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How to Avoid the Red Wine Headache

I met Megan Harper by chance a while ago. We passed chit chat as you do and the conversation got around to what we did for a living. When she found out I was a wine merchant she asked me “Can you tell me why I cannot drink red wine? I do not have to drink much less than half a glass and it brings on a terrible migraine, it really cheeses me off because I enjoy it!”

Megan is a very fit 27 year old who is not on any medication, has never used drugs of any description and rides horses for a living. Where she works it is a very busy stable where they back young race horses (rather her than me), take horses on the gallops every day and trains race horses and point to pointers. She also is a very competent event rider. I tell you this young lady has guts. Have you seen the jumps on a cross country course?

When I went down to her yard she was exercising a jumping pony whose sire was an Olympic champion some years ago. I thought it was more like a gazelle than a pony it jumped so high. It’s for sale if you are interested at a “good price” she says at £10000. Sounds a lot to me but I know nothing of our four legged friends.

Having been asked about her reaction to red wine I asked her if she would be prepared to be a ‘guinea pig’ and help me prove a theory I have tried on many others before? She agreed so I offered her six bottles of red wine from our range off this site (Prince du Prieur, Brissonet, Graves de Barrau, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Marquis de Perissac) to drink and call me if she had any adverse effects after drinking them . She drank all six bottles over a period of time and hey ho she had no reaction! Fantastic she said I can drink red wine perhaps I just had a few ‘dodgy bottles’. I then offered her two bottles of known branded New World red wines from the local supermarket and hey presto the migraines returned!

Red Wine Headache (RWH) was first sited in 1981 by Dr. Herbert Kaufman, MD, in the British medical journal Lancet. There have been many articles on the subject and many theories as to what is the culprit within the wine that causes it. Check out my Blogs Why Do Some Wines Give Us Headaches? and What’s In Your Wine?

Sulphites have been mooted as the possible cause of the headaches but they are not to blame unless you are one of the unlucky few who has an allergy to them. If you think sulphites are causing your headache, try eating some dried apricots, and see if that induces a headache. These dried fruits are rich in them and I have never heard of anyone getting a headache from eating an apricot!

Biogenic amines are another popular theory. However amines like tyramine and histamine occur naturally in many aged, pickled, smoked or marinated meats (fish, poultry, pork and beef), fermented foods such as most cheeses, yoghurt, soy sauce, sauerkraut, chocolate and interestingly are also found in avocados, bananas, aubergines, figs, raspberries, peanuts, brazil nuts, and coconuts. Researchers at University of California, Berkeley, working with NASA funded technology designed to look for chemical signs of extra terrestrial life on Mars have created a device they say can easily detect amines. Engineers are working to shrink the detecting device to the size of a PDA so that users can easily carry it to analyze the amine content in their food and drink.

Some have suspected tannins, but tea, soy and chocolate have tannins and don’t seem to be an issue. Many people have noticed that they don’t get the headaches if they drink Old World wines compared to those made in the New World. So much New World wine is over-extracted and many new world producers leave the grapes on the vine until they are so ripe that they need to have alcohol removed before bottling. Cheap wine also seems to be a culprit – mass produced wines made in bulk often using quick fixes to solve the fermentation and maturation processes. An example of this is adding oak pellets made from sawdust hung inside the tank in cheesecloth (sometimes known as tea-bagging in the trade) to give an oakiness to the wine without letting it spend time in oak barrels. (This is illegal in most of Europe).

Therefore my answer to Meg’s problem or anyone else who suffers similar effects, even slightly groggy in the morning after a couple of glasses of red wine, is to drink wines from the old world France, Italy or Spain. Should you follow this advice you may, like Meg may find a new lease of life and start enjoying something you thought you had to give up for the sake of not getting headaches or worse migraines. Try it and see if it works for you! I would really be interested to hear from you. However please bear in mind we all get headaches through over indulgence and they are called hangovers! Everything in moderation – happy drinking!

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83 Responses to How to Avoid the Red Wine Headache

  1. pfiekowsky says:

    I, like Meg, am a serious wine-headache sufferer. A doctor gave me your suggestion for European wines, and my wife and friends have done a lot of research on me now (much of it like this: Me: "I have a headache this morning." Her: "Oh my god. I put a quarter cup of vermouth in the stir-fry last night. It was from California. I am so sorry!"

    Conclusion:
    US wine: I've never found any that did not cause a headache–red or white.
    European: I've never had a headache from one, red or white.
    Australian: have given me headaches 2 out of 2 times
    New Zealand, South America–no problems. I'm not sure about Argentina yet–seems okay–more testing needed.

    I live in California, so I've tried almost everything here. Samples of Washington and Oregon all gave me headaches. I'm not testing any more US wines. Sorry.

    My friend (wine editor at Sunset magazine) would love to do an article on this–if we can get something real to talk about.

