the very techniques of fining and filtering. It’s there that watchdog groups are interested, claiming that the material used to clarify (fining) and to filter wine can be allergens.

Admittedly, some of the materials can be allergens. But three extenuating circumstances make me wary of the ingredient labeling rules:

1. Winemakers say that by the time wine is in the bottle, much of the materials like egg white, caseine (milk product) bentonite (clay), etc. have been removed through the filtration process.
2. Except for the rare cases of asthmatic allergies to sulfites, which already has its warning on the label, there aren’t many cases cited of people having severe allergic reactions to wine.
3. CSPI is both a mettle-watchdog group and anti-alcohol. I find suspect anything they propose.

I’m for the Nutritional Facts labels—I am not so sure about the Ingredient labels.

Unlike other foods, where the US Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture regulate labels, the Federal Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) regulates wine labels; that’s because, after Prohibition, when it dawned on both federal and local governments that they could gain a windfall revenue stream by taxing wine, the feds gave the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) control over those three industries—it was the government setting up a welfare system for itself!
BATF has been part of Treasury Department. Recently, Treasury changed the organization and created the TTB.
I predict that the nutritional labeling will go into effect in a few years and after that, FDA may get hold of regulating at least the food portion of wine labeling. That would mean that wine would have two federal regulators on its tail, along with the constant irritant of those so-called consumer groups.
NOTE: There’s an organization operating a blog that sells health products to consumers—it goes by the name Healthfullup. Through the RSS feed, this blog lifts and prints my copyrighted material in its entirety from, without my permission and without paying compensation.
The organization has ignored my attempts to get it to stop stealing my work, so I am embedding this note in every one of my blogs until they stop or until I gain legal redress. Perhaps, the bloggers won’t even notice this note through the RSS feed, as they seem to lift everything without looking at it--the links I post show up on the blog as part of my text.
The blog is also selling ads through Google’s AdSense program, and I have contacted Google about the matter in accordance with the rules set by Congress to govern Internet copyright infringement.
To my fellow bloggers: watch out for these copyright infringements--they threaten to increase as more and more people discover blogging.

Jim Gordon

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
November 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


~According to my dictionary, “amelioration” is defined, “to make better,” or “to improve.”
~When I got into the Finger Lakes wine business in the nineteen eighties, I discovered that in Federal government regulations, amelioration was a function that took place in the winery, namely, adding water to juice, mostly to lower acidity, which is usually high in grapes grown in cool climate regions.
~The concept of amelioration was a joke to Farm Winery owners. We claimed the upper road of purity by having never even considered adding water to juice to make wine; that was a function of the big wine factories!
~To lower acidity, we could add calcium or potassium carbonate or we could induce malolactic fermentation.

Another avenue open to us was to not lower acidity but to add sugar before fermentation so that we could stop the fermentation before the yeast consumed all the sugar and still have wine with reasonable alcohol levels.

The added sugar would offset the acidity on the palate.

~Twenty-plus years later, lowering acidity in cool climate wine regions is handled just about the same way as it was before, but adding water to juice has become almost common practice in warm climate wine regions.
~Wait a minute: warm regions produce grapes lower in acid than in cool regions. Why would you need to add water to lower acidity?
~You don’t need to add water to juice to lower acidity in warm regions.

Ask a warm region winemaker about the procedure and the first thing you might be told is that water is not added to the juice—the juice is being rehydrated. In other words, water is being put back into the juice.

"Well, ok," you might ask, "why did you take the water out in the first place?”

You would be forgiven for asking because this is no easy topic, and I assume that my explanation is likely to be wrong in many places, but I’ll give it a shot.

The winemakers who read this blog can comment on my mistakes and maybe enlighten all of us.

~In warmer grape growing regions it’s not uncommon for grapes to reach high sugar levels quicker than they reach full maturity. That’s because grape maturity and high sugar levels are not exactly the same thing.
~The grape’s sugar, acid, and pH rise and fall based both on climatic conditions and on the fruit’s general growth cycle—while that is an issue both important and problematic to wine, it is not an issue solely of maturity.
~Grape maturity is reached when the recognized overall character of the fruit hits optimum expression, which is different for each grape variety and for each vineyard site. Maturity is expressed mainly through phenolic development and concentration, especially in the most aromatic white grapes and in just about all red grapes.
~Because of the inexact relationship between sugar development and maturity, it is almost a given in warm climates that sugar rises faster than the grapes mature. When that happens, rehydration is the fix.

