chemistry of red wineThis month’s Wired Magazine had an interesting article written by Patrick Di Justo talking about “What’s Inside: Red Wine” and it completely fascinated me.  Many people have told me they are sensitive to the sulfites and insist they need a “sulfite-free” wine or they just simply won’t drink red wine whatsoever.  After reading this article and discovering many more of the chemical compounds red wines are made of, it could be something else these people are reacting to.

All wines have sulfites in them in order to preserve.  These sulfites occur naturally in the wine and some wineries add more or less depending. So, what is in red wine and what are the effects?  Let’s start with Ethanol which is a toxin that confuses our brains into thinking we are invincible and far more superior than we are and most cultures enjoy this magical thinking of being some form of a god. (in our own minds and some people take this to the extreme!)

Ethanol is formed by microorganisms that eat the C6H12O6 (Sugar) and excrete the waste as CH3CH2OH (Ethyl Alcohol).  After overconsumption of ethanol, a hangover develops with symptoms of dry mouth, headache, nausea and light sensitivity. These symptoms are partly due to the toxic acetaldehyde produced from alcohol by alcohol dehydrogenase, and partly due to general dehydration. Wow! Keep it in moderation and don’t forget to hydrate with glasses of water.

Next we enjoy the body of wine or mouth feel which is created from the Glycerol, a syrupy sugar alcohol, a byproduct of ethanol fermentation.  Tannins are the astringent molecules found in grapes and oak from the barrels the wines ferment in.  These phenol groups bind to salivary proteins making your mouth feel dry even when it is full of liquid. Imagine that!  Malvidin 3-glucoside is one of a family of natural pigments known as oenin which puts the red in red wine.  The next chemical gives Cabernet Sauvignon its herbaceous green pepper aromas is 3-Isobutyl-2-Methoxy-Pyrazine.  If the wine is overpowered with these aromas it could mean the grapes did not ripen fully or leaves were mixed into the fermentation tank. Tyramine can cause an over dose of amino acid which can cause migraines.  Tyramine constricts cerebral blood vessels and when they reopen, they cause a throbbing headache! OUCH!. tourist attractions . Skip the cheese but at least nibble on something so you’ll absorb less tyramine. The malic acid which naturally occurs in grapes can give wine a harsh taste so many times wine makers will put the wine through Malolactic fermentation which “softens” the wines and sometimes adds a buttery flavor.  The final chemical compound worthy of discussion is the Resveratrol raved in recent decade as the miracle cure all, cancer fighter, and diabetes tamer! A glass of red wine a day can have health benefits incorporated with a healthy lifestyle and of course, moderation.  Toast one up to these beautiful chemical compositions combined to create the “Nectar of the gods”.