    • AJ says:

      Hi,
      Its weird that i am replying to ur comment so late, bt i gotta headache now and its unbearable..have done research but no help..do u have any solution on the red wine headache?
      thanks :)

      • EH says:

        Hi AJ,
        Hope your headache has resolved by now. I have one now, from a Fleurie (France). Almost guaranteed to get a headache from the French. I have the best experience with red Italian wines. Or whites from New Zealand.

        • Nick says:

          Thanks for your comment EH :-) It’s thought that white wines don’t generate as many headaches as they don’t have as much tannin in as the reds. Hope your headache gets better soon

          Cheers

          Nick

      • aussie guy says:

        Free sulfites in wine are one of the culprits in wine that give a certain % of the population problems like headaches, stuffy nose,itching, stomach pains. German study also mentions proteins and tannins. A product called “SO2GO”-winemaker developed and ingredients affirmed by FDA as safe for use in wine without changing taste has helped many people and helped me with reaction. I also have a problem with basalmic vinegars. Product is from Australia but sold in US.

        • Nick says:

          Thanks for the heads up :-) I’ll look into this and see what I can find out about SO2GO!

          Cheers

          Nick

  2. ds says:

    Thanks for your ideas. I have been getting headaches recently for the first time, and I'm trying to figure out why.

    I have been reading that one of the differences between Old World & New World wines may be the type of oak barrels that are used. However, I am from Tennessee and a big fan of whiskey. And I've never had these issues with whiskey, which is also aged in oak barrels.

    I don't have anything to add, just an additional thought. Take care.

  3. Amy says:

    This information is great. I love wine! But, I feel wimpy when friends offer me a glass of red. I have to decline and say "I can only drink white." It's so limiting. I love the taste, but know that half-way through the glass, I will begin feeling ill. Totally ruins my night out. Plus, I will suffer with the headache nausea for up to 2 days. I am also one of those people that don't have any issues with any of the hard liquors… right here in the heart of bourbon country.
    So, I look forward to trying the Old World wines… I hope that this theory holds true for me as well. Are there any labels in particular that anyone is willing to recommend? I'm here in Mid-America would like a safe place to start.

  4. pfiekowsky says:

    Amy-Any Italian, French or Spanish wine is worth a try. A Spanish Rioja or an Italian Chianti might be easy to find, and very pleasant to drink. Those are my favorites. Tell us what happens!

  5. Nick says:

    Hi Amy,

    Thanks for your comments – they are much appreciated! I'm sorry to hear that you suffer from drinking red wines – it's a topic that many people contact me on. Here in the UK I can introduce them to fine reds that they can really enjoy. However as you are in the States I'd agree with pfiekowsky on his recommendation of French/Italian and Spanish wines.

    I'd suggest you look for wines from smaller wineries that give you some background on the label on the back of the bottle as to what grape varieties they are made from, whereabouts the winery is and what the terroir (soil, climate) is like. You can then start to build up an idea of what Old World wine suits you. Also try Googling the wines I recommend in my blogs to see if there is a supplier local to you – some of them have importers in the US!

    Cheers

    Nick

  6. Nick says:

    Nick

    Hi pfiekowsky

    I quite agree with you! You are absolutely spot on re Old World/New World wines and I too would love some sort of investigation into the facts. I did think of running a Survey but I think the real answer lies in the labelling of wines. If wines were treated as a foodstuff then all the contents would have to be displayed – which I think would make interesting reading in some of the New World ones – and also those that are bulk produced. However getting any sort of mutually agreed labelling law over the globe is an impossible task!

    Cheers

    Nick

  7. Amy says:

    I've put them on my shopping list, and will begin my search this week. Truly looking forward to trying this experiment, but not without a bit of trepidation. I will check back and keep you posted.
    Many thanks to all!
    Amy

  8. pfiekowsky says:

    Nick–Thanks. I have found, over about 4 years, that ANY wine from Europe or South America is headache-free. As a scientist (a physicist) I'm clear I don't know what causes the headaches. Improved labeling is premature for that reason–we need to know what to put on the label first.

    I'm confident that wineries will support something–once we have something that's got real evidence behind it.

    For years people pointed to sulfites. Its ineffectiveness lead to a widespread sense of hopelessness around this issue.

    My wine-editor friend at Sunset magazine is still interested in helping pursue this-if we come up with a plan. She could easily get support from her friends at the dozens and hundreds of wineries here in Northern California.

  9. pfiekowsky says:

    Nick–another resource we have here is UC Davis (University of California at Davis) which has a very good wine program, and would also surely be interested–if we helped give direction.

    Are you and others interested in organizing some research?

