The Truth About Sulfites

You’re waking up from a good night out. There were laughs and scandalous behaviour. You are now faced with a killer headache and you immediately assume it’s the sulfites in the copious amounts of glasses you drank last night. Is it really though? I am here to debunk all your sulfite myths. There is so much bad connotation around this word “contain sulfites”people think it is the evil of the wine world. Endlessly searching for their sulfite-free wine, telling anyone in their path about their allergies and headaches.

Reality? It is your silent hero. The Robin Hood of wine. Everything you want in your bottle, especially those that have a desire to age any bottle.

So why do I have this undying love affair with sulfites? They are extremely important to the winemaking process and in the vineyard. I will write about that process but first,

What Are Sulfites?

By textbook definition, sulfites are compounds that contain the sulfite ion. Essentially, sulphur, sulphur dioxide, sulphurous acid, bisulfite ion and complexed sulfite. We could be here all night listing various sulfite compounds and neither one of us would understand. Most importantly, it is a naturally occurring chemical element that’s been around since 2000 B.C and used universally in wine since the 17th century. It is a substance that can naturally occur and/or artificially such as by yeast during fermentation, small quantities around 10 mg/L is produced.

Why Are There Sulfites and Why Do We Use Them In Wine?

There are four main reasons:

  • Antioxidant: Prevents oxygenation by combining with oxygen and removing it before any damage can be done.
  • Antiseptic: Kills off unwanted bacteria and spoilage yeasts.
  • Prevents second fermentation in the bottle. It can kill off indigenous yeasts, which tend to be weaker than cultivated yeasts.
  • Preserves the wine – critical for anyone who desires to age their wine.

I would like to make it very clear, that sulfites are most likely notthe cause of your red wine headaches. There is a small percentage of people that have a sulfite allergy (less than 5%) but this is usually reserved for people with bad asthma and will experience asthma symptoms such as hay fever and hives WAY more likely that you would a headache.

Wines will range from No Added SO2(10 – 40 PPM) to about 350 PPM on the extreme end. 350 Parts Per Million?! Thismustbe like an overdose on sulfites and why I react to wines.

Wine Myth Buster: No way Jose.

Wine is on the low end of the spectrum for sulfites in consumable products. Dried fruit is over 3000 PPMto something like strawberry jam that still contains more sulfites than most wines. Pop, french fries, preserved foods all contain more sulfites. Nuts, packaged soups, juices, processed meats all contain anywhere from 300 – 2000 PPM. The list goes on and on and if you think you have a sulfite allergy, start eating dried fruit and let me know how you feel after. If you feel fine, it’s not the sulfites. They are a super common food additive and not the root of all evil.

Sidenote: The legal requirement to list “Contains Sulfites” only exists in North America and a couple other countries like Australia. Why? Because there are people with an allergy impacting less than 5% worldwide.

Why do I get Headaches?

This is probably the best part. This section is full of nothing but truth bombs and really talks about the unspoken things of wine. Like the fact that alcohol and our bodies do not harmonize together. They were not created to be equals. We have to train our bodies to continuously drink it. No one likes to admit that.

In winemaking, on the dark side of the moon, there is an abundance of chemicals that can be used in the process. It is not always just grapes and yeast creating this magical juice (part of the reason why you should seek out boutique wineries and avoid commercial wineries). Nowadays, we can alter everything from sweetness to colour to alcohol. Every person will react to something different and it will vary with different wines. Very often, it won’t be one single culprit either.

Here are Some Wine Truths Bombs:

Histamines and Tyramines

These are compounds that are known to trigger allergic reactions and headaches. More prevalent in red wine and sparkling as being a byproduct of a long fermentation.

However, these compounds are present in many other foods such as sauerkraut, aged or processed meats, cheeses and even vegetables! Coffee, fruit juices and pop, yet another thing we could list quite a few consumable products on. Nothing is what it seems.

If you believe this is what is causing your headaches, you can go on a histamine/tyramine-restricted diet. There is quite a few if you google them. You can also talk to your doctor and determine if an antihistamine could be the solution. You can drink white wines or drink lighter reds like Pinot Noir or Gamay as they usually don’t undergo a very long fermentation. Note: This is not medical advice, please don’t pop an antihistamine before your open your bottle of Bordeaux without asking your doctor first.

