Sulfites And Wine Headaches

I looked up frequently asked wine questions and one that kept popping up was the question of sulfites in wine. Many people blame this ingredient on wine headaches. It’s a shame really because it is simply not true.

Sulfites are a naturally occurring ingredient in wine, a byproduct of fermentation. Many winemakers add extra sulfites to protect wine against oxidation and bacterial spoilage, but even organic wine with no added sulfites still contain trace amounts. A very small percentage of people suffer from sulfite allergies (about 1%) but the consequences can be very serious. Because of this, the U.S. (and Australia) requires the labeling of sulfites on wine. Europe does not require labeling sulfites but has started to put it on bottles as well.

A person with sulfite allergies who consumes wine could have an allergic reaction similar to an asthma attack, hives or worse. But the one thing sulfites do not cause is headaches. I can hear you saying, “But how come I get a headache every time I drink wine?” There are many reasons headaches occur (trust me, I know) but the headache people get from wine is probably from histamines. Histamines are found in the grape skins. Red wine has a higher level of histamines because they “macerate” (soak) in the skins to extract more color, flavor and tannins. Among other things, the flavonoids and tannins that release histamines also preserve the wine. By the way, because of these preservation attributes red wine requires less sulfites than white wine.

So what’s the take away? If you are in the +/- 1% of people who suffer from sulfite allergies, you may want to avoid wine. If you are the person who thought your wine headaches were caused by sulfites, consider it may be the histamines and consult with you doctor to see if taking an antihistamine before consuming wine may be the solution.  The goal is to have you enjoy your wine without worrying about medicating a bad head later.


For The Love Of Falanghina!

Thanks to my former role as military spouse, I spent 3 years living in Naples, Italy. I loved living there – the food, the culture, the wine….oh the wine!

While indulging in the Italian experience, I developed an infatuation for Italian wine. Like many European countries, eating and drinking local is daily life in Italy; thus, I spent many days drinking the local wine.  Unfortunately, that encompassed brief encounters with “landlord wine” (loosely translated, wet gym socks wrung into a wine bottle) – just to be clear, only brief encounters because I also had good landlord wine.  I had the privilege of drinking exceptional local wine from the ancient, indigenous grapes of the region. One of the wines I grew especially fond of was Falanghina, a refreshing white wine with classic flavors of green apple, pear, citrus, and depending where it is grown, pineapple, floral, spice and/or mineral notes.

I always say “drink what you like, like what you drink” but in general agree with the saying, if you want a good pairing, pair wine and food from the same region. In fact, I would say that’s how I first fell in love with Falanghina, but have learned this wine just seems to go well with most any food.  Seriously, I’ve had success pairing Falanghina with anything from Super Bowl junk food to gourmet artisanal salted dark chocolate.

When I moved from Italy it was with a heavy heart for many reasons.  One being that I thought it would be hard to find Falanghina.  Thankfully, Falanghina has been in my wine glass pretty much whenever I’ve wanted it, from sipping on it reminiscing about my days in bella Italia to pairing it with a pile of nachos.




Charles Smith Wines Jet City

Charles Smith Wines Tasting Room, Jet City

I cannot believe it’s been almost a year since my husband and I visited Charles Smith Wines Jet City. The winery and tasting room, formerly a Dr. Pepper bottling plant, is in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle with views of Boeing Field’s main runways and Mount Rainier.

Pulling up to the massive, black building with windows nearly two stories high was quite impressive. Even more impressive was the monstrosity of a front door that mirrored the colossal height of the windows. This state-of-the-art facility is the largest urban winery on the West Coast and a very cool place to do some wine tasting.

Human is 5’10″…Door is Ginormous

A little background…Charles Smith opened his first winery in 1999 in Walla Walla. With his convivial, avant-garde style, Charles continues to be a positive force in the wine industry. In Washington, Charles Smith is the largest independent producer, the largest winemaker-owned winery and third largest winery overall. Charles Smith has won numerous accolades, including “Best New Wineries of the Last Ten Years,” “Winery of the Year,” and “Winemaker of the Year” three times, most recently in 2014 by Wine Enthusiast.