  10. Nick says:

    Good luck Amy and look forward to hearing how you get on

    Cheers

    Nick

  11. Amy says:

    A success! Never realized the limited selection that I would have, but did find a few to try (none of which were in your recommendations, unfortunately.) I was pleased with a "Marques de Caceres Crianza" from Spain. Shared it with a friend last evening with no ill effects. Amazing! Purchased a French Pinot Noir & Bordeaux to try within the next week. There were quite a few more available from South America. I'll venture that direction later if all goes well with what I have.
    By the way, I've enjoyed the rest of your blog after Googling the headache issue. Enjoying the history and education. Will share it with a friend in Romania. Just disappointed to know that I could have tried the wines that he had wanted me to while I was there, but didn't- fearing the headache. I probably would have been fine! Oh well….
    Hoping to keep in touch!
    Cheers to you!
    Amy

  12. pfiekowsky says:

    Amy,
    That's wonderful to hear! The Crianza is one of my favorites too. I hope that was the start of a delightful evening for you :-)
    I had dinner last night with my friend from Sunset Magazine, 5 of us…Actually 4 of them…were tasting various California and Washington Merlots for a piece she's writing. She provided me with an Italian Cacera (if I recall correctly) while they discussed the various Merlots. I was envious–I was a big fan of Merlots before I realized the cost (headaches). But it was nice to have a rich wine of my own–and they appreciated not leaving me out.

    By the way, they were unanimous that the Ethos Merlot was the big winner. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

  13. Το μαύρο άλογο says:

    Hello,

    I've followed with much interest your discussion on red wine headache (after a glass). I usually do not suffer from such an ailment but twice in the past five years. The first time, in 2006, I blamed it on the sulphites (or is it sulfites)… but then I discovered that most wines not only had sulphites but even aposed a sticker informing us of the deed. The second time was a few hours ago. Both wines were french, both had sulphites but again I don't think they're the culprits. So Old vs New World doesn't quite hold the road. There must be other elements which affect red wine which have not been taken into account just yet.
    Remember that just in a drink called 'coffee' there are more than 700 elements unaccounted for and we seem only to care about cafeine.

    Y.T.

  14. carolegoodman says:

    Hi

    I'm thoroughly confused now. I only drink French Merlots or Spanish Riojas, flavours I know I can trust (too cowardly to go to the New World wines), but I suffer headaches every morning after 2-3 glasses. My worry is: what damage, if any, is being done to my brain cells – is the pain the result of some sort of constriction? Pain is the body's way of saying something is wrong.

    I have a sneaking suspicion it's all to do with value, as some of your blog indicates, since I tend to only buy from supermarkets

    I'd love to have your comments.

    CeeGee

  15. pfiekowsky says:

    CeeGee,
    Interesting!
    I normally only have one glass, although at a Christmas dinner last week I had 2-3, and woke up at 4am with a headache starting. I drank about 12 oz of tea, and my head felt all better in an hour. I was worried that my wine formula was failing, and then remembered advice from many people: drink 2x more water than wine…

    I take weak green tea because I drink it more easily than water.

    Tell us if that works for you!
    Peter

  16. carolegoodman says:

    Only 1 glass? How do you do it? I am a serious tea drinker and get through 6-7 mugs of 'breakfast' tea with milk a day, and certainly my headache does disappear early in the morning, but my worry is – why does the headache happen in the first place? Medical guidelines indicate that daily moderate red wine intake (2-3 glasses a day) has beneficial properties, so why the headache?

    I am certainly going to take your water advice and get through more than usual. That has to be good advice.

    Thank you.

  17. Susan Oya Öner says:

    this has been a very interesting thread indeed! i feel the need to chime in though because while the new/old world thing may work for some, it doesn't seem to be the case with me. i can drink most california red wines (lived in SF for many years), and i can drink turkish red wines (i'm turkish), but many french and italian wines hurt my head. i also noticed that once i moved to ireland, the wines i tried (mostly european and southern hemisphere) made me feel much worse than ones i'd had in the US.

    some friends have suggested preservatives as the culprit – wines having traveled far being full of them. i've also had conversations with some who think the southern hemisphere is the problem. either way, wines from australia seem to bother me. as well as chile, argentina, etc. so i think there might be something to that.

    anyways, thanks for the good information and good luck to all of you who suffer the "i'm sorry, i can only drink white wine" curse.

  18. pfiekowsky says:

    Susan- Thank you for that post. It really adds to the discussion. Keep us informed as you learn more.

    As I mentioned, I have learned to drink lots of water or tea. Last week I had been drinking an Australian wine our host got for me, and then I had one sip of a unique California Merlot and 10 minutes later started feeling a headache (was it my imagination?). I drank a glass of water, and my head was fine in another 20 minutes.

  19. Nick says:

    Hello everyone, apologies for not being in touch but we have had a series of calamities to contend with (a house fire followed by me breaking my shoulder!).

