The Truth About “Clean” & "Natural" Wines
You hear it all the time: “wine is perfectly good for you - it’s the additives that cause the hangover.” Indeed, many well-informed wine drinkers have repeated this maxim to their friends, family, and fellow drinkers, leading to a significant rise in the popularity of so-called “clean wines.” But are these so-called new wines a major scientific breakthrough or just good marketing?
Always Remember: Wine is Considered Alcohol
You can wrap it up in culture, tradition, and ceremony all you want, but like it or not, drinking a glass of wine has a lot in common with swigging a pint of beer or drinking a shot of whisky.
How Much Alcohol is in Wine?
Regardless of the package and the sophisticated glassware, wine is, first and foremost, 10–16% ethyl alcohol (aka, ethanol). Therefore, if you drink enough of it, you can experience flushing, pain, headaches, fatigue, and nausea associated with the ethanol toxicity. In fact, many adults will say that even a glass or two of certain types of wine is enough to give them that “hangover” feeling.
What Causes Hangovers in Wine?
What’s causing that hangover feeling? Is the sugar, the sulfites, or some other additive? Is a $75 bottle of Bordeaux less likely to give you a hangover than a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck? Well, as it happens, the actual culprit might be a specific group of compounds known as biogenic amines.
The Real Wine Hangover Cause May be Biogenic Amines
Despite sounding like something that would be cooked up in a lab, biogenic amines are organic nitrogen compounds that occur naturally during the winemaking process. Among them are more familiar sounding compounds like histamines, tyramines, cadaverines, and putrescines. These are present to some degree in almost all fermented foods, which means you find them in cheese, beer, and processed fish, and kimchi.
The issue is that safe levels of consumption for these compounds have yet to be determined. And in higher levels, biogenic amines have been known to cause…flushing, pain, headaches, fatigue, and nausea – the exact same symptoms we associate with drinking too much wine!
Can You Have an Allergic Reaction to Wine?
In one report, six individuals came to an emergency room with symptoms of alcohol poisoning. They were all young (aged 22-27) and had reported drinking roughly three glasses of wine at a party. The wine was only 10.5% alcohol, which is hardly strong by most standards. What could possibly have caused these people to become so ill? As it turned out, testing revealed an elevated level of biogenic amines in their systems. Now, this is far from a standard reaction, but it is curious enough to warrant further examination. However, since the wine couldn’t be recovered in time, nobody knows if the dramatic results were due to the people or the product.
Biogenic Amines in Wines
Though biogenic amines are well known to science, they are usually not a big concern in the winemaking industry. In fact, because there is so little rigorous clinical data on the effects they can have on different people, there are no established rules on acceptable levels of biogenic amines permitted in a bottle of wine.
But the real issue behind not regulating biogenic amines is that they seem to affect every single person in drastically different ways.
For instance, some people are just naturally sensitive to consuming biogenic amines. As we’ve already mentioned, this can cause flushing, headaches, and other hangover-like symptoms – sometimes just minutes after finishing a glass! Of course, one of the very first types of amines we mentioned a few paragraphs ago was histamine, which most of you will notice as one of the primary causes of allergic reactions.
What Are Clean Crafted Wines?
Since many people that have these reactions simply say, “I can’t drink wine” and never touch the stuff again, a market has emerged for so-called “hypo-allergenic” wines. However, while several wineries are doing fervent research on how to make an amine-free product, they aren’t required to share this information with their consumers. Additionally, there are no standard definitions for what exactly a “clean wine” is. Here is where the clever marketing levers are pulled.
Wines With No Sulfites?
The old marketing adage of “Name It and Claim It” is the current modus operandi for most brands in the clean wine category. Some of the Clean Wine brands claim they have “no sulfite preservatives added”. Others claim they are organic and don’t have sulfite concentrations higher than 20 ppm. While other brands choose to battle over whether special tannins and other additives are introduced into the wine during fermentation to impart unique taste attributes. Additionally, there are brands that focus on biodynamic growing and fermentation processes. These clever battles to differentiate one brand from another will continue to be vigorous in the marketplace.
Natural Wines! Ha!
Moreover, a wine that is “clean,” free of sulfites, organic, biodynamic or billed as “natural” does not mean anything has been done about the biogenic amine content. This means that all these intense efforts to produce high quality Clean Wines may still end up producing elegant, expensive wines that have the same high levels of biogenic amines that can be found in the low-end wines. If this is the case, then both ends of the wine quality/price scale could cause similar wine allergy side effects.
How to Prevent Wine Hangover Symptoms?
So, what are we to do if we have had reactions to wine in the past, but we still want to keep enjoying our favorite fermented beverage? Luckily, there are a number of solutions you can try:
- Studies have reported that biogenic amine content is more prevalent in red wines than white wines. If you want to have a glass or two, stick to whites, rosés, and sparkling wine whenever possible.
- That said, research states that the process of malolactic fermentation during storage in the bottle, which is what makes Chardonnay “buttery,” can drastically increase the histamine levels of the wine when consumed. So you may want to stay away from this isle in the wine store.
- There are theories that if sulfites are present during fermentation they will contribute to the creation of biogenic amines. However, the opposite is actually true, as sulfites tend to inhibit specific types of microbial growth that have biogenic amines as a biproduct.
- Be careful what you pair your wine with! If you’re sensitive to biogenic amines, you need to avoid drinking wine while also eating aged cheeses, cured meats, and other high food high in the same compounds.
- For many people who experience wine allergies, they may have insufficient levels of the enzyme responsible for removing biogenic amines from the body, diamine oxidase (DAO). For them, supplementing their diet with DAO, particularly just before wine consumption, can significantly reduce their side effects from wine.
- Some people will take an anti-histamine before they drink. However, as there can be significant side effects from this combination, we highly recommend you consult with your physician first.
Proven Approach to Purifying Wine:
Finally, an easy approach to removing the sulfites and biogenic amines just prior to consumption is the use of wine purifiers such as The Phoenix®, The Wave® and The Wand™. They work like a dream to purify your wine without changing any of its distinctive and endearing flavors, aromas and color qualities. The Phoenix® and The Wave™ rapidly purify a bottle of wine as you pour it into your glass. The Wand™ works to remove histamines once the wine is already in the glass. So, if you’re looking for a foolproof way to ensure that you’re drinking a clean wine that is free of sulfites and biogenic amines, these products will become your next best friends.