Now back to Jet City…I tasted wines from the K Vintners and Sixto labels. K Vintners is the name of Charles Smith’s first winery, which had its inaugural release in 2001 with K Syrah. All of the wines under this label are picked by hand, foot-stomped, fermented using naturally occurring yeasts and basket pressed. The Sixto label is a chardonnay only label from Charles Smith and Brennon Leighton rejuvenating interest in Washington’s old chardonnay vines.  It is the sixth label that Charles has created.  I took home two bottles from my tasting, the Motor City Kitty Syrah (100% Syrah, Yakima Valley) and the Stoneridge Cabernet Sauvignon (100% Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley).

If you find yourself in Seattle, you should really check this place out. The tasting room is open Wednesday thru Sunday 10:00am-6:00pm and is located at 1136 S. Albro Place, Seattle WA 98109.


Que Syrah Syrah

Syrah, “…the kind of guy who wears cowboy boots with a tuxedo. Rustic, manly, yet elegant….” A well put description from Karen McNeil in her book, The Wine Bible.

Syrah originated in France, specifically the Rhone region. In Northern Rhone (where the only red grape allowed is Syrah), it shows itself as an elegant and savory wine. In Southern Rhone, it is used in blends, especially with Grenache and Mourvèdre, often referred to as the popular blend “GSM” (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre).  Washington Syrah tends to lean more toward the style of Northern Rhone while Australia and California Syrah is often velvety with more jam and spice characteristics. In case you’re wondering, Shiraz from Australia and South Africa is in fact, Syrah, it was just renamed when it landed in those countries. Syrah is grown in many other countries such as Argentina, Spain and Chile to name a few.

Syrah is inky dark and comes with a good hit of tannin (that bitter/astringent feeling on the front of your gums and on your tongue) especially when bottled on it’s own. Any way you slice it, Syrah is showy and full bodied with fruit forward flavors of blackberry, blueberry, boysenberry, and plum rounding out with leather, tar, tobacco, smoke, smoked meat, spice and chocolate (to name a few).

It is important to note that California Petite Sirah, which has similar characteristics, is not the same as Syrah. There are a few theories but, in my opinion, the most legitimate explanation is that Petite Sirah is actually Durif, a cross of Syrah and Peloursin (both grapes from the Rhone region in France).

By the way, if you’re looking for a Valentine’s Day gift, I would like to point out that Syrah (and Australian Shiraz in particular) has the ability to pair quite well with dark chocolate.


Behind The Bubbly!

Many of you opened some bubbly over the holidays but have you ever wondered how it’s made? The process is laborious, especially for Champagne or sparkling wines made in the traditional method.

When grape juice is fermented and becomes wine, carbon dioxide is created and allowed to disperse. If fermentation takes place in a sealed container (i.e. a bottle) and the gas is not allowed to escape, pressure builds up and the wine absorbs the carbon dioxide where it stays dissolved until released resulting in bubbles in your glass. The pressure in sparkling wine is typically 70 – 90 psi or about the tire pressure of a double decker bus! This pressure demands a thick glass bottle and a cork that becomes mushroom shaped (due to pressure) with a wire cage on it.

Champagne starts with base wine: a still wine utilizing white wine grapes that have high acid and low alcohol. The winemaker adds yeast and sugar to this base wine to initiate a second fermentation in the bottle. The bottle is immediately capped and the wine is aged on its lees (dead yeast cells and solids). Some of the lees dissolve and are absorbed into the wine. After aging, the sediment is removed. The wine is quickly topped off with base wine and sugar and resealed for sale. Many new world and European producers use this traditional method but are not allowed to label as Champagne since the wine is not from the Champagne region in France. Spanish Cava is produced using the traditional method. Italian Prosecco is produced using a method called Charmat or Tank method.

Once opened, a bottle of champagne has approximately 56 million bubbles. Finer wine will have smaller bubbles due to longer aging and cooler aging cellar temperatures.

Something to ponder the next time you pop a cork and share some bubbly with friends.


Christmas Dinner Wine


You may feel like you have just cleaned up Thanksgiving dishes but before you know it, Christmas dinner will be on the table! If you are assigned to bring wine, keep reading!

