Whenever one thinks about fine dining, you think about wine. Cruising has many opportunities for fine dining or just for drinking wine  – wine cruises, vineyard tours, cocktail lounges, nightclubs, champagne bars … River cruises extol the fact they have complimentary, and often local, wines at lunch and dinner. Some go as far as to serve sparkling wines at breakfast.

So why am I making such a big deal about wine? I don’t drink wine.

My husband loves to have wine with his meal as do many folks. The waiter comes to pour my glass, I inform him/her “no thanks” and sit miserably while everyone at the table is saying “thank you”. It’s the same at cocktail receptions. All the attendees are wandering with a wine or champagne glass in hand, a few with cocktails, while I stand nursing a glass of cola. And to be offered the welcome aboard glass of champagne on a cruise, well, it’s heartbreaking.

Why don’t I drink wine?

No, I am not a recovering alcoholic.

No, it is not against my religious beliefs.

No, it is not the caloric content (whatever that may be).

No, it is not that I dislike the taste, quite the contrary.

It is a little devil called sulphites.

When younger I could drink both red and white (and as a university student the cheaper the better). As I grew older, red wine slipped off the wine list but white and champagnes were still a go. About ten years ago, after rounds of chemo, my body decided that sulphites were a poison just like the chemical concoctions I had received during treatment. It was a few years before I realized it was something I was eating that was making me sick ( it’s not a like a bad hangover, it’s the “day after chemo” sick including the weird headache which also involves your nose), and quite a while after that before it was deduced to be sulphites. I shall forever be thankful to a bar tender boyfriend of my daughter who suggested this additive might be the culprit.

Sulphites are a preservative, and also used sometimes to add a shine to chocolate. They lurk everywhere in our food – in lemon juice, pickles, packaged and prepared meals, and some chocolate. One becomes an avid reader of labels but even that does not keep you safe. Eating out is a nightmare as menus are full of entrees with lemon or wine sauces, etc. Over half of desserts contain chocolate. (Hold the chocolate drizzle please!) Salads are often sprayed to be kept fresh (though I believe this practise has been outlawed in the U.S. at least because of sulphites). At first I tried using a divining pendulum but it difficult to use that surreptitiously – image seeing someone doing that over their menu or over their plate of food! So now I eat and drink only that which is ultra safe – no grey areas – but wonder why it also seems to be all the fattening choices?

My body’s aversion to sulphites is apparently not an allergy: it is a food “sensitivity”. (Since when are additives one of the food groups in Canada’s Food Guide?) Sensitivity is a sissy word anyway to describe the effects of ingesting sulphites. A “food intolerance” is a much stronger fit if one cannot use the word “allergy”. You cannot be tested for it unless one is hospitalized and undergoes controlled eating tests. Ingesting it on purpose is not my idea of fun even in a hospital.

Invariably people ask, “Can’t you get sulphite free wine?” Supposedly. But then grapes produce natural sulphites; hence I cannot even eat raisins as a snack. Cocktails become a minefield as well due to lemon, lime and other tropical juices, and the ingredients vary from restaurant/bar so you have to have a good memory to remember that your pina colada was okay here but not so okay there. I hate to lose a day of living, versus wishing for the opposite, especially on vacation.

Yes there are worse maladies and my apologies if you are so inflicted and my rant sounds trivial. My daughter-in-law goes into anaphylactic shock if she has contact with someone who has been previously near a cooked lobster which, if you live where lobster fishing is one of the main industries, can get exciting in the wrong way. So yes there are worse things to have wrong with you. But I miss wine and lemon pie and chocolate bars and …

My beef is not being able to drink and enjoy wine in my old age when I can now afford a decent label. So if ever you are on a cruise, and see an older lady looking very disgruntled when the wine is served and then she picks up her husband’s glass to smell his wine and smile contentedly, say “Hello, Cha Cha!” Because that would be me.