Tannins

This is one of the more common sayings and this actually has lots of truth to it. Tannins can cause headaches. These sometimes overwhelming characters of wine, come from grape skins, seeds and stems. They can also be sourced from non-grape sources like barrels and oak chips. They cause headaches because they have been known to alter serotonin levels which can lead to headaches. Some other common foods are chocolate, nuts, soy and teas.

Home Test: A good way to figure out if it is tannins that are affecting you, over steep a black tea and it will become very tannic. Monitor your reaction.

Another way to avoid this, drink lighter reds or wine lower in tannins such as Barbera, Dolcetto or Zinfandel. White wine or sparkling has zero tannins.

Alcohol

So, unfortunately, this is considered to be a fairly strong diuretic. What does that mean?  A fancy term for makes you pee a lot and become dehydrated. Dehydration leads to headaches and dizziness.

I don’t want to be ruining alcohol for anyone but alcohol sensitivities, intolerances and allergies are very common – in a study done by the Johannesburg University of 950 people, 25% had symptoms. It’s probably something we will never admit too, but it is very common.

Home Test:Other than consuming less, (that is the last resort) one can drink more water during the day, in between wine glasses or drink wines lower in alcohol.

Sugar

This causes dehydration, blood sugar and insulin level too spike, excessive thirst and makes you crave carbs and sweets. This really is the silent killer in wine as most people don’t understand how much sugar is in there wine. Most off-dry to sweet wines contain anywhere from 10g/L to 220g/L = 2 to 5 teaspoons PER 5 OZ Glass! They certainly don’t pour them in restaurants and at home, no one’s watching as the bottle gets to the end.

Examples: Apothic Red 16g/L Jam Jar 56g/L Yellowtail Big Bold Red 18g/L

Solution? Drink dry wines! Some Italian Pinot Grigios and Cabernet Sauvignons can be as little as 1 gram per serving. Sometimes this takes some palette training to learn to appreciate bone-dry wines.

Another alternative is to drink wines higher in quality. You do not need to spend $60 on a bottle to get quality. All I am saying is an extra $5 – $10 can really show a difference as they use better grapes and don’t have to rely on the sugar for fruitiness. Instead of Apothic Red, you add an extra couple dollars and can branch off into better wines like Josh Cellars or Tom Gore. Start investing in Michael David’s Freakshow line. Minimal differences on the wallet yet amazing increase in taste and quality and most importantly, fewer headaches if we indulge responsibly.

If you’re still not sold on the good properties of sulfites, there is something else that you can use. It is called Dimethyl Dicarbonate (DMDC) aka Velcorin. This product is actually poisonous for the first hour, it requires special training and a full set up of protective equipment. However, there is nothing traceable in the end. What is better, sulfites or this?

Life is rough sometimes, wine doesn’t need to be. Do not blame sulfites, they are not the enemy. All I ask is you enjoy your sulfite containing wine with pleasure and knowledge these days

Maddison Pantlin is a WSET Diploma student who has worked grape harvests around the world.

5 Reasons to Start the WSET Diploma this Summer

5 Reasons to Start the WSET Diploma this Summer

The WSET Diploma Certificate (Level 4) is one of the most recognized and valuable credentials in the wine world.  This challenging two-year program offers people who already have strong wine knowledge, the opportunity to go to an elite level.  The program will be significantly revised in 2019 but if you are thinking about Diploma, now is the time to start (https://www.grapeexperience.com/wset-diploma-san-francisco/). Here’s why:

