Labels can tell a lot about wine

June 1, 2009 at 1:01 a.m.
Updated June 2, 2009 at 1:02 a.m.

Q: I enjoy a glass of fine wine, but do not understand everything on the label. I know some wines taste better than others, but I'm not sure if I know why. Can you please give me some information regarding wine and what the wording on the wine label means?

A: Wine is fermented grape juice, though it can be produced from numerous other fruits, herbs, berries and flowers.

All wines must be fermented, which changes sugar into alcohol. Weather plays an enormous role in the quality of the grape. There must be ample hot days to allow an adequate amount of sugar to be produced. If rain occurs and the grapes cannot be harvested on time, the sugar content will be reduced.

Fine wines taste better because oak is the only wood used in the fermentation process and for storage. Red wines stored in oak barrels will develop a richer color and stability, along with a more intense aroma. The variety of oak, how the tree is cut down and how the slats are prepared for the barrel, will all have a direct effect on the final glass of wine.

Wine labels have a few interesting facts on them: Appellation denotes the country or region where the grapes were grown. Terroir describes the soil, climate and exposure, varietal-named for the predominant type of grape used and proprietary-name created and owned by the brand.

About sulfites - in July, 1987, the Food and Drug Administration mandated that all wine labels declare the use of sulfites. Wine producers use sulphur primarily to prevent spoilage from bacteria and oxidation and to improve color. Even if additional sulphur, normally added to wines, was eliminated, sulfur naturally occurs in the fermentation process, therefore it is virtually impossible to list a wine as sulfite free.

Q: I was recently on a trip abroad and tried different teas. Could it be that a tea I tried caused me to have a severe case of diarrhea?

A: There are a number of teas that fall into a toxic category and two in particular can cause diarrhea: Buckthorn and senna teas. Meliot, tonka bean and woodruff teas can cause hemorrhaging.

Comfrey, groundsel, lobelia and sassafras teas can cause liver problems.

Burdock and mandrake teas can block nerve impulses to organs.

Foxglove and oleander teas can cause heart arrhythmias.

Jimsonweed and nutmeg teas can cause hallucinations.

Tea that is sold relating to cures or specific disease processes are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

If you are consuming teas for medicinal purposes, I recommend that you share this information with your physician.

As a footnote: it is not recommended to take iron supplementation with tea as the tea may block your body's ability to absorb the maximum amount available.

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant. E-mail her at This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.



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