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Red Wine Headaches?

From Laura McCann, Dining room manager & in-house wine expert

Jack Frost is starting to nip noses even here on Hilton Head Island; and when the weather turns cold my fancy turns to red wine.  But as a friend was telling me the other day – “Red wine gives me headaches” ;  So I thought I need to get to the bottom of this mystery;  Does red wine cause more headaches then other wines and why?

Many guests have told me over the years that the sulfites in red wine are the root cause of their head problems so I said, “Self, what are sulfites?” 

Sulfites are both an additive and a naturally occurring by product of fermentation.  Sulfur dioxide occurs as a byproduct of yeast fermentation in wine; and that fermentation is what turns our grape juice into the more delightful wine we know and love.  So all wine has sulfites. 

Sulfites are added to wine as a preservative; meaning that wine you loved in Italy can be put on a ship and sold to you here stateside and still survive all of the various conditions it may encounter on its way to your wine glass – so in fact we like sulfites; or we at least like the result of sulfites.

Sulfites are regulated in the European Union, America and in Australia and here is the straight scientific breakdown:

                Red Wine – 160 parts per million

                White Wine – 210 parts per million

                Dessert Wines – 400 parts per million

                Raisins – 1000 parts per million

Surprised?  I was, and these are the maximum allowable limits some most wines contain less.   I would seem if I could eat a box of raisins and not get a headache then maybe it is not the sulfites in wine that are causing my adverse reactions. 

  1.  Red wine gets its color from the skins of the grape and those skins contain tannins and histamines; both things that can cause an adverse reaction.  White wine can be made from a red grape but the juice does not spend time on the histamine filled skins.  Those tannins and histamines are a natural preservative hence the need for less sulfites.  White wine being more delicate a higher level of sulfites is added to keep the wine fresh.
  2.  New World wines, those made in South America, USA, Australia and New Zealand tend to have significantly higher alcohol levels and the higher the alcohol the more likely a hangover.  Look for alcohol levels on whatever color of wine you drink the lower the level the less likely you are to experience a headache
  3. When you took that amazing trip to… (Insert country here) and you drank (insert color) wine all the time remember a few key points; you were probably having a leisurely meal with lots of food and time.  You probably consumed that bottle of vino over a several hour period.  Your waiter most likely kept your water glass constantly filled.  (As a food and beverage professional it is our job to get you to drink; but then to keep you from becoming intoxicated; that is just good business sense).  You also had no responsibilities other then where to find your next meal.
  4. You are WORTH a good bottle of wine.  I don’t mean spend $50 a bottle every time you drink but if the wine is being sold in a gas station, or grocery store for $7.99 then this is not the wine for you.  Mass produced wines have a higher tendency for additives.  Plan your wine the way you would plan your meals; give it some thought and consideration make the wine part of the experience and savor that experience the same way you did in Italy, France, Germany…..

Of course some people are actually allergic to sulfites and you may be one of them but as a rule if you can have a few sips of red wine and not experience an adverse reaction within a few minutes then it might not be the wine. 

So enjoy your favorite red this holiday season, but be mindful of your pour size, every ounce is 20 calories; hydrate, hydrate, hydrate; and make each glass meaningful.  Here are some of my winter favorites:

                If you see Kay – Garnacha, Spain – jammy and delicious

                Any  Beaujolais – France, perfect with the holiday turkey – this wine is meant to be bought and drunk

                Cellars Blau – Spain – rich hints of spice and surprisingly great with cheese

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