Is it Organic?

Nothing compares to that first sip of wine. As soon as it touches the taste buds, your body relaxes, your senses take over, and you are filled with a sense of peace that can only be explained with a smile. Wine is one of my favorite meal-time beverages, cultivated after a summer abroad in Italy. I love the flavor, the scents and the experience of drinking a good glass with even better friends.

Unfortunately, many people complain about the headaches they receive after drinking a glass, or several, of their favorite wine, and debates have gone back and forth about the cause of these ear-splitting headaches. Time and time again sulfites have been named the culprit, this is mainly due in part to growing sulfite sensitivities in the U.S. and abroad, but many people go as far as blaming the common hangover and dehydration on these sensitivities as well.

Whether one has a sulfite sensitivity or not, organic wines have become a more popular alternative. In fact, last night I put down a bottle of Malbec and picked up a bottle of organic, Long Island wine. Thankfully, New York City is full of options, and organic wine is never really difficult to find.

Organic wines are viewed as healthier for the body and more ecologically friendly. Unfortunately, much of the information about organic wine and sulfites is muddled. So, in honor of national red wine day this past week, here are some facts you need to know about organic wine and sulfites.

Sulfites are a compound of sulfur and a common bi-product of the fermentation process. They are abundant in all life forms and are found naturally in grapes; however, many wine companies add extra sulfites to their wine during the fermentation process. These sulfites react with the oxygen molecules in the wine and combine with the sugar. They believe this process proves useful in controlling the fermentation, preservation and taste of wine.

Winemaker Paul Frey, of Frey Organic Wines believes that sulfites may help stabilize, but they take away from the flavor. “Make a wine naturally, without adding sulfites, and that’s when you have the natural flavors,” said Frey.

These sulfites are commonly used at several stages during winemaking. They can be added in the form of sulfur salts, SO2 or gas. They cannot be smelled or tasted because they join with other substances in the wine, becoming bound.

Unfortunately, according to the Huffington Post, 1/100 people have a sensitivity to sulfur compounds, causing unbearable headaches. Thus leading more and more people to seek out organic wines. The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) defines true organic wine. It says wine must be made with certified organic grapes, and it must be made without the addition of sulfites.

The NOP also states that wine cannot be labeled as “organic” if it contains any added sulfites. In fact, the Huffington Post states that in 1987 the NOP mandated that the term “contains sulfites” be put on all wine labels containing sulfites.

In the United States, wineries try to skate by this mandate. “Many wineries make wine from organic grapes, but then they add sulfites. Then they can no longer put the ‘USDA Organic’ seal on their labels, nor can they use the term ‘Organic Wine’. But the NOP allows them to use the term ‘Made From Organic Grapes’ in their marketing,” said Frey.

Furthermore, many wineries have tried to change the NOP’s decision on the labeling of organic wine.

“A few years ago many such wineries tried very hard to have the NOP change the rules to allow sulfites to be added to wine and still call it organic. They wanted to water down the organic standards,” said Frey.

I love wine, and normally I don’t really care if it is organic or not; however, I do think it is important to correctly label bottles. The organic standards in the United States are continuously under attack. Wineries everywhere are trying to market their “almost” organic wine as real, sulfite-free, organic wine. Fortunately, the NOP has stood firm on their definition of organic wine and the labeling of bottles.

“After all,” said Frey, “organic foods cannot have synthetic preservatives such as sulfites added. Why make an exception for wine?”

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