    I have had the idea of doing a survey amongst our customers on my wine sites to see whether they experience any headaches with red wine – and if so, which wines. I will post the results once they are in and any suggestions they make!

    I am wondering if yeasts are part of the problem and am doing some research into this. A lot of vineyards that produce wine in bulk for fast consumption use manufactured yeasts rather than those found naturally in the vineyard. Different yeasts can – apparently – give different flavourings to wines. what do you think?

    Cheers

    Nick

  20. pfiekowsky says:

    Nick-
    Brilliant ideas! Yeast is the most likely culprit I have heard of. Ask for any help you need regarding the study! My friend who is wine editor at Sunset Magazine could probably get cooperation from any west coast wineries you need.

    Peter

  21. Greg says:

    Great Blog,
    Pesticides and Fungisides seem to be the reason for my headaches, but I'm not yet certain. About 6 years ago I started getting headaches from wines that had never given me trouble previously. Most of the wines were from the US or Australia.

    I can take one sip of a wine now and know within 20 seconds if it will give me a headache. I'll get a tiny bit of one in my temples.

    A few years ago a local shop owner suggested wines from arid (dry) regions because they do not need to use peticides or fungisides. Since then I have with very few exceptions never had a a problem with wines from South America, Washington State or Spain. On your suggestions I will try more "Old World" selections.

    I used to drink Scotch too, but now a tiny sip and I will feel the pain. I have also worked on this and it seems to be related to fusel oils. If the spirit is distilled past 170 proof the fusel oils dissapear. Many distillers go to this level of even higher before diluting with water and flavoring with wood or whatever and I can drink these products with no problems.

    Looking forward to more info from this blog about yeast. On a related note, I brew beer and have never had a headache from any homebrew (mine or friends), but some bought beers will do it. Sadly the possiblilities for headache creating issues in beer are vast. It could be related to the temp of fermentation, oxidation after lag phase of fermentation or the yeast itself. Or, of course, the water or additives.

    Still experimenting,
    Cheers

  22. pfiekowsky says:

    New results here: Drinking lots of water with or after the wine allows me to drink the California wines with NO HEADACHE!

    So the current theory is that the higher alcohol content in US wines may be the difference. In any case, everyone, please do the experiment and report to us.

    Details:
    Amount of water: One, maybe two cups per glass of wine (I haven't tested the limit)

    I retested old-world and new-world one more time, and I didn't need the water on a French wine, but the next day I did need it on the CA wine.

    I've been headache-free since we did the experiment in November–Hooray!!!

    Greg–thank you for your comments.

    • AJ says:

      Thanks a lot for the solution of drinking water while having wine. but i m a late person, i didnt knew this, came searching for solution on headache after having couple of glasses of Red wine (US), do you have a solution on it post-drinking red wine? this headache is killing me..

      • Nick says:

        Hi A J – sorry to hear that you are suffering from such a bad headache after drinking red wine. As I am not medically qualified I am not able to suggest a cure in the form of painkillers etc. Personally I would try drinking plenty of water – eating a banana and drinking sweet tea have also been known to help? In future you will need to watch what kind of red wines you drink to try and avoid getting a headache like this again. Do you get a headache from drinking white wine as well?

        Hope you feel better soon

        Nick

  23. Nick says:

    Thanks for your comments Greg and pfiekowsky. I thought you might like to know that I spotted this article in the Independent recently on wine headaches: http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/food-drink/katherine-donnelly-wine-without-the-headache-2506627.html.

    The study found that compounds known as glycoproteins, formed during the fermentation process, are likely causes.

    Interesting!

    Cheers

    Nick

  24. pfiekowsky says:

    Nick- Thanks. That article is about allergies (whose symptoms can include headaches). I don't get any allergy stuffiness–just a headache.

    Like Greg, I can often feel it coming on in my temples. And now I can head it off with a few glasses of water.
    Peter

  25. Nick says:

    Hi Peter,

    Quite a few people tell me that after drinking wine they follow it up with a pint of water to stave off the headache – I'm pleased it works for you.

    I wonder what the water does – dilute the wine and help it to pass more quickly through the body? If anyone has any ideas on this I'd be glad to hear about them!

    Cheers

    Nick

  26. Ella says:

    I've had some success with drinking organic wines (even New World). Someone told me it could be the pesticides or just that organic wines are often processed less. (not sure what that means) But I haven't found any organics that I love the taste of.

    But as I sit here with a close to migraine headache after having a non-organic California Cab last night I'd love to learn some specifics! I love having a glass or two of wine while I cook dinner but it's just not worth this pain.

  27. pfiekowsky says:

    Ella-Tell us if a couple glasses of water help next time

  28. Nick says:

    Hi Ella,

    Thanks for your comment – it's a real shame that these headaches are hampering your enjoyment of wine. You make an interesting point re organic wines. I have spotted some recent news on yeasts and will be publishing it on my blog tomorrow – it's claimed that a new yeast will stop the red wine headache.

