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Chardonnay Problems

I’ve read your response to the question about an allergy to Chardonnay. While your answer regarding conditioning reflex or consumption might fit other peoples situation, it is not mine. It takes only 1-2 sips to give me a headache and feeling unwell. This happens even when I don’t know that I’m drinking a Chardonnay and, in a couple of cases, when someone’s lied about what they’re serving to test the theory that my preconception was the problem. It is not a problem with oak as I regularly drink other whites and reds with no headache. I also cannot drink any sweet wines but I don’t think Chardonnay shares the same sugar levels This is a mystery I’ve not been able to solve over the years even talking with Chardonnay wine makers. I’d love to know what it is that makes them undrinkable. Thank you
Answer From Expert Roger Bohmrich MW

This is indeed a mystery. There must be something unique to Chardonnay for a drinker to experience a negative physical reaction from this one variety and not any others. It could in fact be the opposite: someone senses a uniquely positive, pleasurable effect from Chardonnay. Could it be something embedded in the DNA of Chardonnay but no other variety? But then, that should be identifiable in the chemical composition of the wine itself for it to have an effect on a drinker. With limited exceptions, Chardonnay contains only negligible unfermented sugars, so that's not the explanation (even if some popularly priced brands may employ juice concentrate).
If we consider how Chardonnay is cultivated in the vineyard or the wine production techniques, or the processing aids and possible additives, this too is a dead end. Many other grape varieties go through similar or the same handling in the vineyard and cellar, in many cases side-by-side with other varieties. Sulfites would not the cause as they are present in nearly all wines from every variety all around the world even if not added (and merely a tiny fraction of drinkers, far less than 1%, are truly allergic).
For all these reasons, I'm not surprised winemakers have not been able to give you an answer. It also seems there isn't any science-based research addressing the "Chardonnay problem" online. The only thing I can suggest is that you take your question to an allergist and see if they can run tests on your response to wines from this and other varieties. If you come across information to solve the mystery, please post it on the Q&A forum as I certainly will be very interested.

About Our Expert

Roger has enjoyed a lengthy career in the wine trade as an importer and retailer, and at present he is an educator, speaker and consultant. He set up and managed Millesima USA, a New York merchant affiliated with a leading European company. Previously, he served as senior executive of importers Frederick Wildman & Sons. In recent years, Roger has judged wine competitions in Argentina, Turkey, Portugal, China and the U.S. Roger is one of America's first Masters of Wine.

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