Q: Does wine contain methanol?—Jarvis, Weston, Fla.
A: Methanol is the simplest form of alcohol; also known as methyl alcohol or wood alcohol, it is a chemical building block found in everyday products, and consuming it can result in blindness or death. Wine does contain trace amounts of methanol, but far less than is considered dangerous by regulatory agencies.
According to Dr. Andrew Waterhouse, a wine chemist and professor of enology at U.C. Davis, methanol in wine is derived from pectins, a polysaccharide starch found in fruits and vegetables and, in this case, the skin of grapes. But he assures that methanol levels in wine are not dangerous, noting that white wines contain around 50mg/L of methanol, while red wines typically contain less than 100 mg/L. "Reds have more as there is more skin contact in making red wines," Waterhouse told Wine Spectator. "These levels are not at all problematic."
Dr. Waterhouse added that the maximum safe limit is described as 2000mg/L (the European Union limits methanol levels to 250mg/L for whites and 400mg/L for reds). "It would not be possible to consume enough wine at normal levels to approach anything resembling a toxic amount of methanol," he said.—Shawn Zylberberg