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!

Leave a Comment