Brix is the word used to express the measure of sugar solids in grape juice. The Brix at which grapes are picked indicate the potential alcohol of the finished wine.

The general ratio is that every 1 Brix degree fermented equals approximately .55 percent of alcohol by volume in the finished wine.

A dry wine at 12% alcohol by volume must have started out as juice at about 22 Brix (some sugar just about always remains after fermentation, as yeast have a hard time getting all of it as they age and grow weaker and die off during fermentation).

Put simply: the higher the Brix at the start of fermentation, the higher the alcohol of a dry wine in the end.

~If sugars rise before grape maturity, it’s conceivable in warm climates to pick mature grapes at extremely high Brix levels: 29 Brix at picking can potentially give you a wine above 15% alcohol.
~For grapes to reach 29 Brix it has to be warm and dry in that vineyard. That means often enough that the grapes have started to shrivel or take on the look of raisins as the fruit dehydrates.
~Winemakers faced with fruit in that condition add water to lower the Brix, which in turn lowers the potential alcohol after fermentation completes. They claim that their procedure does not affect the characteristics of maturity because they limit the extent of rehydration. Many strive for a reduction that takes alcohol down by no more than 1%, which would still leave a 15% wine at a high 14% (many winemakers claim grapes coming in at 30 Brix, which would interpret into higher than 15% alcohol after rehydration).
~To complicate the matter, there are the acids and pH issues.

Low acid/high pH wines are unstable mainly because they have lost some of their protective devices against microbial attack.

Grapes with high tannin, plus additions of sulfur dioxide offset some of the danger, but at certain reduced acid and high pH levels, it might take more to stabilize the wine.

Quite often, rehydration means adding water that has been acidified, to maintain a decent acidity level in the wine.

Acidified water calculations are tricky, since the winemaker is dealing with statistics based on liquid that will end up being reduced once again, this time by the removal of solids during fermentation and pressing.

~As you might expect, the issue of rehydration has its critics.
~First, there are the grape growers. Some claim that wine producers force them to leave grapes on the vines longer than necessary, and since their grape price contracts are tied to tonnage, the “raisining” of the grapes interprets into weight loss, robbing them of income. (They are particularly vexed when wineries add back the water, and weight).
~Second, there are the consumers who dislike high alcohol wines. They argue that leaving grapes to hang is a wine style issue, and that high alcohol wines with so-called concentration are produced mainly to gain critical acclaim as this is the style of wine that seems to please the palates of powerful wine critics.
~Third, there are those, like me, who cannot get past the idea of adding water to make wine.

Rehydration Ripeness

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
November 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


