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Why Do Some People Get Headaches From Wines?

Common beliefs are that sulfites are the culprit. Well, all wines contain a nominal level of natural sulfites that occur from the fermentation process. The belief that some wines contain 0 sulfites is false. What is meant, but often not clearly communicated by the trade, is they mean no “Added Sulfites”.

Sulfites are often added in really small amounts to wine to protect it during transport to other markets. Wine is a living breathing thing and if it has no sulfites there is a good chance it will not arrive to market in good condition and taste “off”.

Natural sulfites in wine dissipate quickly once the bottle is opened and they vanish into the air and totally leave the wine.

There is a body of people who think the reason they get headaches from mostly red wines are the sulfites. But it normally isn’t the sulfites that cause headaches.

So, if not sulfites, then what is the culprit?


Histamines occur naturally on grapes, in their seeds and stems. Many people suffer from headaches because they react to histamines, including myself. Mass Produced wines where the supplier is more interested in volume not quality, typically contain the highest amounts of histamines. Why? Because when mass produced wines are crushed they often leave the stems on and squeeze the heck out of the grapes. So, they get allot of histamines from stems and seeds. Unlike sulfites, these do not disappear. Instead they end up in the bottle and give us grief.

Typically, small producers are more concerned about quality because they want you to enjoy their wines and buy it again. It has their family name on the bottle, so they have some extra pride at stake. When they press grapes, they normally have the stems removed before pressing. The grapes go through a gentle pressing, so the seeds are not damaged and thus virtually no histamines.

How Do You Know If A Wine Has Histamines?

I suggest the sniff test. For myself, if the glass gets a few inches from my nose I start to react to histamines right away. My sinuses clog up, I get a dull headache and pressure over my eyes. This is a normal reaction.

If the glass gets to my nose and there is no reaction, then I take a little deeper sniff. If no reaction (it normally happens right away so no guessing) then I take a sip. Hold it in my mouth for a few moments and if still no reaction – Voila it is safe for me.

I know several people who have this problem and thought they could never drink red wine. Luckily, I helped them choose a number of wines and they enjoy red wines like the rest of us now. Perhaps I can help you find the right wholesale wines too!

If you have questions, please send them to us at First Choice Cellars, wholesale wine sellers in Calgary, and I will do my best to respond ether privately or in a note like this one.


Blog posts from First Choice Cellars are for general information only. The content should not be considered as an encouragement to consume alcohol, and consumption should always be done in moderation by persons of age to do so. If you require guidance in selecting or understanding wholesale wine or spirits, please reach out to our team.

Lady Get Headache from Wine