Friday, 17 October 2008

Causes of Headaches When Drinking Wine: By Rob Hemphill

We get great pleasure from drinking wine, but why do so many of us often suffer from headaches afterwards? There are several reasons why, and it's not necessarily just because of over consumption! There is a belief that the over-use of sulphites in the wine is the main cause, and as a winemaker, I agree. There are other causes as well.

Why add sulphites in the first place?

Winemakers have been adding sulphites to wines for a very long time. Sulphur protects the wine from oxidation, and also helps to prevent organisms from growing in the wine. It acts as a sterilant which enables the wine to last longer, this in turn allows it to develop and age helping to produce those complex flavours we love. If sulphites were not added, the wine could turn into vinegar in a very short time.

What's the problem with sulphites?

Allergies to sulphites are a problem for some wine drinkers, and a few people also suffer serious headaches or even migraines from sulphite traces. White wines usually have more sulphites than red wines.

How can we remedy the sulphite issue?

Very simply. By using clean grapes and good winemaking practices, the need for sulphites will be reduced as there will be less bacteria to combat. The wines should be closely monitored during and after fermentation for off-flavours - the cleaner the wine is, the lower the amount of sulphur required. So, the winemaker is responsible for the hygiene of his wine and the addition of sulphur to that wine. Poorer wines tend to contain higher levels in order to stabilise them.

Which styles of wine usually contain more sulphur?

Sweeter wines often contain more sulphur because the higher sugar level needs to be controlled. If there is insufficient sulphur in the wine, a secondary fermentation could occur which would result in the sugar being turned in to carbon dioxide and alcohol, ruining the character of the wine. In theory, dry wines should have less sulphur in them than sweeter wines.

Can a wine be made without adding sulphites?

Yes it can, but it will have a very short shelf life, i.e. it will have to be drunk very quickly. Drinking a wine so soon after it is made is not ideal as the art of winemaking is to create a wine with character that will develop with age, gaining those complex characters we all look for. The wine will have to be, in effect, sterile!

Red wines are often attributed to causing severe headaches and migraines. This is caused by the higher tannin content as well as the higher alcohol level in the wine. The higher your blood alcohol level, the worse your headache or migraine will be.

How can you reduce or avoid getting headaches after drinking wine?

Do not take aspirin as this will combine with the wine to cause serious damage to the lining of your stomach.

There are a few measures you can take to avoid headaches:

  • The headache is largely due to dehydration, so drinking plenty of water is important. Matching each glass of wine with a glass of water is sensible but easier said than done!

  • Drink the wine with food, not on its own. This will slow down the rate at which the alcohol reaches your brain. Food will reduce the alcohol that is presented to your liver and make it easier to break it down.

  • Drink in moderation, and this certainly applies to wine.

  • Adhere to the recommended daily allowance (3-4 glasses for men, 1-2 for women), and you are unlikely to get a headache.

Wine is one of the great pleasures of life. Drink sensibly and suffer not! Drink copious quantities of water, and choose the best bottle of wine you can afford - quality is better than quantity!

Rob Hemphill has been a professional winemaker and Winemaking Consultant for over 20 years. For more information on wine visit Understanding Wine: A Beginners Guide, also pick up a few tips on Home Winemaking.

Recommended Read : OZ CLARKE 250 BEST WINES: Wine Buying Guide 2009 By OZ CLARKE


Oz Clarke, Britain's most popular wine writer, is absolutely in tune with what wine drinkers want today - flavour, individuality, excellent value for money and wines that are readily available. Oz has tasted thousands of wines and selected his 250 Best Wines for 2009.This new edition of Oz Clarke's phenomenally successful annual Wine Buying Guide also covers: storing, serving and tasting; a guide to wine flavours; wine finder by country; buying for the long term; and a directory of the UK's top retailers, from fine wine merchants to supermarkets and high street chains."Oz Clarke: 250 Best Wines" is the must-have shopping guide to make wine buying hassle-free. Oz's independent, enthusiastic and reliable recommendations will help you find the wines you want at the prices you want to pay.It includes Oz Clarke's top 250 wines for 2009, described in his well-known, chatty style. It shows how to find the flavours you want, from refreshing whites to spicy reds. It includes special occasion and good value fizz. It includes a directory of the best places to buy wine in the UK.

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