  1. Diploma isn’t a static course, but a dynamic set of focused “units” that are constantly updated to reflect today’s trends and issues facing the wine and spirits industry.The changes that go into effect in August 2019 are just a more comprehensive continuation of updates that happen every year to reflect new underlying forces shaping the wine market.
  2. Diploma candidates learn through personal exploration – not through a set textbook. To do well in Diploma students need to follow their own curiosity, explore producer and regional web sites and venture out into the field – be it a winery, distillery or retail business visit. This learning method, with WSET giving students an outline of what they need to know, is what makes Diploma so relevant and fun, and it will continue to be a guiding principal of Diploma for years to come.
  3. The current Diploma program offers candidates a chance to explore the spirits industry alongside wine. In the program that will take effect summer 2019, spirits will be eliminated.  If you want the Diploma in Wine and Spirits you must start this summer.  Conversely, if you want to start this summer but don’t want to take the spirits unit that is a definite option.
  4. Grape Experience has been delivering the current Diploma program for over 12 years – the longest running US provider west of the Mississippi and recognized with an Educator of the Year award. We understand what it takes to succeed in today’s Diploma program and we offer individualized personal coaching backed by hundreds of successful candidates who achieved their Diploma studying with Grape Experience.
  5. Candidates who start Diploma now will be in no way disadvantaged when the revised Diploma in Wine program comes into effect. Anything you pass before August 2019 will be credited towards the new Diploma and there will be no additional requirements added – Diploma has 6 units you need to pass today and there will remain 6 in the future.

WSET Diploma is an exceptional learning opportunity that allows you to interact with people from all over the wine world.  It is a chance to develop superior analytical skills while also making contacts and developing friendships that will last a lifetime.  The knowledge, confidence and personal growth that Diploma offers is invaluable.

Take advantage of starting the program this August.  You can find out more at https://www.grapeexperience.com/wset-diploma-san-francisco/or feel free to contact me, Adam Chase at adamc63@me.comor by calling 415-309-0761.  I would really enjoy discussing the opportunity that lies ahead for you!

2018 The Year To Join A WSET Class!

2018 The Year To Join A WSET Class!

I hear from many people with interest in Grape Experience WSET courses who are unsure where to start or if they want to make the commitment. Those who do take the plunge always feel great about it.  If you are thinking you would like to explore WSET Wine, Sake or Spirits education there is no time better than now!

How to Decide Where to Begin:

WSET courses are broken out by “Levels,” and these terms can be confusing.  Each level has a specific end goal or learning outcome regardless if it is for Wine, Sake or Spirits.  For Wine and Spirits most people have enough knowledge already to skip right to Level 2.  Sake is lesser known and Level 1 may make the most sense.

Level 1: Define and Understand

Level 1 focuses on true beginner knowledge. We answer questions such as:

  • What is wine or sake?
  • What basic styles does it come in – dry, sweet, sparkling, red, white and rosé?
  • What is the best way to serve it – temperature, glassware, food pairings

I often say for the wine courses that if you know that Chardonnay is a white grape that makes white wine that should be served chilled, and that Cabernet Sauvignon is usually a red wine, then it might make more sense to start at Level 2.

For Sake, however, Level 1 can be an easy way to start exploring a beverage category that is growing each day.  We offer Level 1 Sake a few times each year with the next courses starting this winter https://www.grapeexperience.com/sake-class/

Level 2: Identify and Describe

Level 2 is where most WSET wine and spirit candidates start.  Courses under Level 2 are also fine as beginner classes but they go into more depth then Level 1.  The goal here is for a student to be able to look at any major wine or spirit bottle and describe what is expected inside without having to taste it – that doesn’t mean that we don’t taste in Level 2 classes – we absolutely do and a great component of Level 2 is to build strong foundational tasting skills.

Students who take Level 2 often tell me that their confidence has skyrocketed when it comes to choosing or talking about wines and spirits.  I think Level 2 provides a smoother, perhaps less risky entry into the WSET system of courses, even for people with already strong wine knowledge.  Our next set of Level 2 courses starts this February:  https://www.grapeexperience.com/beginner-wine-courses/

Level 3: Explain

Level 3 is significantly more challenging than Level 2 and demands more study and participation time from the participant.  Still, the depth of knowledge and tasting ability that comes from a Level 3 course is totally worth the effort.  Level 3 courses do not have prerequisites.

The basic goal of Level 3 courses is for the participant to be able to explain the reasons why a wine or sake looks, tastes, and costs the way/amount it does.  This Level deeply delves into natural and human forces that impact production and quality.  Tasting plays an equal role to the theory here and students will certainly learn to blindly identify through sight, smell and taste how a wine or sake is made and its ultimate quality Level.