    I think Peter's advice is great and if you do find that the water helps please let us know :-)

    Hi Peter,

    Many thanks for your input and help with this! Please have a look at my blog tomorrow and see what you think of this news re a new yeast that is headache free!

    Cheers

    Nick

  29. Shaunna says:

    I'm so glad to come across this post!! I've suffered from migraines (with auras every time) since 1996. I first tried red wine in 2005 (don't recall the type, but I did enjoy it). I had only one glass before the migraine set in. I stayed away from reds until 2007 when I was in Bosnia and sampled some Sangria. One drink (a sip, not a glass!) was all it took to induce a minor migraine. Last summer on a winery tour a spoke with the owner about my problem and he mentioned something along the same lines as your post. I will certainly give the reds you mentioned a try, as I love the taste of red wine and would love to be able to stop saying, "white only please"! I'll let you know what I discover.

    • April says:

      I am a migraine sufferer for 20 + years. I see a neurogidt for them. I have found that even if I drink white or red wines, the next day (halfway through the next day) I develop a severe migraine. I prefer white wines, but hate how I feel the next day, sometimes even with just one glass. Any recommendations on some whites that I may be ok with?
      Thanks, April

      • Nick says:

        Hi April, thanks for writing in. I’m sorry you have had such troubling headaches after drinking wines. My recommendations would be to try wines from small production, traditional producers that are around 12 – 12.5% abv. Have you tried Roses or Clairets and do they have the same effect? A lighter style of wine from France might be good (roses from Anjou or Bordeaux – if you can find them, whites from Germany and reds from Beaujolais or Bordeaux might work?). Old World wines are not grown in hot or extreme climates and the grape ripening season is shorter so they won’t be as heavy as full bodied, high alcohol ones from California or Chile etc.

        I hope this helps

        Cheers
        Nick

  30. Nick says:

    Thanks Shaunna! I'd be very interested if you would let us know how you get on with trying old world red wines . . . please come back and tell us your findings! Good luck with avoiding those headaches :-)

    Cheers

    Nick

  31. Anonymous says:

    Seems like you may have solved a mystery for me. I switched over to red wine in November and found a cabernet I really liked. I have about a glass a night.

    In the last couple of weeks I've had morning headaches and one day I even had spots in my eye. I didn't have any wine last night and this morning, no headache. I'll give it a few days and try an old world wine as you suggested.

  32. Nick says:

    Good luck – I hope the headaches disappear. Let us know how you get on :-)

    Cheers

    Nick

  33. tishipi says:

    Thank you for this thread. It makes me feel as though we can all get together with wine, water and aspirin and run our own experiment — but at what risk. I think that is it in a nutshell. I know that I resist house wines in restaurants, any California wines and rather go to the Italian, Spanish, Chilean, Argentinian and even Hungarian with no problem. My heritage is Southern Africa and I am glad that the South African wines are also headache-free for me. One thing I have found is, when I do drink a wine that brings on the suggestion of a morning (or sooner) headache, I will take a couple of ibuprofen and will not get the headache. I dislike doing this, but I dislike the headache more. Migraines are really horrible.

  34. Nick says:

    Thanks Tishipi – you make some very interesting points and it's good to know that wines from these countries are headache free for you. I am still convinced that yeasts and the wine making process have something to do with it but I have not seen any research confirming this – yet! As soon as I come across anything I will let you know.

    Cheers

    Nick

  35. Nancy says:

    This is all very interesting as I lay here with my head pounding after a few glasses of a cab from Sonoma county. How do you get this pain to stop once it’s here?? This is agony. On the upside I’m glad I sound so typical. Please help…

  36. Nick says:

    Hi Nancy – sorry to hear that you are suffering. When I get a headache I rehydrate with plenty of water and if necessary take pain relief. I hope you feel better soon :-)

    Nick

  37. Carole says:

    Unfortunately, the old world reds do give me headaches. My husband and I love French and Italian wines but they still give me headaches. The strange thing is that we were in Paris a month ago and I drank red wine for lunch and dinner and never had a headache! I’ve heard others say the same thing about drinking red wine in Europe. Can’t figure that one out.