~Don’t people have more to do than to spend hours online arguing over their opinions?
~Alas, I have no answer, and I am guilty as charged.
~Every so often, however, online arguments make me want to run from my computer; then, I take a breather; I stop posting for a while and just read the posts of others, until someone posts something that compels me to respond, and I am right back at it.
~It’s an addiction.
~Over at Robin Garr’s “Wine Lovers” site we argued seemingly endlessly about a San Francisco Chronicle article concerning Clark Smith’s recent comments (or, as Smith would have it, his recent revelation) concerning the power of music over wine.
~The article was put forward in a rather confusing manner, but what I (and a couple of people) got from it turned out to be different from what some others got from it.
~I discounted one of the opinions, mainly because over the years I’ve noticed that this fellow has a problem with cognizance. But some of the others are people whose online opinions I have often come to value. Why then couldn’t they understand that Smith was talking about music changing the wine in the glass and not that music changes our mood or perception of the wine in the glass? In fact, if he meant the latter, there would be no story, since we already know that.
~Smith even recommended specific music for specific wines.
~Have you heard of the “sweet spot?” It’s a concept also fostered by Clark Smith. He claims to have discovered that the general public palate has a particular capacity for a specific range of alcohol. (Smith runs a wine consulting firm, among other things.)
~The sweet spot concept may be in part responsible for what some of us feel is a nasty creeping up of alcohol in wine, and that subject led to another argument.
~Last week the alcohol debate heated up once again over on Robert Parker’s Web site (or Mark Squires’ Web site; I don’t really know who owns the site, but Squires runs it his way).
~This “alcohol in wine” subject is about as contentious as any. Here’s where I stand on the subject.
~I have been consuming wine for decades. I know when a wine is hot with alcohol, and I don’t need a lesson about balance either. As one poster aptly pointed out in the online debate, the nature of producing high alcohol wines often adds other offenses on the palate in an attempt to “balance” the wine.
~I also don’t need a lesson about the 1.5 % leeway, plus or minus, concerning the “alcohol by volume” government mandated statement on the label. Sure, those old 12.5 % wines may have been as high as 14 %, but certainly not as high as 16 and 17%, which seems to be inching toward the norm. (On an earlier thread, one California winemaker boasted about his so-called “non-interventionist” wines that he managed to bring to nearly 19 % alcohol. I shall spare myself the experience!)
~To this palate, there’s a lot more high alcohol wine out there today than there was two decades ago, and why not? Two decades ago, we had neither a sweet spot concept in play nor do I believe California wineries routinely demanded that grapes hang on the vine until their sugar to liquid ratio reached Amarone-type statistics, not to produce Amarone but to produce so-called table wines: Cabernets, Zinfandels, etc.
~I don’t claim to understand the process of harvesting dried out grapes with astronomical sugar levels and then, after fermentation, adding water back to lower the alcohol. I don’t understand it and, based on the alcohol in so many finished wines, I don’t think it’s working very well.
~What all this means, I certainly don’t know. I only know what I like or do not like about individual wines, and I don’t like my wines to taste like spirits. But arguing over that with others is about as meaningful as arguing with an automobile, and so I’ve resisted the recent argument. Luckily, should I choose to give in to the urge to argue over alcohol in wine, a chance will arise soon enough—it’s an argument that seems to come up on Squires’ site with frightening regularity.
~Another discussion ensued online after Constellation Brands bought itself yet another cache of well-known wine names.
~One has to wonder what this company is after. Bean counters don’t exactly look for the winemaker’s philosophy on the balance sheet. How can a small winery maintain artisan character after having been gobbled up by faceless conglomerations?
~Ask a bottle of Ravenswood Zinfandel that question and see what the response is—but have an older version of their wine on hand for comparison, and for better enjoyment.
~Soon enough, we will have a few big wine corporations and a few national wine distributors, plus a few national retail outlets running nearly the whole show. Imagine what that will do both to competition and to choice.
~I’ve been a wine drinker since the late nineteen sixties, and a wine professional for almost three decades. For the first time, I really believe we are losing the product that I love. I am afraid we will be drinking something along the lines of mass-produced, high-alcohol homogenized milk, or milkshake, as so much bulk Shiraz already is.
~I suppose it’s inevitable. It is the way of the world. Look at what happened to beer in the United States before a small brewing industry reignited.

I take refuge in two things:

First, the ruination of wine isn’t quite complete. There still are many dedicated winemakers that produce near hand-crafted wines, and small distributors and retailers who love wine.

Second, I’m told that after a certain point, my palate will think that all things taste the same, and since they probably will anyway, I’ll be in the vanguard just before I make my exit.

You can read the arguments for yourself. Caution: arguing on the Internet may be habit forming.

Alcohol Music Constellation

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
November 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


~At least three times last week I was asked by three different people why a certain wine that was on the wine list at a restaurant in another state could not be found either at retail or in a restaurant in the person’s home state.
~For imported wines, the answer is as simple as either no distributor in your state carries the wine or the producer doesn’t market in your state.
~For domestic wines, the answer is varied.
Even though a producer may claim national distribution, it does not necessarily mean distribution in all fifty states, first, because there are no distributors that operate completely nationally—although one is perilously, for us, close to doing so—and second, because not all distributors are interested in every so-called nationally distributed product.
In some states, the state acts as distributor. This is the worst system because the states generally buy what is nationally distributed and cheap!
Within a state, retailers and restaurants have the option to buy from any distributor they choose, and because in most states a wine is allowed distribution through only one distributor, certain wines are not stocked on shelves in certain outlets or restaurants. (If what you want is distributed in your state, smart retailers can usually get you what you want, but there’s no requirement to be smart in order to be a wine retailer.) Then, some retailers or restaurants may have a bad relationship with the distributor of the wine you want— in that case, you’ll have to find another way.
In many states, small distributors survive, but what they carry is strictly within the confines of where they are licensed to operate, and within states, some products don’t make it outside major cities for a variety of reasons, not the least of which may be that they are carried only by small distributors who do not operate in all locales.
Some producers are small and limited to local distribution.
Some producers have just enough wine to distribute in a few states and have not selected yours.