Level 4 Diploma: Analyze

Currently WSET only offers a Level 4 course in Wine and Spirits.  This is a two-year program that requires participants first pass the Level 3 Wine course. The goal here is to learn to analyze the natural and human production factors, market trends and new technologies/approaches that are shaping today’s wine and spirit markets.

Participants build skills through first-hand, as well as book investigation into the major global wine and spirits production centers and companies.  The course is incredibly challenging but well worth it!

So, there is no time like the present!  Check out all of the WSET courses we offer and take the plunge!

 

Sake vs. Wine: A Fresh Perspective

Sake vs. Wine: A Fresh Perspective

This month I took Grape Experience’s WSET Level 1 Sake course.  As a wine educator, this was a fascinating experience, as sake is such a different beverage to wine.  I learned that the sake language, aroma descriptors, and terminology generally don’t apply to wine (there are more overlaps with whisky and beer).

If you’re coming to sake from a wine background – which most people in the class were – it’s refreshing and stimulating having to think about and describe a quality beverage using a different approach. For instance, I consider acidity to be one of the most important factors to the structure and quality of a wine. In sake, acidity is so low that it’s quite a shock, but once I became accustomed to that low acidity I stopped thinking about it so much.

Another difference is that alcohol is higher than wine (at 15-17% ABV), but there is a surprising delicacy to sake that is often lacking in wines at high levels of alcohol. Despite tasting ten sakes, at the end of the day I felt a freshness that I don’t feel after tasting ten wines. Quite why that is I don’t know, but it was something other students commented on.

Umami aromas (found, for example, in mushrooms, tomatoes, or parmesan cheese) are present in wine, but in sake, especially the honjozo and junmai styles, umami aromas are dominant. This makes sake a good pairing with salty food, as umami and salt flavours complement each other. There’s perhaps no surprise in that as sake and seafood is a classic Japanese food pairing.

Sake, though, has huge potential for food pairing beyond traditional Japanese cuisine. On the course, we tasted two sakes (honjozo and ginjo) with different foods: lemon, tomatoes, crisps, parmesan cheese, honey, and soy sauce. It’s rare to find a drink that can stand up to both tomatoes and honey and the only food that the sake struggled to complement was the lemon, its tart acidity overwhelming the low acidity of the drink. But given that lemons are rarely eaten on their own, I didn’t consider that an issue!

This is a great course which I thoroughly enjoyed. It provides an insight into Japanese culture, an overview of sake, and a good idea of the different styles and how they pair with food. Most importantly, it explains why sake tastes like it does, the reasons behind each style, and is a great help for walking into a shop or a restaurant and knowing which sake to buy and why.

The course was taught by Marina Giordano, who is a colleague of mine at Grape Experience. I can say without any prejudice that she is a great tutor with a thorough knowledge of the WSET and of sake. I walked into the course intrigued by sake; I came out of it enthused and knowledgable. I can’t ask for more than that from any course.

WSET Level 2 In Wine & Spirts – The Perfect Beginner Course


One of the most common things I hear from people interested in the WSET program is “I want to take Level 2 but I can’t because I haven’t taken Level 1 yet.”

Let me set the record straight: you do not have to take Level 1 to take Level 2.  In fact, for most people who have some basic wine knowledge I strongly recommend starting with Level 2.

Level 2 is the perfect entry into formal wine study and, as a course, builds a complete foundation for future learning or a confident, successful wine career.  People enter Level 2 with various degrees of knowledge.  Some people may know very little beyond grape names and wine brands – their foundation has a few key “brick” out, but needs to be more formally built.  Other people may know quite a lot about a specific wine or wine region – Napa or Bordeaux for example – but have limited knowledge about other producing areas such Australia, Chile or Germany.  For this person Level 2 fills in the holes and creates a solid wine knowledge structure.

