Some people get headaches from wine, red in particular, and it has become a generally accepted theory that sulfites are the cause. But scientific research says differently. The headaches are real, but sulfites may not be to blame.
It just doesn’t seem right that wine should cause suffering. But it is a fact that some people do experience an unpleasant reaction to red wine. The most common complaint has even earned its own acronym – RWH – Red Wine Headaches. Most RWHers will say they are allergic to sulfites. However, research does not entirely support this. According to the medical community, sulfites can cause many other reactions, but usually not headaches. And the fact that some white wines (and a lot of our food products) contain more sulfites than red wines, indicates there may be something else at work.
Sulfites are used as a preservative in wine and many food products. (See Sulfites Purify and Preserve Wine…) They are also a natural derivative of the fermentation process. People who are allergic will most likely experience sneezing, tightness in the throat, and difficulty breathing but a direct correlation to headaches has not been found.
So what else could cause RWH? There are several theories, some are based in the physical properties of red wine and some are lifestyle issues.
- Bio-amines are formed when wine goes through malolactic fermentation, a process that converts tart-tasting malic acid into soft-tasting lactic acid. This process is mostly used in red wines and just a few whites. And it is not used when making wine from wine kits. Bio – amines such as histamine are known to cause headaches. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malolactic_fermentation).
– Tannins are a chemical substance that comes from the grape seeds, skins and stems that red wine is fermented on. They also can be present in oak and other types of wood used in barrels that store wine. Tannins help prevent oxidation and facilitate the aging of a red wine. Experiments show that tannins also release serotonin, which, at a high enough level, can cause headaches.
- Tyramine is produced during the aging or fermenting of food. Research indicates that it may cause dilation and contraction of blood vessels resulting in a headache.
– Too much or too little – The last theory has to do with how we drink wine. Regardless of wine color, amount of sulfites, tannins, etc., and potential allergies, drinking too much wine will give you a headache. In line with this, some claim that the reason Europeans or Americans traveling in Europe don’t get RWH is that they drink their wine slowly over the course of a hearty delicious meal, minimizing or eliminating the adverse affects of drinking red wine too fast and with too little food in your stomach.
There is a wealth of information regarding sulfites and wine headaches on the Internet. You also can do some experimenting yourself with different wines. If you do have reactions, it may not be to all wine and there are plenty of different varieties and options. Find the ones that work for you and stick with them or take your cue from the Europeans and linger over a great glass of red wine and a good healthy meal. Who, knows? You may be able to say arrivederci, au revoir and good riddance to your RWH.
Check out these sites to learn more:
May 4th, 2012 by eileen in interesting facts
The California Wine Industry may have John Smith to thank for failing at the very first attempt to produce wine in the US. He happened to be in the wrong place – Virginia (bad conditions) – at the wrong time – 1607 (no technology.) A bit further west existed the perfect climate, terrain and conditions for making great wine. (more…)
April 14th, 2011 by jenn in interesting facts
Red wines account for 55 percent of all wine sales in US restaurants.
In honor of the upcoming Labor Day holiday, I would like to introduce (or re-introduce, for those of you already familiar) a few American grape varieties and the types of wines they make. (more…)
Ah, spring. ‘Tis the season to roll up your sleeves and start gardening – plant those petunias, prep your tomato posts, and perhaps begin on that compost pile you’ve been thinking about. A handy tip, for those who love a glass of cool wine after spending time in the hot sun: you can recycle natural corks in your own backyard. (more…)
April 28th, 2009 by robin in interesting facts
Today, April 28th, is Denim Day. The purpose of the day is twofold: to increase awareness and knowledge about sexual violence in Warren County, NJ and to raise funds for the Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault Crisis Center. (more…)
Many people who visit our wine making shops say they themselves or someone they know suffer from headaches after drinking red wine and they ask us why. We did some research on red wine headache and found there are several different explanations as to why people are affected differently. (more…)
Most winemaking kit suppliers contract grape purchases from growers by specifying conditions at harvest (acid, pH, brix, and color along with organoleptic qualities flavor and aroma). Specifying harvest conditions enables our suppliers to create consistent high-quality wine kits. When the grapes are ripe they are harvested and taken to a winery, where they are sulfited and crushed.
The sweetness of a wine is defined by the level of residual sugar in the final wine after the fermentation process has ceased. However, how sweet the wine will actually taste is also controlled by factors such as the acidity and alcohol levels, the amount of tannin present, and whether the wine is sparkling. A sweet wine can actually taste dry due to the high level of acidity, or a dry wine can taste sweet if the alcohol level is elevated.
Young wines taste sweeter than aged wines. The powerful bouquet of fruit in young wines causes your sense of smell to overpower your sense of taste, and tricks your senses to believe the wine tastes sweeter than it is. People who don’t like the dry tannic taste of heavily oaked red wines often like the taste of lightly oaked young red wine.
Several methods have been used throughout history to sweeten wine. The most common way to sweeten wine was to harvest the grapes as late as possible. This method is used today to create “ice wines”, and was first advocated in Roman times. Early Greeks would harvest the grapes early, to preserve some of their acidity, and then leave the grapes in the sun for a few days to shrivel and concentrate the sugars.
Stopping the fermentation early also enhances a wine’s potential sweetness, but is very difficult to do. Wine can also be sweetened by the addition of sugar in some form after the fermentation has completed.
The temperature at which wines are served can greatly alter the flavors and aromas you will experience, and it is worth spending a few moments thinking about it. Store all wines in a cool dark place free from dramatic temperature changes. It is also important to not store wine in direct sunlight.
The term “room temperature” refers to rooms in Europe at a time when rooms were about 60°. The old adage of serving white wines chilled and red wines at room temperature is practical, although not nearly detailed enough.
Household refrigerators often have internal temperatures of approximately 39°F and are far too cold for most white wines. Dry white wines are best served at a temperature between 46°F and 50°. The ideal serving temperature for many fine red wines ranges from 57°F to 65°F.