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Red Wine and Headaches

December 4, 2015 – It’s the most frequently voiced complaint – “Red wine gives me a headache.”  Some ask why.  Others declare it is the tannins or the sulfites.  Either way, it is a shame not to enjoy a glass of red, especially during the Holiday season when so much good food is around to accompany it.  So let’s take a look at the various culprits starting with tannin.

Tannin is found in the skins of red wine grapes, as well as the seeds and stems.  But the skin is the biggest offender since the juice is left in contact with the skins in order to get the deep red color.  When the juice doesn’t have skin contact, even red grapes can produce white wine, White Zinfandel being a great example.  Not all grape skins are equal.  Pinot noir is quite thin skinned while Cabernet Sauvignon has thicker skin.  Tannin is really important in red wine making although sometimes the winemaker gets carried away and for some of us, big, tannic, high alcohol wines are not pleasant.   Try Pinot Noir but if you think tannin is the problem, drink white wine.

Sulfites occur naturally but are also added as a preservative.  If you can drink white wines without a headache, sulfites aren’t the problem as white wines have higher levels than red wine.  There are wines available that do not use sulfites or have very low levels.  By the way, beer, cheese and dried fruits contain more sulfites than wine!

A third suspect is histamines also found in grape skins, particularly red grape skins.  Since white wines are not fermented on the skins, histamines are much lower.  Try taking an antihistamine before drinking red wine and see if it helps, especially if you already suffer from allergies.

Cheap wine is a frequent headache causer.  There’s far less attention to separating the stems and seeds and lower quality grapes are used.  So keep off the plonk!

Drinking water may help.  In fact, staggering water with whatever wine or other alcohol you are drinking will save you from dehydration and you’ll wake up the next morning after the party feeling a whole lot better.