Bring on the Red Wine, Leave the Headache Behind

By Ellen Sutton, CS, Wine Sales Director – Edenvale Winery

Over the years, we as wine consumers have been groomed to believe that sulfites have the enemy causing harm through red wine headaches.  We have been convinced they are unnatural, unnecessary and have been plaguing red wine lovers for years.   However, when we take a closer look at sulfites, we find they aren’t the bad guys after all.

Fact 1:

Sulfites are natural byproducts of yeast metabolism during the fermentation process.  This means that all wines, both red and white, contain some amount of sulfites.  Though some wine makers opt to not add any further sulfur throughout the wine making process, the addition of sulfur is a normal and (most of the time) needed practice to help protect and preserve the wine.   

Fact 2:

Most white wine, in fact, contains more sulfites that red wine.  Sulfites are used to help protect the freshness of the wine.  Because red wine has a higher tannin structure and the majority go through malolactic fermentation (two additional components that help the preservation of wine), the majority of the time, less sulfur is added to red wines than white wines.

Fact 3:

Though people can be allergic to sulfites, most of us are not.  A good way to tell if you are allergic to sulfites is with dried fruits.  Dried fruit contains roughly 10 times more sulfites (around 1000ppm) than wine (around 160-220ppm for dry wine and up to 400ppm for sweet wine).  If you eat dried fruit and do not have a reaction, it is safe to say that you are probably not allergic to sulfites.

Now that we have cleared sulfites of the crime, who are the real perpetrators?

The most likely culprits are the histamines in wine.  Histamines are found in the skins of wine grapes.  During the maceration stage of the winemaking process, red wine is left in contact with the skins for a significantly longer period of time than white wine.  This process is important for the juice to extract color, tannin, flavors, and histamines.  Because of the longer skin contact, red wines contain higher levels of histamines than white wines making histamines the more plausible perpetrator of the infamous red wine headache.  If you tend to get a headache after a glass of wine, try an antihistamine before wine tasting.  Along with an antihistamine, it is always good rule of thumb to drink plenty of water when going wine tasting.  The more hydrated you are, the less likely you are to get a headache.  Now get out there  and stop depriving your palate of the great reds our valley has to offer!

Established in 1999, Edenvale Winery is a premier family-owned winery located on the historic grounds of Eden Valley Orchards in southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley with a second location, Enoteca by Edenvale, located on the Plaza in downtown Ashland.  We make handcrafted wines that express the earth of the region and the passion of our winemaker.  We take an old world approach to our winemaking with an extensive barrel and bottle aging program creating complex and intricate wines for our guests.