Confidence is the key word to describe the outcome of a successful Level 2 candidate.  The course focuses on creating a strong understanding of the major wine grapes and how they show themselves in regions across the globe.  Level 2 provides a survey of wine styles and levels of quality.  After Level 2, a student can look at any major wine label and identify how that wine should taste, its level of quality and relative price point.  They can speak about, purchase and make recommendations on wine with confidence.

Level 2 also showcases how to taste like a professional. It introduces WSET’s famous Systematic Approach to Tasting, which creates an even playing field to compare and contrast all wines.  During the 8 segments of the Level 2 course over 45 wines are tasted.

Level 2 delivers students enough knowledge to make them savvy wine consumers or assured wine professionals, but not so much as to overwhelm them.  Grape Experience Level 2 classes are interactive and designed to be fun. People work together to figure out how to speak about a wine and creatively convey its attributes.  There are no wrong answers or dumb questions.  Instead, the class is a safe place to formulate new ideas, build better understanding and to network with other people.

The Level 2 course culminates with a one-hour, 50-question multiple choice exam.  The exam tests knowledge learned in a fun, almost game-like way.  I like to say it is sort of like playing “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” except you can’t phone a friend or ask the audience.  What you can do is usually eliminate two of the four answer options.

So who is Level 2 really for?  The answer is just about everyone. If you are thinking of taking a formal wine course or starting the WSET program than Level 2 is for you.  If you are working in wine but want to enhance your knowledge to be better at your job or grow in your career, Level 2 is the place to start.  If you are thinking about starting a career in wine or want to work in regions outside of the US than Level 2 is what you need to begin that process!

Grape Experience has several options available to join a Level 2 course.  All can be found at https://www.grapeexperience.com/wine-and-spirit-school/beginner-wine-courses/

The All New WSET Level 3 Certificate in Wine

The All New WSET Level 3 Certificate in Wine

This August, WSET will launch an all new Level 3 Certificate in Wine, and Grape Experience Wine & Spirit School will be among the first providers to implement the new course.  The new Level 3 is the most dramatic and best revision of this sought after qualification I have ever seen in my 20 years as a student and WSET provider.

Everything about Level 3 is new: the course program, textbook, exam, and even the suggested teaching method.  Gone are the days of the old WSET Advanced Certificate with its black and white books and formal lectures.  The new Level 3 is more relevant, interactive and designed to allow students to immediately put in place what they learn into their daily lives and work.

WSET Courses

The new Level 3 utilizes the Socratic approach to teaching – a method familiar to people who have attended business or law school.  It is one of my favorite components of this new WSET course.  This approach focuses on giving students questions, not answers, to foster critical thinking. Team engagement and debate drives learning.  Teachers will guide students through material but the onus will be on each class member to explain thoughts, ideas and apply their own knowledge.

Utilizing the Socratic method may scare some WSET providers.  Instead, they may just use the old Level 3 lecture approach and session plans to teach the new course.  I believe this would be selling our students and the program short.  Grape Experience has spent time and resources to attend in person WSET training programs on the new Level 3 and to teach our teachers how to best deliver the new material.

My goal as a provider has always been to put the highest quality course forward, even if it means we make less profit margin. I know first-hand the power a great WSET course has on a student’s enthusiasm and ability to use information learned.  I had that feeling in every WSET course I ever took and I want people who enroll in a Grape Experience WSET course to feel it as well.

The new Level 3 course program spends considerably more time on the natural and human forces at work in the vineyard and winery.  It then drills down at how they manifest themselves in similar wines styles and terroirs.  For example, white, lesser aromatic wines of Burgundy are studied with similar styles from the Loire and Bordeaux.  Rich Mediterranean red wines are also studied together.  The old region by region approach is not lost, it is just reformulated to make more sense and to have more applicable across the board relevance for students.

Support materials for the course have also improved.  There are now 13 short films that students watch online to review the basics of regions.  The text book is more clear, up to date and has considerably more information on viticulture and winemaking.  The study guide is larger and contains some of the best and most useful wine maps I have ever seen.

The exam format remains relatively unchanged but with greater onus on the student to explain and apply key production and style drivers.  The tasting component no longer requires students to identify a specific wine and price, but rather focuses on the style of the wine.  I believe preparing for this exam will help make those students who want to go on to Diploma more successful.

