What Causes Wine Headaches

Wine is a beloved beverage that brings people together in celebration and enjoyment. However, for some unfortunate individuals, it can also bring about a dreaded side effect – the wine headache. As an avid wine …

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Wine is a beloved beverage that brings people together in celebration and enjoyment. However, for some unfortunate individuals, it can also bring about a dreaded side effect – the wine headache. As an avid wine enthusiast myself, I have experienced my fair share of these throbbing headaches, and I understand the frustration they can cause. In this article, we will dive deep into the causes of wine headaches, exploring both scientific explanations and personal anecdotes.

The Role of Histamines

One of the primary culprits behind wine headaches is histamines. These compounds are naturally present in grapes and are also produced during the fermentation process. In some individuals, histamines can trigger allergic reactions, leading to headaches. Interestingly, red wines tend to contain higher levels of histamines compared to white wines, which might explain why some people experience more intense headaches after indulging in a glass of red.

Sulfites and Sensitivity

Sulfites have long been associated with wine headaches, but the truth is a bit more complicated. Sulfites are used as preservatives in winemaking and can cause adverse reactions in individuals who are sensitive to them. While it’s true that sulfites can trigger headaches in some people, the amount present in wine is often not significant enough to be the sole cause. If you suspect sulfites are the culprit, it might be worth exploring other factors such as histamines or tannins.

Tannins and Dehydration

Tannins, which are naturally occurring compounds found in grape skins, seeds, and stems, are known for their astringent properties. Some individuals may be more sensitive to tannins, which can lead to headaches. Additionally, tannins have a drying effect, and if you’re not properly hydrated while enjoying a glass of wine, it can exacerbate the headache. So, it’s essential to stay hydrated and drink water alongside your wine to minimize the risk of dehydration-induced headaches.

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Alcohol and Blood Vessels

The presence of alcohol in wine can also contribute to headaches. Alcohol is a vasodilator, meaning it causes blood vessels to expand. For some individuals, this expansion can be uncomfortable and result in headaches. Moreover, alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases urine production and can lead to dehydration if not balanced with adequate water intake.

The Role of Personal Factors

It’s important to note that each person’s experience with wine headaches can vary, and personal factors can also play a role. Factors such as genetics, overall health, stress levels, and even sleep patterns can influence how susceptible an individual is to wine headaches. Keeping a journal and noting down specific wines and circumstances surrounding your headaches can help identify patterns and potential triggers.


While the exact causes of wine headaches may vary from person to person, it’s clear that histamines, sulfites, tannins, and alcohol all contribute to some extent. Understanding your own body’s sensitivities and experimenting with different types of wines can help you mitigate the occurrence of wine headaches. Remember to stay hydrated, drink in moderation, and enjoy your wine responsibly. Cheers!

John has been a hobbyist winemaker for several years, with a few friends who are winery owners. He writes mostly about winemaking topics for newer home vintners.
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