contain a warning label about sulfites many people have assumed
that sulfites are the cause of RWH. This is not the case.
Almost all wine contains sulfites. Many sweet white wines have
more sulfites than red wines. Dried fruit and processed food
like lunchmeat have far more sulfites than red wine. Less than
1% of the population is sensitive to sulfites.
RWH is probably
not caused by histamines except in rare cases. Red wine has 20-200%
more histamines than white, and those who are allergic to them
are deficient in a certain enzyme. Some experts believe that the
combination of alcohol and that deficiency could cause headaches.
However, a study of 16 people with an intolerance to red wine,
reported in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
(Feb 2001), found no difference in reactions to low and high histamine
wines. Taking loratadine (Claritin) an hour before drinking should
reduce the reaction to histamines and the resulting symptoms.
This would tell an individual whether histamines were the cause
of their problem.
solution that has been advanced is to drink a cup of black tea
before you drink the wine. If one will be drinking over the
course of an evening, have another cup or two of black tea during
the evening. Quercetin, a bioflavonoid found in black tea, significantly
inhibits the headache/flush response (which is an inflammatory
effect from histamines), according to Tareq Khan, M.D., a pain
expert with St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston, Texas.
Again, if histamine is not the cause of a given individual's
reaction to wine, the antihistamine effects of black tea will
be of no more help than the antihistamine effects of loratadine,
just as in the example of the previous paragraph.
tannins are at the root of RWH. Tannins are the flavonoids in
wine that give its degree of mouth-drying bitterness. The taste
is the same as when you bite into a grape skin. Tannin is a
chemical substance that comes from grape skins, stems, and seeds.
The skins also impart color to wine, which is why red wines
typically have a lot more tannin than whites. Red wines are
fermented while in contact with the skins and seeds. Modern
winemakers take care to minimize undesirable tannins from seeds
by crushing grapes gently when extracting their juice.
also take on tannins from the oak or other woods used in wine
barrels for storage. Different woods in different countries
affect the type of tannins in the wine.
help prevent oxidation, an important role in a wine's aging
potential. As age-worthy red wines mature, tannin molecules
gradually accumulate and precipitate out of the wine in the
wine styles have much less tannin content than others, due to
reduced maceration time (grape juice contact with the grape
pulp, including sources of tannin such as stems, seeds).
from Bordeaux, and Italian reds like Barolo and Barbaresco,
are particularly tannic. Vintage port is also very tannic when
young, as are wines made from the syrah (shiraz) and cabernet
from Burgundy, and Italian wines like Dolcetto and Barbera,
are less tannic. Wines made from Pinot Noir and Sangiovese grapes,
as well as Spanish Riojas are less tannic. Beaujolais and Tempranillo
are also lower tannin wines.
way to identify these lower tannic wine bottles on a store shelf
is to look for the sloped shoulder "Burgundy bottle". This is
specially true for European wines, but several new world wineries
have also adopted traditional bottle shapes to help consumers
distinguish their wines.
a difference between the varieties and brands of red wine and
the amount one can consume before the headache occurs, but the
reports have not been consistent from person to person. Considering
how the amount of tannins changes with aging, this would not
Health Letter notes several well-controlled experiments
showing that tannins cause the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter.
High levels of serotonin can cause headaches and that may happen
in people who also suffer from migraine headaches. But that
does not explain why people who do not get migraines get RWH.
Dr. Marion Nestle, chairwoman of the Department of Nutrition
and Food Studies at New York University, added that no one complains
about tea, soy, or chocolate headaches though all contain tannins.
that are extracted from grapes found in red wine are primarily
condensed tannins which are polymers of procyanidin monomers.
Hydrolysable tannins are extracted from the oak wood the wine
is aged in. Hydrolysable tannins are more easily oxidised than
be caused by the release of prostaglandins which some people
are not able to metabolize. Prostaglandins are substances that
can contribute to pain and swelling. Ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen
(Tylenol) and aspirin are prostaglandin inhibitors. Some people
get good results taking a dose of an inhibitor an hour before
consuming red wine. Aspirin and ibuprofen were shown to be effective
at blocking both early and late stages of the RWH, and acetaminophen
was effective in blocking the early stage. 
It has also
been postulatedthat RWH could be caused by a strain of yeast or bacteria
found in red wine.
Science of Wine Aroma
the Acids in Wine
(Tannins) in Wine
The Basic Wine Pairing Rules
Science of Food and Wine
a Wine Sommelier
K. MacNeil The Wine Bible pg 34 Workman Publishing
Kaufman and D. Starr, Prevention of the Red Wine Headache
(RWH); A Blind Controlled Study. In New Advances in Headache
Research, 2nd edition, ed. F. Clifford Rose. Smith-Gordon,