Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Headaches, sulfur, and what's in my wine anyway?

Do you get get headaches from wine? If so, please read on. We have helped many of our customers and here is some information that can help you too.

Typically when someone gets headaches from drinking wine they look to sulfites as the culprit. This is probably not the reason for your headache. Sulfur is present in all wines at various levels. It is a by-product of the fermentation process and winemakers use it to help preserve the wine and to stave off bad bacteria. A tiny handful of winemakers make wine with no added sulfur at bottling. These wines can be very interesting and good but they are also very volatile and tend not to travel well. At any rate, very few people have a reaction to sulfur. If you are asthmatic you could be susceptible, and if you do have a reaction it is likely to be an allergic type of reaction rather than a headache.

A possibility is that you could be sensitive to certain types of grape varieties. Theories are that some people have a reaction to histamines or tannins. Both these substances are more prevalent in red wines than whites so try sticking to white wines to see if this is the case for you.

More important I think is the plethora of chemical additives that large scale commercial wineries add to their wine. There are chemicals that add color, artificially increase mouthfeel, enzymes that are supposed to release certain types of aromatics, soluble wood tannin for structure (and you get to choose your flavor too, try chestnut tannin if you don't want the oaky flavor). How about a silicone oil emulsion that reduces frothing? It's really unbelievable, there's even a pesticide called "Drop Dead" that companies can use at the winery to control fruit flies (so much for your organic wine). Why do they add these chemicals? Mostly to compensate for poor quality grapes and to cut costs. They also do it to fashion a wine in a style that receives high scores from some wine reviewers. There are no scientific studies here, but this type of wine making is highly manipulative and who's to say that these additives don't cause reactions in people when they ingest the stuff?

What I do know is that we have helped a lot of customers with their headaches by recommending small production, estate bottled wines. In a lot of cases these wines were made by the family that grew the grapes and were harvested by hand by the family and their team of workers and friends. To me, this is a much more honest method of wine making. There's less chemical intervention in the vineyard and in the winery, and generally less sulphur at bottling. There's also less manipulation of a wine "style" which I like. It's like your grandmother growing her own tomatoes and making homemade sauce. How's a big industrial winery going to compete with that? Try some of these wines and I bet your headaches will dissipate.



  1. I have friends who get "wine headaches" and I can now advise them and direct them to this post--thanks for the info!


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