Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Not tonight, dear…I'm Having Chardonnay

Just catching up to an article in the National Post last week about a strain of yeast, developed at UBC's Wine Research Centre, that can reduce headaches from wines.

According to the scientist that developed the yeast, about 30% of the world’s population are so sensitive to histamines and other biogenic amines that they develop headaches. These amines are often formed during Malolactic fermentation. (Malolactic fermentation is the conversion of harsh malic acid to smoother lactic acid.) This recently developed strain of yeast – ML01 – produces fewer amines by allowing Malolactic fermentation to occur simultaneously with alcoholic fermentation. (More often, Malolactic fermentation occurs after alcoholic fermentation.)

Governments in Canada, the US, and South Africa have approved the yeast in winemaking. The European Union is next on the approval list.

If you suffer from these headaches, how do you know if a winemaker used ML01?  As the article points out, winemakers are loath to disclose that they are using the yeast since it is genetically modified. But the use of GM, or artificial, yeasts is quite common in winemaking. Me, I prefer wines made with indigenous, or natural, yeasts but I’m fortunate that I don’t suffer from wine headaches. I’m sure my attitude would be different if a headache was waiting for me whenever I drank a wine.

Of course, another way to avoid those headaches is to drink wines that avoid Malolactic fermentation. Which ones are those? At the risk of over-generalization, look for:
  • light red wines that are meant to be drunk young (Beaujolais, Dolcetto),
  • many warm climate wines (which may lack acidity to begin with)
  • most white wines (except Chardonnay), and
  • most inexpensive wines, as Malolactic fermentation adds to the cost of production.
Cheers to the scientists at UBC!

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  1. I read this too. Maybe it's why my mother-in-law has memories of white wine headaches and prefers rich, red wines. Verrrry interesting.

  2. Wouldn't those rich, red wines also give her a headache from MLF? Maybe she's allergic to sulphur?