Why does cheap red wine cause a headache?

Cooking & Dining:

Biogenic amines such as histamine can cause headaches and other complaints after drinking wine. But sensitive people do not have to do without wine entirely if they observe these points.

Headache after enjoying wine? Unsightly, but nothing unusual. More and more people are complaining about it. Especially after enjoying red wine. But even after drinking white wine, many, especially women, suffer from headaches and even migraines. The reactions to wine are diverse, from a blocked or runny nose to dry mouth or respiratory problems to bronchial asthma, to cardiac arrhythmias that lead to sleepless nights, to low blood pressure with corresponding symptoms of tiredness and exhaustion, to stomach and intestinal problems and itching and reddened skin.

Is sulfur in wine the cause of a headache?

Then you get to sulfur quickly, because "the sulfur in wine makes a headache", "sulphurized wine cannot be a good wine", "only bad winemakers sulphurize their wine" - there is nothing more rumors circulate in wine than about the sulfur it is Wine inevitably contains.

An excessively high dose of alcohol can easily cause headaches; after all, alcohol is a cell poison. But the symptoms described above are rarely caused by alcohol alone. They cannot be attributed to the sulfur in wine, because it is no longer relevant to health in wine - except in lousy cheap wines that are jammed together from thousands of individual batches or in unsuccessful exceptional drops.

It has only been a few years now that we have known where the symptoms described come from and we are researching intensively into their origins and effects biogenic amines. The OIV ("International Organization for Vine and Wine") in Paris and the EU are already discussing limit values ​​for biogenic amines in wine, which is why one is surprised that the wine industry has been largely silent on this topic so far.

Biogenic amines such as histamine cause physical complaints

Biogenic aminesare protein breakdown products. They are natural components in many foods, especially in matured cheese, wine, beer, there especially in wheat beer, sauerkraut and, in high doses, in fish products and salami. The most common food intolerance caused by biogenic amines relates to the familiar histamine, but it is not the only amine that is irritating to sensitive people, as some amines have synergistic effects. Biogenic amines are well documented in wine. They are already in the grapes, but arise primarily and sustainably during fermentation and also vary greatly depending on the chemistry of the wine, the type of fermentation and maturation in the cellar.

Why alcohol can interfere with the breakdown of histamine

histamine is actively formed in the human body and is involved in the control of various body functions such as gastric juice secretion, cell growth and cell differentiation. Anyone who responds to histamines is not allergic, but one speaks of one intolerance. For years, medical statistics have noted a significant increase in this special intolerance, which, in addition to increased histamine levels, also diagnoses decreased diamine oxidase (DAO).

The diamine oxidase is a sensitive endogenous enzyme that is produced by biogenic amines, alcohol and its breakdown product acetaldehyde can be inhibited in its effect. The enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the body, called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), competes with other enzymes for the oxygen it needs. If alcohol and biogenic amines are consumed at the same time, the breakdown of the alcohol has priority and the histamine begins to accumulate in the body. The toxic effect of alcohol is increased by biogenic amines, in this case mainly histamine.

Sensitive people should avoid the combination of wine and food rich in histamine

Although wine usually contains small amounts of histamine compared to cheese, raw sausage and fish (there is already a histamine limit value for fish in the EU), it is most often cited as the cause of the symptoms mentioned above. The reasons for this are diverse. First, the absorption of histamine from liquids is much faster and more concentrated than from solid food; secondly, the alcohol increases the permeability of the intestinal wall, so that the histamine from the wine and the histamine from the food consumed at the same time enter the bloodstream without being metabolized.

The simultaneous consumption of alcohol and histamine-rich foods such as cheese and salami with red wine can therefore quickly lead to said complaints in people who are prepared for it. Crustaceans and certain white wines, for example Chardonnay from the wooden barrel, are considered to be a guarantee for complaints because crustaceans, like strawberries or citrus fruits, can spontaneously release histamine in the body.

Where do the biogenic amines such as the histamine in wine come from?

Climate change has resulted in earlier ripeness with better ripened grapes. This leads to faster degradation of the malic acid in the grape and thus to higher pH values. At the same time as climate change, taste habits have changed in the direction of a taste profile with mild, soft acidity, a full, almost sweet body and a color that is as black as possible. This is achieved through the extremely late harvest with very high pH values, which later have to be compensated by acidification in the cellar, with an extended maceration time, which in turn leads to deacidification through tartar loss, and through biological acid degradation, which is standard for red wine, for mild acidity but it is also increasingly being used in white wines.

Why it is worth paying attention to the pH value of the wines

The high pH values ​​typical of the fashionable taste profile promote the multiplication of bacteria because the microbial effect of the sulfur dioxide decreases exponentially. In the past, the threshold of pH 3.4, from which the harmful bacteria began to multiply, was barely reached. Today there are hardly any red wines with lower pH values ​​and many white wines are also higher. The harmful bacteria are the main producers of the biogenic amines. In the warm climate zones of the EU and all non-European wine countries, excessively high pH values ​​can be "corrected" through systematic acidification and thus artificially adjusted to provide reliable protection against harmful bacteria. In Northern Europe, this is only allowed to winemakers with express permission.

The numerous studies on biogenic amines in wine have shown that not only the type and duration of winemaking, but also the climate and nutrient supply, and even the grape variety, have an influence on the concentration of polyamines. Histamine, the most harmful amine in terms of health, only occurs in low concentrations in the starting must. Its formation takes place during the main fermentation, but even more so during the malolactic fermentation and during the maturation phase in the cellar. Bacteria on the grapes and incorrect microflora in the wine cellar can lead to contamination with harmful lactic acid bacteria, but certain wild yeasts that multiply in the early phase of alcoholic fermentation can also produce histamine. That is why knowing the correct yeast strains is just as important for spontaneously fermenting companies as is the "healthy" pH values ​​in must and wine.

Histamine-free wines as an alternative?

Guaranteed histamine-free wines would be a horse cure for the wine that nobody wants: Strong must pre-clarification, inoculation with pure yeast, cold, rapid fermentation and then strong fining with special bentonites. Such wines are guaranteed to be wholesome, but they don't really taste good. That is why the trend in good wine is towards top organic companies that pick healthy grapes with healthy pH values ​​and are aware of the problem of biogenic amines. To be really sure, winemakers and retailers would have to declare the content of biogenic amines in their wines so that they can be sure of their digestibility. That still takes a lot of persuasion.