    • Nick says:

      Hi Carole,

      Thanks for your comment – it might be useful for you to note the names and grape varieties of the red wines you drink that don’t give you headaches (as in the red wine you had for lunch and diner in Paris). If you send me the info I can do a little research into how they were made and see if their method of manufacture is the reason (yeast/traditional methods versus mass production etc)

      Cheers, Nick

  38. Lisa says:

    What I find is interesting is that I can drink any red from any region and not have an issue. No headache at all. This summer I went to a wedding and drank a rosee and got a headache right away. It didn’t dawn on me that it was the wine. I drank water and it went away a few hours later. Then this Thanksgiving I drank 6oz of rosee again and got a headache right away. It went away after a few hours. That’s when I figured out that it was wine that was giving me a headache. I’d never heard of RWH before, but I find it odd that I’m backwards. I have yet to try white wines…

    • Nick says:

      Thanks for your comment :-) Interestingly some rose wines are left longer on the lees than others to gain deeper flavours but I don’t think this is the problem. I am wondering more and more if it is something in the wine making process – additives or a manufactured yeast perhaps? In the past wines were made with the yeast culture that was indigenous to that particular vineyard but nowadays wine producers can buy in yeasts that impart certain characteristics to the wine. I still think it’s best to choose a wine that is made to traditional methods by a small supplier as there is less chance that it has been tailored as they tend to do in bulk production :-)

      Cheers

      Nick

  39. Gill Norton says:

    Came across this site whilst looking for answers as to why I’m suffering a migrane following a night drinking Shiraz (less than a bottle) pretty convinced now that Shiraz will give me a migrane but a good Merlot usually doesn’t. Tend to find I’m OK with French wines, US and Australian ofen produce a migrane, dubious about Italian and Spanish but will give them a go!

  40. jenn says:

    I actually came to a similar conclusion on my own. I always get a migraine from less than half a glass of any California red wine (I don’t care much for white except in cooking), but I tried some random Italian table wine once that didn’t cause any problems. Recently, I thought I’d give it a go again, and picked up a few cheap bottles of Italian red that were recommended – no headache. I thought it was just the Italian wine I could drink, but now I’ll try some french and Spanish ones as well. I know I can’t do Australian, which is a shame, since I’ve tried a couple of very yummy (but painful) glasses of Australian Shiraz.

    • Nick says:

      Thanks for your comment Jenn, plase let me know how you get on with the French and Spanish reds :-)

      Cheers

      Nick

      • jenn says:

        Well, I haven’t tried French wines yet, but Spanish and Mediterranean are ok in the headache area (though I wasn’t terribly fond of the random Mediterranean one I tried). The Spanish Garnacha was nice, and I’ve developed a love for Chianti as far as the Italian ones go. Now I’ve just got to try to find someplace in my area that offers European wine tastings (they mostly do local vineyards – California and all).

        Thanks so much for helping to start me on my red wine journey. It’s nice to know there are more options to explore. :-)

  41. Linda Bee says:

    Hello Nick;
    I really appreciate your thread here and all the helpful information. I not a wine drinker, but I do drink beer, and now at age 49, I have decided to start drinking red wine for the health benefits. One of the reasons I never became a wine drinker was because of the headache that I got from it back my post high school & college days. I feel empowered by your information here to select an appropriate wine that wont cause the headache issue…yay!! Now, the 2nd reason I never became a wine drinker is because of the taste. I come from California so I have only experience the supermarket Cali wines and the taste was not pleasing. So in order for me to be successful in my pledge to drink a glass of red wine 2-3 nights per week, I need to find one that is easy to drink and tastes good. What type of red wine would you suggest to someone starting out who needs something that wont turn me off? Fruity? dry? chianti? cabernet? Also, does white zinfindel count as a red wine as far as the health benefits factor? thank you so much for your answers
    Linda

    • Nick says:

      Hi Linda, thanks for getting in touch. I have a couple of recommendations if you are beginning to drink red wine:

      Start by drinking wines made from single grape varieties eg Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon – that way you will find out which style of grape you enjoy. It’s hard to advise you as to whether you should try fruity or dry etc first as you need to discover which type you like. If you enjoy fruity I would go for Merlots and if you like dry try Cabernet Franc?

      Move on to exploring single variety wines from different regions/countries and then try blended wines like Bordeaux or Meritage. Drier styles are oaky Riojas.

      White wines such as White Zinfandel do have health benefits like reds but not as much so red is supposed to be best :-)

      I hope this helps

      Cheers

      Nick

  42. Nan says:

    Hi Nick,
    Like so many others here, I found your site after wondering why the headaches after drinking some red wines.
    I like to have a glass or two of wine after a long work day but its an 80 mile round trip to the local market (and their selection of wines are rather limited) so I often pick up a boxed wine like Franzia White Zin, tasty but inexpensive.
    The other night I had a couple glasses of CA merlot – Hacienda – and just before retiring, a headache set in, I don’t get migrines but it was on that level. Did some painting for a friend that day and though the fumes might of been the culprit but after having a couple more glasses last night, I was convinced that it was probably the wine, when the same painful headache set in. Water didn’t help but an ice pack on the head gave me some relief from the pain. Feel fine this morning.