~I'm sure I have missed a few other reasons, but the main reason for this confusion of national distribution is called the “three tier” system of alcohol distribution.
~Devised ostensibly to control alcohol against potential criminality and corruption the three tier system is mainly in effect so that states can ensure their steady excise tax revenue stream by giving the collection function to a small set of business entities in their states rather than to hundreds of smaller entities.
~The system was put in place after Repeal of Prohibition in 1933, when the mealy and misinformed congress gave states a free hand. In effect, congress gave states the ability to act just like the criminals had acted during Prohibition, complete with extortionary measures that are euphemistically called licensing, fees, and regulations.
~Both the Supreme Court and the Internet make up the demolition equipment to put the three tier system to rest, but that is going to be a long slog. The system is a direct affront to a section of the U.S. Constitution that deals with unfettered commerce, but our courts have decided that alcohol, though legal, does not deserve all the cover that any other legal product deserves and gets.
~If the day arrives when the court finally opens wine to unfettered commercial access, any wine sold anywhere in the United States will be available to anyone anywhere in the United States. Still, even when that day comes, the problem with finding imported wines throughout the country may not go away.

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
November 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Must be in the air

~There must be something in the autumn air that brings out plans and schemes, and new products connected to wine.
~Or maybe the wine world is paying the price for its new mainstream status, for its growth, for its relative difficult to understand persona.
~In the past couple of weeks stories have broken concerning the latest research finding that has produced either a new product or a product soon to be stirred by new research, each of which will make the pleasure we derive from consuming wine even better.
~My last blog entry was about the product that you can take to a restaurant to dip in your glass of wine to find out beforehand if that particular wine will give you a headache.
~A few days following that entry I heard about an M.I.T. dropout turned wine producer/consultant who claims that in studies he has performed, it has been proven that music changes the taste of wine—not that music changes our mood and therefore our perception of taste, which I believe it does, but that music literally changes the taste of the wine.

In a San Francisco Chronicle story, the fellow is supposed to have said, “…it's not possible to record a generic ‘music to drink wine by’ CD because a song that might make Pinot Noir taste great can make Cabernet Sauvignon taste awful. You have to pay attention to individual music and wine pairings.”

~No mention was made of a particular musical product coming on the market any time soon, yet some guy at Muzak seemed to perk up his ears; deaf to music as those people are, I’m not sure I’d want them trying to get me to drink a certain wine.
~I am convinced that a CD of music to make a cheap Pinot Noir taste like Burgundy is in the oven. Hey, with thousands of wines produced in this world, the CD industry, not to mention music composers and musicians, may have found a years-in-the-making profit center!
~The fellow who has this idea has a reputation for off-the-wall concepts. He is credited with being the one responsible for the so-called “sweet spot” concept, which essentially says that alcohol levels have a certain spot that is harmonious to a large majority of people. This is in part a theory that explains the recent surge in alcohol levels in wine, kind of like the means justifying the end.

I suppose after the dining room table stops rising and the spirits stop blowing out the candles on the table, a guy’s still gotta earn a living.

Hey, I wonder if it was the Rock ‘n’ Roll that used to make high alcohol Thunderbird wine taste so bad those many years ago…

~In another incident, I received a phone call from a woman I’ve known for twenty years. Her daughter is married to a wine aficionado—a physician. She wants to get him something special for Christmas. When she heard about a wine decanter that comes with a silver cap through which the wine flows when you pour it into your glass and, get this, improves the quality of the wine, she told her mother about it.
~Skeptical, her mother called me and of course I confirmed reasons to be skeptical.
~I’ve never even heard of such a product and I fear that either my friend or her daughter may have gotten their information messed up.

