Red Wine Headaches

The back story: We all love a good glass of red wine. But we don’t love the headache that can occasionally follow it. Yes, the “red wine headache” is a real phenomenon. Many medical experts point to histamine, a natural substance created by the body and found in many foods and drinks (wine included), as a key culprit.

In spite of this, winemakers have never created a wine that’s low in histamine until now.

I call bullshit: they found some wine that, through normal vini/vitculture, is lower in histamines than Sagrantino or Big Cab and marketed it as that.

Easy peasy to select many such wines in any wine shop.

Take a Claritin, if you think it is the histamines. Me, I’d blame the alcohol and the dehydration it causes.

I’m pretty sure Deerfield Ranch has been making low/no histamine wines for quite a while.

If red wine really gives you a headache it’s more likely that it’s crappy wine than that it’s the histamines. Some people with asthma can have allergic reactions, but there are so many contradictory theories about wine and headache as to be pretty confusing.

I get headaches from those flabby cheap supermarket wines. It is amazing, it happens within minutes of taking a sip.

We’ve been doing it with all our wines since we started commercial production in 2009. I get wicked migraines and nausea. We don’t advertise it a lot but I do mention it to folks in the tasting room as the strain of bacteria I use also doesn’t produce diacetyl. That makes the Chardonnay have no buttery component even though it is fermented in new oak and goes through ML.

Most interesting thing I have learned here in a while, thanks!

The 2 strains that have been selected for low biogenic amines that I have used are from Enartis and Christian Hansen.

Check this paper out as it also implicates GERD and hives.

Thanks Roberto.

The reason I’m hesitant to push something this that to the press is that while you can try and control the amines/bacteria/ML it is nature and nature has ways of doing things you don’t expect. Just look at primary fermentation. I don’t want to give anybody the idea that my wines will NOT give them headaches, just the knowledge that I make my wines in a way that reduces the chance. I think maybe the marketing will help them but everybody is different and has different tolerances. There are a lot of ingredients in wine that can be the blame for sensitivity.

It is some bittersweet knowledge, though as have had wines made from top producers that have given me a headache right away. It now feels much more of a risk when I go to the locker to pull wine and have to really think hard if I wan to risk it with an untried wine that I have bought or traded for when back before I knew I’d just go for it.


About 10 years ago, the yeast producer Lalvin was giving seminars reagrding ML strains, biogenic amines, and headaches.

When did you find out about it?


I think I started seeing the papers implicating amines around 2007. I’m sure there were people writing things before but I seem to remember that science seemed to be coming to some agreement around that time. I think it took longer to have any causal relationship with GERD though.

I remember leaving the Lalvin seminar and wondreing if it had come off to most of the attendees as self-serving, since it ended with a pitch for Lalvin’s ML inoculents that reduced biogenics, diacetyl, etc.

I’ve never had the red wine headache problem, but whenever I take a few sips of red wine, my nose gets stopped up. I accepted the histamine and biogenic amine story immediately.

Fascinating subject!

One cool thing is that it is not dangerous to have the headache, so one can play with pretreatment before ingesting!

Partial list of things that work for some people:

  1. Afrin. Some people get relatively rapid vaso-congestion at the tippy top and back of the nostrils when starting to sip. The mucous membranes don’t send the person a sensation of touch, but the mucous membranes can swell/stuff up and come into light contact with each other and trigger headache. So, Afrin 10-20 minutes before starting can be preventative for certain individuals. (Afrin, if used daily, can create dependence, but 1-2 times per week for wine headache avoidance should be OK.) For others, a Sudafed, 4 or 12 hour kind taken an hour in advance may work, as well.

  2. Along the line of the amine idea, some people start releasing platelet factors when they imbibe wine and, in this case, 2 regular strength aspirin taken 2 hours before starting may prevent the headache.

  3. It may not be histamine in wine, but histamine in you may play a role in the headache, so for some people, a nose spray called azelastine, or one called olopatadine used about an hour beforehand may be of benefit. (Azelastine tastes terrible, so spraying it in correctly to avoid fouling one’s palate is paramount.)

  4. Some people think foods that are high in tyramine have an easier time releasing tyramine in the presence of wine, and acting as a headache trigger. Unless someone is a known tyramine sensitive person, this problem is unlikely to appear only with wine; but you could experiment with avoiding high tyramine foods with wine and seeing if it makes a difference.

Evan’s linked article is awesome, by the way!

I was told by a respected winemaker that if you don’t sulfur immediately after ML is done that the ML bacteria metabolizes diacetyl anyways (within a few weeks). Thoughts on this?


I’ve heard the same. I have always been freaky-deaky about testing for finished ML so nothing unruly takes over, so I don’t have any evidence. I spend some extra cash on the monitoring through ML but it is worth it as the Chard seems to strike a chord with people. We get a lot of “I usually don’t like Chardonnay but I like this, why is that?” The Petaluma Gap could also be contributing to that style though. I have seen quite a bit of similarities between Gap producers. We don’t produce much Chard so I guess I’d have to try another AVA to see if the results hold up. I just know the natural method tends to make me very sick.

AFA the pre-treatment, the stuff that tends to work for me makes me a zombie. My former Go-to(Zyrtec) has ridiculous itch-scratch feedback loop side effects from coming off it. I wanted to rip my skin off. The nasal stuff gave me worse headaches then the wine. I just ended up getting a factory-second body to deal with.

That’s fascinating.

It would be very interesting to see if levocetirizine (Xyzal) or hydroxyzine did the same thing. At risk of making you an itchy zombie, but in the name of science. [cheers.gif]

Did the medicine prevent your headache response?

Also, keep in mid, not all nose sprays are the same, just as not all pills are the same drug. Nasal spray is merely a delivery format, so it may not be a universal bummer trip if you tried others.

I’ll have to look into other solutions Anton. I’m just very suspect about side effects after my experiences. FWIW I’ve had allergies since I was little. I went to the allergist and did the injection testing and he was amazed that I reacted to everything. Ive been on and off various allergy medications my whole life including a plethora of nasal sprays. The past few years in my late 40s it has been getting better(male menopause, HA!). I do believe I may be one of the tyramine sensitive folks as there are foods that set me off as well but it has been harder to figure out. Garlic to varying degrees but then sometimes not…

I also tell TR folks that VA is a big trigger for people and to be careful with Zinfandel.


I, too, had all those allergy tests (as a teen) and was seemingly allergic to life!

Not anymore; I can’t say for sure why that is so, but one thing I know I did was to stay away from processed foods as well as petro-chemistry (to whatever extent I could). What used to be terrible hives and threat of anaphyilaxis has subsided to nil. The remaining reaction is a stuffy nose when I drink red wine. I do not drink much Chardonnay and the ones I do drink do not undergo ML. As a side issue and sure to piss someone off, even when I produced it, I always thought Chardonnay was a lackluster performer that needs too much help to become an interesting wine.


I felt the same way about Chardonnay till the company wives insisted we plant out a block. I did a ton of research and came up with Old Wente and 76 as my choices. Maybe it is because I put so much effort into the vineyard but I love the stuff now. We do have some SB coming on-line this year so I may say something different after we make that as SB was much more in my wheelhouse before.

AFA the allergies, thanks for the info. Fingers crossed.