Grape Experience is excited to launch the new Level 3 starting August 8 in Napa and August 9 in San Francisco.  Boston will begin on September 26.  Classes will meet one night a week for 16 weeks.  We feel this format gives students more time to live with and learn the material – rather than cramming the course into 4 weekend days.  It also makes preparing for class participation more focused and less daunting.

If you have never taken WSET Level 3 now is the perfect time.  If you already have the certificate I hope you will encourage your friends and colleagues to take the course.  Information can be found at:

https://www.grapeexperience.com/wine-and-spirit-school/wset-diploma-program/

The people at WSET who spent so much heart, soul and time working to build the new Level 3 deserve credit and appreciation.  Your efforts show in a job well done!

Two Spanish Standouts

Spain continues to soar in the wine world. The country now claims to be the largest wine producer in the world, and the styles and quality of wines from Spain continue to grow. Modern viticulture and winemaking techniques are changing sleepy small ancient regions into modern superstars.

Two producers I recently tasted show the uniqueness, quality and value of Spanish wine. Txomin Etxaniz is a producer I return to time and again, never to be disappointed. Gotim Bru by Castell del Remei is a red wine that at delivers huge taste at an under $15 price. Both of these wines come from two of Spain’s smallest regions and show modern viticulture at its best.

Txomin Etxaniz is from the smallest DO in Spain, Getariako Txakolina. This tiny region in Spain’s Basque region on the northern Atlantic coast plants the indigenous vines Hondarrabi Zuri (white) and Handarrabi Beltza (red).

Txomin Etxaniz has been making wines since 1649. Their vineyards are on chalky terraced soils that overlook the Atlantic. The winery creates white and rosé wines that are light, yet full of character. Txomin Etxaniz white is a perfect seafood wine – which dominates the cuisine of the area. It is crisp and minerally, but with definite notes of citrus – lemon and a hint lime – as well as green apple and grassy notes.

Txomin Etxaniz rosé is bright and packed with light red fruit flavor – cherry, raspberry and plum. It too has the chalky crisp mineral notes. The wine rivals some of the best rosés of the Rhone valley and Provence and offers the taste of summer in a glass.

Gotim Bru is a wine my brother introduced me too as one of the best value wines he has ever tasted. This wine comes from the DO Costers del Segre in Catalonia. The producer dates to 1780 and was started by Bordeaux families who introduced Cabernet Sauvignon to the region.

Gotim Bru is a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The sunlight and granite soils of the region mark the wine with a dense fruit quality – fresh and dried cherry, strawberry and current notes. Carefully utilized French and American oak add flavors of chocolate, toffee and smoke to the wine. Gotim Bru just can’t be beat for its layered quality, and Spanish elegance.

Great Unexpected Gavi

I’m always looking for something new to serve at a summer party. There is only so much Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc I can take. This 4th of July I thought why not Gavi? This Italian white wine is light and has the crispness, and lemony, slightly grassy flavors that go so well with summer foods.

The wine worked! People initially thought Gavi was a brand of Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. When they realized it was actually a unique wine from an Italian region in Piedmont made from the Cortese grape they were pleasantly surprised. This revelation was a conversation starter – trips to Italy, Italian food and, more importantly to me, how many people are looking for something new to drink.

A disclaimer: if you are looking for an under $10 wine, Gavi will not be it. But, if you are willing to spend a little more than this is a wine worth trying. Most Gavis start at $10 and can go as high as $25. Three I have recently tried are described

Batasiolo Gavi DOCG is a wine that defines balance. Ripe Meyer lemon and lively acidity sit together on a light, yet slightly creamy body. The wine is easy to sip and in particular compliments cold seafood especially well.

Cristina Ascheri Gavi DOCG has a freshness and elegance that is a hallmark of all of Ascheri’s wines. This Gavi is subtle and lingers with its lemon, herb and mineral flavors over a long finish. It is great with creamy cheeses and fish.

Araldica La Luciana Gavi DOCG also has that strong mineral backbone along with a slightly lemon lime flavor and tartness. This is another versatile wine that pairs well with almost any food.