Wine Headaches

Have a Headache Yet?


I wanted to sit down and do a little more studying about the “Red Wine Headache Syndrome” after watching Breakfast Television on City TV in which they aired an episode about Preventing Wine Headaches.  I talk to customers now and again about this subject and  the final verdict of just what causes headaches may surprise you.


When we talk headaches from wine we are not talking about people who suffer from migraines or cluster headaches. We are talking about otherwise headache-free people who drink a glass of wine and are seized by headaches. Many people seem to think that sulfites in wine cause headaches. But scientists and physicians say that’s not true. “Sulfites can cause allergy and asthma symptoms, but they don’t cause headaches,” and “without sulfites a wine has no shelf life”. Add to this, the fact that many white wines contain more sulfites than red wines, yet do not cause headaches.

Other culprits might be histamine and tyramine, other chemical substances that are naturally present in wine. Histamine dilates blood vessels and tyramine first constricts then dilates blood vessels.  Champagnes or sparkling wines usually contain more histamine than white wines.  People who most often have trouble with histamine in wine are those who lack an enzyme. Tyramine, meantime, can cause your blood pressure to rise, and that triggers headaches in some people.  But these same people might get headaches from aged cheeses, smoked or cured meats, and citrus fruits.


Even the wood in which the wines are fermented or aged can make a difference. “Some people are sensitive to the differences in the growing regions. The grape characteristics of the soils that are picked up and translated into the chemical mix in the grape itself.”


Some believe the etiology of the headaches to be tannins, the compounds in wine that come from the skin and seeds. The Harvard Health Letter notes several well-controlled experiments, but could not prove or disprove this.   Additionally, other common foods, such as soy, tea, and chocolate contain tannins, and reported headaches from these foods are rare.

So what does this all mean?


Is it tannins, sulfites, histamines, tyramine, or the food you eat with wine? Another study indicated that it is mood related . . .  how was your day?  were you stressed?  And then another study says it may be the type of alcohol that is being produced.  Whatever the possible reason, there is still no scientific proof as to just what causes the headaches.  It may be some, none  or all of the reasons listed above.  It is sure, that this subject will be with us for a long time and from time to time another study will show up proving or disproving. After all my reading on this subject and talking to experts in the field over the now approaching 15 years I have been in this industry. I still have no answer.  But there are things we can do.


        Do your wine-consuming habits vary?

        Do you drink wine with food or as just an after dinner drink?

        Do you have seasonal pollen allergies? If so, you may be sensitive to "histamines”, which are more concentrated in red wines than whites, so you might try
        switching to whites to see if this brings relief.
        If certain reds do give you a headache, they are likely steeped in oak or high tannins like, Barolo, Cabernet Sauvignon. Try some lighter wines. Instead of
        going to the Bordeaux region of France try the Burgundy region where the wines are softer and have less oak and lower alcohol, such as Bergamais,
        Pinot Noir, and wines mixed with Red Burgundy.

        Keep a food journal to track any onset of headaches that may occur.

        Some people have us lower the amount of sulfites in their wine, all you have to do is request this keeping in mind this lowers the life of the wine.

        Consider changing the type of oak that goes into your wine, we have many to choose from and it is a free service.

        Remember that we have the best Guarantee out there. If the wine you chose is giving you a headache, we will happily accept it back and replace it with
        another you will like. We are very proud of our Guarantee.