    I’ve had this wine before with no side effects so I do have to wonder if it has something to do with how each crop of grapes are grown (fertilizers, pesticide use, etc.) and how its bottled and stored, exposure to heat when shipped? (red wines from Australia also bring on a headache)

    Could be a lot of different reasons as a few here have pointed out :)

    • Nick says:

      Hi Nan, many thanks for your interesting comments – I agree that it could be a combination of different factors. I did spot an article the other day about how certain pesticides and fungicides are carcinogenic. I also think that yeasts may have something to do with it. One solution would be to find a wine that doesn’t give you headaches and stick with that producer?

      Cheers Nick

  43. AmyD says:

    Hi Nick,

    I stumble upon your website when searching for a reason that I get a headache from only Merlot. I can drink any other reds except for Merlot and types of Bordeaux with Merlot as percentage of the wine. I have avoided any wine that had Merlot on the label for years. Last Sunday, I was having dinner at a friend’s house and had a class of white wine and then they opened a Merlot not remembering that it gave me headaches. I decided to try a half of a glass to see if I would have a headache the next day. I did and today is Tuesday and I still have a lingering headache. I have drank plenty of water, tried ice pack, heat, ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin. Do you know why only Merlot would give me headaches?

    Thanks for your help!!

    • Nick says:

      Hi Amy – that’s an interesting question and I am sorry you are suffering these awful headaches. I take it that you have tried Merlots from all sorts of different countries/wine regions? If that is the case and it is every Merlot wine that affects you then it must be something to do with the grape. Grapes are related – ie Merlot is an offspring of Cabernet Franc and is a sibling of Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon – and these grapes do not affect you this way, so it’s very odd that only Merlot gives you headaches. I do know that Merlot has a higher sugar content than Cabernet Sauvignon and has a thinner skin and fewer tannins. I wonder if the thin skin leaves the grape more open to absorbing pesticides or fungicides? Could it be this that you are sensitive to? How about trying an organic Merlot as a comparison – if you can find one?

      I wish I could help you further :-( and if anyone has any ideas please get in touch!

      All the best

      Nick

      • AmyD says:

        Thank you for your quick response. To be honest, I haven’t really payed attention to which regions that the merlot has came from because the times that I have tried it, I have been at a friend’s house or restaurant where someone has ordered it. I will look for an organic Merlot and see if I still get a headache. Will keep you posted. Thanks again and am enjoying reading your past blog posts. Very imformative and eye opening!!

  44. Eric says:

    There is another possible cause that I have heard from several dedicated wine drinkers: poor storage, especially prolonged storage at room temperature. In some commercial establishments, and in some homes, room temperature can sometimes be very warm, epecially in summer. The theory is that the high temperature storage adversely alters the chemistry of red wines. Has anyone looked into this?

    • Nick says:

      Thanks for your comment Eric. This is most interesting and is not something that I have heard of before. You are right that poor storage can affect the wines and I would be interested to hear from anyone who has looked into this.

      Cheers

      Nick

  45. Jimmy L says:

    Hi,

    I just got headache after drinking some bad housewines in some bars. But I also had problems with new world wines from US and Australia.

    My experience is mostly old world wines spare me the headache. In france, spain and Italy they have special strict quality control certificates on the better wines and regions and they never caused headaches for me. The production is controlled by strict laws, and maybe Thats why I dont get headache from those wines.

    • Nick says:

      Thanks for your comment Jimmy – it does seem to point to a quality issue in some cases

      Cheers

      Nick

  46. Dr G Shaw says:

    A fascinating thread. I came to it because I did a search for French wine headaches. This indicates that my problem apparently arose from French reds. I had to stop attending a series of restaurant dinners where the food was matched with quality French wines. At the time, I thought the somewhat larger than normal wine consumption of the dinners was clashing with new medication. However, some months later I shared a bottle of French red bought from the same restaurant and suffered again. The culprit was starting to look like the French reds rather than the quantity or the medication. I am in Australia and regularly drink Australian reds with impunity. However, like the contributor of an earlier posting, when in Paris I drank relatively cheap local reds, also with impunity! Confusing… and painful. Dr S

    • Nick says:

      Thanks for writing in Dr Shaw, your experiences are very interesting. The more I read the more I have come to believe that yeast is a possible culprit. I wonder if the quality French wines would have been made with tailored yeasts? Without knowing the grape varieties, alcohol content and wine making processes of the wines it’s impossible to pin point the problem but the fact that inexpensive locally produced French – and Australian :-) – wines don’t give you a headache is a good starting point for research into yeasts – I will post my findings!

      Cheers

      Nick

  47. Victoria says:

    Perhaps the grape varietals in the US are too sweet and that causes headaches. I get them as well.

