It’s not what you have heard. Sulfites do not cause wine headaches! That is a myth and science has thoroughly debunked it. You have to let go of that one. No, wrong again, it is not the tannin in red wine. That is a myth as well. The culprits are histamine and tyramine, two compounds present in inconsistent amounts in the various types of wines and in differing levels from wines from the various grape producing areas of the world.

Histamine is found in many red wines and some whites and that varies by region and by grape variety. This compound dilates blood vessels which in some people causes a harmless headache. The cure? Caffeine in coffee has a reverse effect of reducing the size of blood vessels as does things like salt, licorice and ginger.  I have a friend who takes a Claritin histimine blocker before indulging in a few glasses of wine.

Tyramine is found in cheese, bananas, chocolate and also in some wines. It causes blood pressure to rise and that may cause a headache in some people, usually only those who are on specific medicines that increase the effect. Riesling is high in tyramine. The answer is to try drinking Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay which are usually lower in the substance.

Most interesting is the importance of where the wine was produced, since the soils in Europe and other older areas of wine growing have been so depleted over the centuries, it turns out that new fine wine regions have lower amounts of these headache causing compounds. Washington State is thought to have the lowest levels of headache causing compounds in both reds and whites due to the rich volcanic soils that are in pristine condition in what is a very young wine growing region producing world class fine wines.

So here is your answer. Experiment with different wines, find out which give you a headache and which don’t. When in doubt pick a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay or other white wine from a young wine growing region like Washington State or New Zealand. Don’t give up on the reds! Try a glass of Washington red wine and experiment. You might be surprised to find you can drink many wines you never thought possible. Perhaps try one of the reds produced by Nodland Cellars which uses grapes from the rich soils of the Walla Walla Valley. Always drink wine with food, preferably during a meal and if you are prone to headaches avoid the cheese and chocolate. Have a cup of coffee at the end of each meal where you drink wine. Some report anti-histamines and Ibuprofen help if you get a wine headache (but I should offer a caveat by saying you should read the label and contact a doctor before taking any medicine and if you have migraines you should be seeing a doctor for advice anyway). Finally, drink an 8 ounce glass of water for each glass of wine…that also prevents the common hangover.

So there you go! Time to start the fun experimentation of which wines work for you and take the headache out of drinking wine.