In any event, I told my friend to tell her daughter that instead of giving her husband a gadget to improve the quality of his wine, she should buy him high quality wine for Christmas!

~Finally, an academic from California posted on a wine bulletin board what he thinks is a great idea to quantify the “dimensionality of wine’s taste.”
~In a nutshell, he believes he might be able to devise THE supreme wine rating system, one that would personalize your wine choices by telling you exactly what it is about any wine that you will like or dislike, and the exact food to pair with that wine.
~Maybe he can do it and maybe he can’t, but I’m betting on the “can’t” portion of the maybe, especially since he seems to think he has to start out by establishing consensus agreement over standards of quality relating to acidity, alcohol, tannin, oh hell, why am I even bothering to go on with the list.

I couldn’t convince this man that the myriad nuances connected to wine have already doomed his effort, but I tried.

Happy reading.

Music and Wine Headaches


Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
November 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, November 2, 2007

I'm getting a headache

~A researcher at Berkeley named Richard Mathies published a report Thursday in a journal called Analytical Chemistry. Once again, this is a report concerning the red wine headache.
~Mathies is quoted in an AP story as having said the following:
"The food you eat is so unbelievably coupled with your body's chemistry…"
~Can anyone dispute that claim? Not much news there.
~The AP story goes on to say that several culprits have been identified as potential triggers for the red wine headache, not the least of which are called amines (or biogenic amines). These are substances like histamine and tyramine.
Histamine is the result of a complicated chemical reaction to the amino acid histidine.
Histamine is implicated in sleep control, white blood cell immune system response, allergic responses, and food poisoning.
Certain production methods, such as malolactic fermentation, may increase the level of histamine already established in a wine by the breakdown and interaction of proteins and acetaldehyde.
Tyramine is one of the many results of fermentation or decay; it is found in aged, smoked, marinated, cured, pickled, or spoiled, fish and meats. The chemical is also found in most cheeses, sour cream, yogurt, tofu, miso soup, soy products, chocolate, pickled vegetables, many plant foods, and of course, alcoholic beverages.
Tyramine has been identified in connection with blood pressure rises—and drops—plus it has been connected to—yet denied by some—migraine headaches.
Tyramine is also connected to malolactic fermentation in wine.
~The above is a truly cursory look at the two amines that are being implicated as the cause of the red wine headache. While scientists may have identified these amines as potential culprits, scientists have not, as far as I know, issued a definitive answer to the red wine headache.
~Almost every red wine undergoes malolactic fermentation—not many whites do. Therefore, the wine headache that is mostly connected to red wine seems also likely to be mostly connected to malolactic fermentation.
~Mathies has the answer. He has co-founded a company to create a smaller version of a device already created at Berkeley as the result of a NASA research program.
~Matheis’ device would be small enough to be a so-called “personal digital assistant.” It could go along with you to your favorite restaurant so that you can test the wine before drinking it. The device measures the amine level in wine—does it in five minutes.
~Matheis says that he is hot on this device mainly because red wine gives him a racing heart and high blood pressure.
~I don’t deny, discount, nor think crazy this kind of story and these kinds of devices—well, maybe I think them crazy. But once again, here’s my problem with this kind of stuff:
If tyramine, histamine and other amines are the problem, why doesn’t Matheis get a racing heart or high blood pressure from one or more of the foods in that list above?

~Like those crummy magnets that are supposed to make your wine better, wine seems to attract gadgets that will make both the wine and your life better. Why not a cheese magnet or device? Or something we can stick into our smoked meat dish at the restaurant to find out its amine level?
~About fifteen years ago someone told me that the best way to ward off a wine headache is to drink a glass of water for each glass of wine. For fifteen years, I have been following that advice—I have had no wine headaches for the past fifteen years.
~There is one problem that I have yet to solve: sneezing. Many, many first sips of red wine make me sneeze. I attribute that reaction to the histamines, and it just dies down after a while.
~The other day, about fifteen minutes after eating a good chunk of a moldy cheese I had a sneezing fit. Hmmm. Must be something to this amine thing—but it isn’t just wine!

Histamine Tyramine

Histamine and Malolactic Tyramine and Malolactic

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
November 2007. All Rights Reserved.