We have customers that come in and ask us for wine that will not give them a headache. For whatever reason, they experience headache after drinking red wine. Most people think that sulfites in wine cause these headaches and indeed there are articles floating around on the internet claiming this. We wanted to give our readers and customers some credible information about what may cause wine headaches and how to avoid them.
Sulfites Aren’t Likely To Cause Headaches
Many people blame sulfites for their wine headaches. This however, is likely not the cause of their pain. Only about 1% of the population has sulfite allergy and it is most common in people with asthma. An allergic reaction to sulfite is not usually associated with headaches but more commonly with respiratory symptoms.
Another reason to doubt that sulfites are the cause is because of their prevalence in our food supply in much higher levels than are in red wine. Sulfites are present in wine naturally, but are also added in very small amounts to preserve the wine and keep it from spoiling. Red wine will typically have 50-75 ppm sulfites but can range up to 300 ppm. Wines with lower alcohol or less acid (which tend to taste sweeter), will often need more sulfite added to keep them from spoiling. Compare that to the levels found in some foods. Many foods including french fries, cheese and dried fruit have MUCH higher levels of sulfite from 300 ppm – 3000 ppm. For this reason it is unlikely that sulfites are the cause of wine headaches if someone does not get headaches from eating these kinds of foods.
Wine Contains Histamines & Histamines Cause Inflammation
The cause of red wine headaches may be due to an allergy, just not a sulfite allergy. Histamines are found in nature on many plants and they are the cause of seasonal allergies. Wine, especially red wine, contains histamines. Red wines are more often associated with headaches. This could be because they have higher levels of histamines than white wines. The reason for the higher levels in red wines is primarily from the prolonged skin contact time that red wines have vs white wines. The longer the skin contact time, the more histamines are imparted into the juice. Like with an allergic reaction to seasonal histamines in the air, histamines in wine can cause inflammation that induces a headache.
Dehydration and Alcohol Can Cause Headaches
When alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream it causes blood vessels to expand, which can lead to headache. Dehydration, even mild dehydration, can also cause headaches. Now put the two together and you have a headache waiting to happen.
How To Avoid Headaches When Drinking Wine
If you find that drinking red wine gives you a headache, there a few things you can try.
- Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate! Drink a full glass of water before you start drinking wine. Continue to take sips of water in between sips of wine. A good rule of thumb is to drink a glass of water for every glass of wine. Remember that alcohol has a diuretic effect and will cause the body to excrete water through the urine and will actively be working against you in your quest for hydration.
- Some over the counter medications may help prevent wine headaches such as antihistamines and anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen. However, any medication can have side effects or interactions with other medications that could be even more undesirable than a wine headache. We recommend talking to a doctor before taking any medications to treat or prevent a wine headache.
- Some people find that red wines from European countries don’t give them headaches. The reason why is unknown but something to try if you want to continue drinking reds and nothing else you’ve tried has worked. If you want to go this route, we can help you find a European wine to try.
- Try white wine instead. It may not scratch the same itch but many people find whites don’t give them the headaches that reds do. If you can learn to love whites and they don’t give you a headache then it’s a win-win!
Wine Price and Value
A question we often get here at Old Vine Wine & Spirits is regarding the price of high-end wines. Is there an appreciable difference between the $100 bottle and the $20 bottle of wine? We think so. But the answer for you may be different depending on your taste preferences. Let’s face it, if a wine doesn’t taste good then we aren’t going to think it’s worth the money, especially if we parted with quite a few $ to buy the bottle.
Wine, Art & Science
In my opinion wine is bottled craftsmanship. It’s part art and part science. Higher priced wines cost what they do because a whole lot of care, thought, time and expense goes into each batch. The reward for this meticulous attention to detail is sensorial complexity. By that I mean taste, aroma, texture and physical sensations that layer upon each other. When you taste wine, you experience all these things simultaneously. The more sensory elements that are there to explore, the more interesting and satisfying a wine is to drink (in my opinion). Let’s go over what drives the price of a bottle of wine and let you decide what makes a wine a good value for you.
Drivers Of Wine Pricing
- Fruit Quality– Grapes, like any agricultural product, require a certain set of conditions to grow optimally. Different varietals have different requirements like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay needing a cool climate for optimal ripening, and Cabernet needing a warmer climate and longer ripening period. In addition to climate things like terrior (place/soil), aspect, sunlight exposure and rainfall also impact the grape’s development and ripening. A vineyard that is known to have optimal growing conditions for a certain type of varietal can demand a higher price for the fruit produced because the high quality fruit will produce wines that have more longevity, balance and complexity due to those ideal growing conditions.
- Yield– Availability of the fruit can also play a factor in a wine’s price. Vineyards with less acreage to make wine (like many boutique wineries) and vines that produce lower yields can drive up the price. Some vineyards are owned by the winery and some pay other vineyards for fruit. Sometimes yields are kept low on purpose, to help with optimal ripening of the fruit. With lower yields comes less juice with which to make wine and lower production volumes overall, which drives the price/gallon higher.
- Vineyard Location– Sense of place is important in winemaking. Some very high-end wines are made from fruit grown on mountain slopes. Grapes from these steep mountain slopes are often considered higher in quality because the berries grown in the mountain environment have thicker skins which impart more color and complex flavors into the wine. Lower yields that come with mountain fruit is another reason the cost of the fruit is higher.
- Winemaking choices- There can be big and costly differences in the oak barrels winemakers use (wood type, used vs new, toast level, barrel vs oak staves). New French oak barrels cost anywhere from $1000 – $3000 each. Because oak can soften a wine and add complexity by imparting vanilla and coconut notes, it is often advantageous to use as much new oak as you can afford to age a wine. Time in barrel can also impact cost because they longer you have wine in barrel the more $ is tied up in the aging process that the winery cannot use to make profit.
Individual Preferences and Palate Play a Big Role
All of the above will determine the end cost of the wine. Whether or not you like a wine will depend on your individual palate. You definitely won’t think a $100 bottle is a good value if you hate the way it tastes and want to pour it down the drain. If you haven’t tried many Cabernets over $25, chances are you won’t enjoy the some of the high priced Cabernets. The reason is because a lot of those higher priced Cabs will have more tannin and acid than their lower priced counterparts. Tannin and acid can be a big turnoff for people if their palate hasn’t acclimated to it. It’s best to work your way up in price slowly over time as the tannin and acid profile will usually correlate with the price. The key to finding a higher-priced bottle that you will enjoy is making sure that the wine is made in a style that you enjoy and is in it’s drinking window. This is where your wine stewards at OVW come in handy. 😊
Get $25 Bottles that taste like $50+ Bottles at OVW
Not ready for the $50+ bottles but want to know what those bottles taste like without the hefty price tag? We’ve got you covered! We have made it easy for you to find outstanding wine at a great price. Check out our OVW Fabulous Finds! We have tasted and procured bottles in the $15-$30 range that taste like the more expensive bottles so you can drink fantastic wine any day of the week. Now go enjoy some great wine!