Why Some Wines Give You a Headache and Others Don’t

Why does some wine give me a belter of a brain the next day? Or maybe it happens immediately after just one wine. When you feel your pink mush is being violently thrown around in your skull like a fat piñata at a birthday party… And why are all my friends’ cheeks flushing like we’re going through indiscriminate menopause? That ‘red wine hangover’ always seems a little darker and moodier than all the other hangovers. And what about those stay-in-a-dark-room-for-12-hours hangovers, where do they come from? There are answers to these questions!

 red wine bottle

Sulfites / Sulphites

This is what I thought was the problem for years… You buy a cheap wine and the hangover seems worse, for some reason I always thought crap wine has more sulphites. This is not always the case. You can’t actually get sulphite free wine as sulphites occur naturally in all wines to some degree, they are also added to wines for antibiotic and preservation purposes. Only a very small percentage of the world’s population is allergic to them, such as asthmatics who have sensitivity or allergy to sulphites. You will actually find higher amounts of sulphites in packaged meats, canned soup and jam so hurrah; eat your prosciutto and jam and drink your wine as these are not responsible for your brain belter!

Is it the AMOUNT I consume or WHAT I consume?

Whilst you’re delicately removing the cork from a bottle of 1996 Penfolds Grange and contemplating the delicious flavours you are about to share with your most worthy dinner guests, are you drinking 1, 2 or 3 bottles? Every sip is TREASURE and costs a small wad of $50s so you may only be drinking one bottle. Or are you busting out a 20 buck Redman Coonawarra that goes down an easy treat? It might have even been 2 for 1 at the bottle shop #WINNING. The more expensive the wine, the less likely you are going to drink a’hella of a lot. Unless you’re a baller. In which case, you can probably afford a vitamin IV drip the next day so hangovers are a thing of the past. Drink cheap = drink more = endure physical hangover. Drink pricey = remain more sober = endure financial hangover and hopefully a reduced physical hangover. Give them both a crack.

headache you can drink red wine

Tannins

Tannins are the delicious and cheeky character building delights that occur when grape skins, seeds and stems are involved in the winemaking process. They are the drying effect on your tongue and gums after a sip. They help the wine to age, create structure, deliver flavour and are a well-known source of antioxidants. Thus the reason all those mags you read are like ‘you can drink red wine, it’s sahhh healthy’. Red wine is red because of the skin contact, therefore all red wine has tannins. But tannins may not agree with you. Tannin allergies are rare BUT if dark chocolate and black tea (other high tannin foods) also give you a headache they may be your enemy so stick to white wine.

Alcohol Level

You may have 3 glasses of wine over dinner. But 3 glasses of a 14% alcohol Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon over an 8% German Kabinett Riesling will make a huge difference in your blood alcohol level and how tipsy you feel. White wine often contains less alcohol than red. By drinking a big beautiful 14% alcohol vino will mean you have consumed close to double the amount of alcohol in the same space of time than an 8% drop has. You will also be further dehydrated.

Sugar

Cheaper wine contains higher amounts of sugar. The more sugar you consume, the more water your body consumes. Sugar sucks the water from other parts of your body and your brain.. resulting in a smacker headache.  To avoid this, stay away from scary/fruity/vintage looking box wine, sweet and semi-dry wine and spend a bit more on your dinner party vino as your wine is likely to have less sugar. Mass produced wine often has more sugar to beef up the flavour and alcohol. And of course, DRINK MORE WATER.

histamines are naturally occurring by product of wine

Histamines

Here we may have our culprit! Histamines are a naturally occurring by-product of the wine and fermentation process. Some people aren’t able to metabolize histamines and it is common to have an allergic reaction like facial flushing or a headache. Histamines are the most likely reason behind that immediate piñata brain situation you get from red wine. They occur at a much higher level in red wine than in white wine and champagne, in some cases measuring up to 200% higher than in white wine. So hop on down to your chemist and pop a few antihistamines (non-drowsy ones unless you want to fall asleep in your soup) before your dinner party…could be a game changer.

To Solve the Headache

There have been studies done that confirm taking vitamin B6 before and after you drink will help your hangover, so give that a try. You may also want to mix up your reds. Lighter reds like Gamay or Pinot Noir have fewer tannins, Sangiovese and Tempranillo are moderately tannic and Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo are high. Try an anti-histamine before you head out. Or perhaps try white for a night. Pay attention to the level of alcohol in your wine, it will be written on the bottle. Less is better if it’s a school night! Maybe spend a little more on your drop, if the wine has less sugar you might feel better the next day. One thing for sure, one water, one wine is always a good place to start and perhaps slow down after you have polished off your first bottle solo.

About the Author: Meet Kate Peck. Starting from humble beginnings at MTV, she is now a reporter for RPM, Network Ten’s Motorsport program and contributes her musings about wine to Man Of Many. A maniac for the grape, Kate has completed her WSET3 qualification and brings her vibrant passion and her infectious energy to the exciting world of wine.

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