The only real requirement for pairing wine, in my opinion, is to drink what you like. Of course, when you’re in charge of choosing for many people with a vast array of food, it can be difficult to figure out the wine to satisfy everyone. The best way to ensure happiness is to choose wine that pleases many palettes. A decent solution is wine that hits in the middle – medium acid, medium tannins, medium body.

If you would like some guidance, consider these styles options ranging from light to heavy depending on your menu:

Rosé – a light bodied, off-dry to dry wine that can vary depending on grape variety and production. Rosé pairs well with the plentiful lineup of holiday accompaniments, but probably a bit delicate for beef or lamb.

Gamay – you may have heard this grape variety cropping up at Thanksgiving tables under the name “Beaujolais Nouveau.” It is fruit filled with huckleberry, raspberry, violet and maybe even banana. If you want quality, look for Gamay from a designated Beaujolais Cru: Brouilly, Chénas, Cóte De Brouilly, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-Á-Vent or Régnié.

Pinot Noir – cool climate Pinot Noir is the way to go. It will be leaner and pair well with many foods. Oregon has exceptional Pinot Noirs but pass on the “jammy” ones. Look for medium bodied, low to medium tannin, medium acid Pinot Noirs where you’ll find flavors such as cranberry, clove and mushroom.

Barbera – I’m a big fan. It pairs well with a myriad of foods, is enjoyable on it’s own and pleasing to many. You’ll find flavors like sour cherry, licorice, blackberry, and dried herbs. Italy is it’s greatest producer. Look for Barbera d’Alba, Barbera d’Asti or Barbera del Monferrato.

Cabernet Sauvignon – This is a classic wine for good reason.  It is full bodied, elegant and can pair nicely with beef and lamb.  Flavors of black cherry, black currant, blackberry, tobacco, and black pepper will make this wine the perfect accompaniment for the heartier fare.

Now go out there and enjoy your holiday…and please, drink responsibly!


Bordeaux The Beautiful!

Bordeaux. This single word conjures up thoughts of some of the most prestigious wine known. Both the business side and the romantic side of wine meet seamlessly in Bordeaux where the largest amount of fine wine in the world is produced.

The Bordeaux wine region is located in southwest France and surrounds the bordeauxmappicmonkeycity of Bordeaux. Near the city, two rivers, the Garonne and Dordogne, meet to form the Gironde, which flows into the Atlantic. These rivers divide the Bordeaux region into three areas: the Left Bank, the Right Bank and Entre-Deux-Mers in the middle.

The main red grapes for the region are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. To be a “Bordeaux” the wine must have at least two of these grapes blended together. Generally, a blend from the Right Bank will lead with Merlot while the Left Bank showcases Cabernet Sauvignon. Entre-Deux-Mers produces mostly everyday drinking wines featuring Merlot.

Today, Bordeaux style blends are made worldwide. Among the best regions to produce this style is Napa Valley, California. Napa Valley is also home to “Meritage” (pronounced like heritage), which is similar to a Left Bank Bordeaux with Cabernet Sauvignon being the prominent grape. If you have a hefty wine allowance and want a superior Bordeaux style from Napa Valley, splurge on Opus One, a collaborative effort between Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Chateau Mouton Rothschild.

If Opus One isn’t in your budget not to worry. It is fairly easy to find Bordeaux style wine. Most will use the typical Bordeaux grapes and generally Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot will be the predominant varietals. And now you have an excuse to go wine shopping!



The Five S’s of Wine Tasting


Wine is a drink of passion, meticulously crafted, aged (sometimes for years), for one purpose…for you to enjoy. Don’t waste your experience, take a minute to fully taste your wine:


Look at the wine. Color can reveal condition and body. White wine turns darker and browner with age. Red wine turns lighter and browner with age. Browning is caused by oxidation and could indicate bad wine. For body, look down into the glass. A fuller bodied wine is darker colored than a lighter bodied wine.


Before swirling, quickly sniff for an aroma preview. Next swirl the wine a couple times and take a deep sniff or two. Swirling vaporizes alcohol and concentrates aromas.


Smell the wine for aromas, off-odors, etc. The best part of smelling is that scent can trigger powerful memories. Smelling grass in Sauvignon Blanc, for example, may take you back to the summers you spent rolling down the hill in grandpa’s backyard.