    • Nick says:

      Hi Victoria – I don’t think it’s a case of the grape varietals being too sweet, most wines in the USA are made with varietals that are grown in France, Spain, Italy etc. Sometimes the alcohol content of the wines in the USA is higher than the Old World due to longer ripening seasons and warmer weather. However in recent years Europe has seen alcohol content rise from 12% up to 14% in some cases due to hot summers. It might be worth having a look at the abv on the wines you drink and if they are 13 – 14% try a lower alcohol one to see if that doesn’t give you a headache? I hope this helps!

      Cheers

      Nick

  48. Paul says:

    I get a headache from red wine as well and i find that 2 nasal decongestants (pseuphoedrine) and taking a hot shower with the water hitting the area of pain subsides the headache pretty quickly

    • Nick says:

      Hi Paul, it does seem as if you might have an allergy of some type to the wine if you find nasal decongestants help? Your method of using a hot shower to give relief on the affected area is a brilliant idea. It sounds a bit like facial/ head massage when you apply pressure to certain points to relieve pain :-) Do you suffer in the same way after drinking white wine?

      Cheers
      Nick

  49. Janet says:

    Hi, I found your site like everyone else whilst trying to find a reason for the worst migraine headache I have ever had after drinking red wine, in my case Merlot (so was particularly interested in the lady that seemed to have an allergy to this too). I rarely drink wine and ever rarer red, as I nearly always get a bad headache or a migraine (I am a migraine sufferer) but being the holiday season and not having drunk wine for some time, I thought I could ‘get away with it’ when visiting a friend and being persuaded to have a little for New Years, and especially as I had only a tiny amount twice diluted greatly with water. Early this morning I had the most excruciating headache, took the largest dose of the migraine tablet I am prescribed (sumatriptan) and it has only partially helped (usually half the amount does the trick hours before now) – I still feel very ill though nowhere as bad as this morning (couldn’t move from bed for hours!). The Merlot is a French one, from Pay D’Oc and the label is Chevalier de Fauvert and, according to the label, very dry (though I thought I read somewhere they are sweet – ?) if this is any help for someone researching these things. At the moment my new year’s resolution is to NEVER touch a drop of any red wine ever again! as would never like to risk feeling like this twice and I already feel so much time is wasted in migraines for which I don’t know the exact cause.
    By the way, I read somewhere else on the web that sometimes it seems if you take the anithistamine Loratadine, (the article was something about histamines in wine? would this be correct?) which I do often have to take regularly once a day for year round allergic rhinitis, though worse in the summer with hayfever, the effects of red wine headache are less or neglible, and I forgot to take my usual dose yesterday….just an idea.

  50. Abby says:

    My little list is a bit different than some peoples’, but here is my list of what I find okay for me:
    Washington: white wines only
    Spain + Italy: All wines
    Germany: All wines
    Australia: Shiraz and Merlots

    I avoid French and Californian wines, and I am still on the fence about Chilean reds. I might have gotten a headache from one, but I switched wines in the middle of that night so I’m not sure.

    I’m currently drinking a 2012 Cab/Merlot from Lindeman’s in Australia and absolutely no problems. Same with Rosemount Estates and Black Opal.

  51. Anne says:

    I have big problems with Australian reds, especially Shiraz or Shiraz blends. Have had no problems with French, Spanish or Italian wines – interesting to see others comments.

    • Nick says:

      Thanks for commenting Anne – it’s worth checking the % abv of the Australian reds, however Shiraz can produce quite powerful wines that have high tannins so it could be this that is causing the problem?

      Cheers

      Nick

  52. Carole says:

    Are wines in Argentina considered Old World wines? I’m going to Buenos Aires in a few months and would love to drink the wine there. Red wines in this country always give me migraines.

    • Nick says:

      Hi Carole, wines from Argentina are considered New World wines. My advice would be to stick to those with lower alcohol levels (ie 13% rather than above) and to experiment with different grape varieties. If you find Argentinian Malbec too heavy then try a Carmenere or Merlot? You could ask for advice if you visit wineries in the area as to which they think would suit you best. Please let me know how you get on :-)

      Cheers

      Nick

  53. Carole says:

    Thanks Nick. I appreciate your response. On an earlier reply you mentioned the histamines in red wine. I remembered a friend who used to take an antihistamine before she started drinking wine. Have you heard that this might help?

    Thanks.

    • Nick says:

      Hi Carole, I’m sorry haven’t heard anything more about taking an antihistamine before drinking red wine. To be honest it sounds a little drastic to me. Do you get the same problems when drinking white or rose wine? Roses are made with red wine grapes but are only left on the skins for a few days so they acquire the flavour and body without the tannins. Migraines are awful and I do sympathise (I get them from bright sunlight). I am wondering if some migraines can be caused by constricting blood vessels in the brain and of course drinking wine does affect blood pressure. Alcohol raises it but studies say that red wine can actually lower it. Tannins usually get the blame for red wine headaches and are also found in cheese and chocolate – do these also set off a headache for you? Just a thought.

      Cheers

      Nick