It's inevitable: at some point in your wine-drinking career, you have probably dealt with a dreadful wine headache at least once. Everyone wants to know what causes them and how to avoid them--- so I'm going to dispel some myths and give you tips to help you stay headache-free... especially as we're entering the most WINE-derful time of the year! (see what I did there...?)
Let's get right into it- and address the Sulfite Myth. Sulfites are the traces of sulphur dioxide (aka 'SO2') present in wine. Some of these sulfites are naturally occurring, and some are a result of a little bit of SO2 being added by the winemaker during the bottling process to help stabilize the wine & protect against spoilage (it's an agricultural product after all; wine is not spoil-proof!)
Sulfites usually get blamed for causing wine headaches, but here's the deal: only about 1% of the population is actually allergic to sulfites. The FDA mandates that all wines with more than 20 ppm (parts-per-million) SO2 display 'Contains Sulfites' on their label. However, ALL wine has at least some sulfites- remember, they're naturally occurring in all grapes whether the winemaker has added SO2 or not- so there is truly no such thing as a *sulfite-free* wine.
Wonder if you're allergic to sulfites? Well, a piece of dried fruit has 4-10 times as many sulfites as an entire bottle of wine! SO if you can eat a dried mango or apricot without any violent side effects, you should be fine with that glass of Pinot. White wines are higher in sulfites than reds-so, if you think you ARE sensitive, stick to les rouges.
If sulfites aren't to blame, what is?
There are 3 factors that are probably the source of your pain:
#1: Added sugar and chemicals in cheap wine
Sorry, cheap wine fans--- this is a thing. What most people don't realize is that if a wine is super-cheap (I'm talking about those brands with cute critters or tasty pastries on the label and other wines in that category) it's probably made with pretty poor raw material and then treated with all kinds of stuff to make it taste better. These wines can be chaptalized- ie, a bunch of sugar is added to the unfermented grape juice to boost the alcohol content. They can be fined & filtered with all sorts of nasty chemicals; synthetic compounds could be added to contribute tannin or acid, and they can be blasted with food coloring. This is all completely allowed- but since wine companies aren't required to list their ingredients, many consumers don't realize all of this is going on. My friend Adam wrote a great article on 11 common additives that might be lurking in your wine- check it out here if you'd like a little more info on this controversial subject!
Anyway, I say treat your body right and stay away from the mass-produced bulk wines! The extra $5 you spend on that bottle from a reputable, conscious producer will save you lots of cash in Ibuprofen, I promise you! On this site, we ONLY endorse legit, finely crafted wines.
I get dehydration headaches when I'm not even drinking wine--- like from being in the beating sun all day--- so you can imagine the havoc alcohol does to your system, especially when you're already dehydrated. Drink a glass of water (or 2, if you're on the beach) for each glass of wine and you should be ok.
Yep, you are probably drinking too much if you're getting wine headaches. And a wine hangover is not fun either! Stop at 2 glasses to be safe. As Dorothy Parker famously quipped: 'I like to have a martini/ Two at the very most/ Three, I'm under the table/ Four, I'm under my host'. Let's apply that to wine as well, shall we?