Sip then “chew” the wine to coat your mouth and warm the wine. You can even let in a little air. Look for sweetness/fruit, saltiness, sourness/acidity, bitterness/tannin and alcohol. Sweetness/fruit is sensed mainly on the tip of the tongue. Sourness/acidity is perceived mostly on the sides and tip of the tongue. Bitterness/tannin is sensed on the back of the tongue and also on the gums, roof of the mouth and interior of the cheek.  Alcohol warms the throat and chest. What’s your overall impression? Does any component over power the others or are they in harmony? If harmonious, the wine is balanced.


Write down or brain file key traits. Over time, you may be able to distinguish the grape and possibly the country, region, etc. By taking time to focus, you will enjoy and appreciate your wine more.


Is Red Wine Healthy?

I have read plenty about the health benefits of red wine. In fact, I planned on declaring the praises in this post however, in doing research, it seems most of the testing has been done on mice and pigs. I don’t know about you, but animal research does not give me a warm, fuzzy feeling.  The positive findings are vast though so you be the judge.

In a nutshell, researchers say red wine is good for your heart – more accurately, the nutrients found in the red grape skins used to make red wine. Red wine has antioxidants, known as polyphenols, which can prevent heart disease. Specifically, the polyphenol known as resveratrol has a laundry list of potential benefits including, but not limited to, protecting the heart’s blood vessels, increasing high-density lipoprotein (or HDL, the good cholesterol), decreasing low-density lipoprotein (or LDL, the bad cholesterol), preventing blood clots, reducing the risk of dementia and preventing certain cancer cells from dividing. Resveratrol can also be found in other foods like blueberries, peanut butter, and dark chocolate.

Additional studies (on mice) found that red wine burns fat and can aid in storing less of it by delaying the growth of fat cells and slowing the growth of new ones. Sounds enticing but unfortunately, I don’t think that is a free pass to skip the gym.

Keep in mind, moderation is important. What is moderation? Well that depends on a person’s size, age, sex, etc. Women absorb alcohol more rapidly than men.  A moderate amount for women is roughly 5 ounces and for men, 8 ounces.

With all these studies, you may think red wine sounds like a pretty awesome health partner; it is your decision. As for me, I am going to assume some validity and keep on sipping because, in my book, life without wine is quite simply not very fun.



Wine And Chocolate


Before moving from Hawaii to the Pacific Northwest a couple years ago, I spent a year as an “Oompa Loompa” at Manoa Chocolate Factory, a bean-to bar chocolate company located on the beautiful island of Oahu .  I was part time chocolate assistant/part time sommelier for Manoa’s wine and chocolate pairing events.

As you can deduce, the homework for the pairing events was pleasant.   The beginning phase of planning, I purchased the wines and did first round tastings. Preliminary tastings were important because just as wines change by vintages, chocolate changes by batches. Final tastings with the boss and a few co-workers ensured perfect pairings and consistently successful events.  There were two approaches with the pairings, either find a pairing where the wine flows seamlessly with the chocolate or contrasts to make for an unexpected yet pleasant sensory exercise. The tasting experience involved sipping the wine paying attention to the aromas and flavors in the glass, then tasting the chocolate paying attention to the aromas and flavors of the chocolate. A final sip of the wine paying attention to how the wine flows or contrasts with the chocolate finished up the tasting.

As we’re coming into the holiday season (marketed ridiculously early), a wine and chocolate pairing party is a great excuse to come together and celebrate.  As I mentioned, it is hard to make blanket statements on pairings but here are a few ideas to get you started:

70% Sea Salt chocolate – pair with a crisp white wine such as Chablis, Verdejo or Falanghina

60% Lavender chocolate – pair with a fruity red wine with notes of strawberries, raspberries, and cherries such as Beaujolais, a young Pinot Noir or even a youthful Rioja

60% Spicy Pepper chocolate – pair with a sparkling wine such as Prosecco or Cava or a crisp white wine such as Albarino or Grüner Veltliner

60% Coffee and/or Cacao Nib chocolate – pair with a powerful red wine such as Syrah, Shiraz, Petite Sirah or a Port

Purchase Manoa Chocolate bars here.