Mini-class No. 3 … How to enjoy wine (even if it gives you a headache)

Many would-be wine lovers have given up on wine after just a few tastes due to unpleasant side effects from drinking it. Headaches and unpleasant head sensations, flushing, nausea and bloating are among symptoms that keep people from enjoying wine. If you are one of the people who experiences adverse side effects from wine, there are a few factors that could be to blame.


One percent of the population has a sensitivity to sulfites and some are allergic to the point where life threatening symptoms could occur. Sulfite sensitivity causes symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest tightness, hives and nausea. All U.S. wines are required to place a warning on the label that the wine “contains sulfites”.

Sulfites are a natural by-product of fermentation, thus it is impossible to buy a wine that is completely free of sulfites. Some winemakers, however, use additional sulfites as wine preservatives, which increases the level of sulfites in the wine. If you are simply sensitive to sulfites, but do not have a life-threatening allergy, try an organic wine (more information at The Organic Wine Company). Many of these wine are made without using additional sulfites and the naturally occurring levels of sulfite may be low enough so as not to cause symptoms.


Tannins are flavonoids that are produced from fermenting wine with its skins and seeds, which is commonly done with red wines. Tannins cause a very bitter, dry sensation in the mouth and often cause a tingly sensation in the cheeks, which some drinkers may find uncomfortable. Tannins are also theorized to be one of the culprits when it comes to red wine headaches. Tannins contribute to a red wine’s ability to age. Very young wines are often very tannic and the tannins mellow as the wine reaches its ideal age.

If you experience these symptoms, try avoiding young red wines. Wines that have aged for 3-5 years will likely be more tolerable and much less tannic. Keep in mind that not all red wines are meant to be aged. Many inexpensive red wines should not be aged. Wines that age well generally cost $12-25 or more. See Cellar Notes for more aging information. You can also try sticking to white or rosé wines, which do not contain tannins.

Dehydration and overconsumption

If you experience side effects from drinking wine the morning after, such as headache and bloating, your discomfort could be simply due to dehydration or overconsumption. The suggested serving size for a glass of wine is 5 ounces, but a typical wine glass hold 6-8 ounces. If you factor in an enjoyable wine, it is easy to drink more than you realize.

Try filling your wine glass one-half to two-thirds full and drinking water between glasses of wine. You can also take a pain reliever such as ibuprofen prior to wine consumption or a homeopathic remedy such as Chaser to prevent a next-day headache.

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