A Guide to Finding Low Histamine Wines – Headache-Free Wine?

A Guide to Finding Low Histamine Wines – Headache-Free Wine?
Battling wine headaches – here are some tips to help you understand and avoid the histamine headache.

It seems as though the wine headache and hangover are as old as wine itself. A hangover can almost always be attributed to consuming alcohol, but a wine headache is much different.

Wine headaches can be differentiated from a wine hangover on several criteria. First, unlike hangovers, wine headaches often occur more frequently, from small or large amounts of wine, and more often from red wine instead of white. If these factors sound familiar, then it is likely that your body may be suffering from the effects of histamines and sulfites in wine and not necessarily the alcohol.

In our modern lifestyle, we are exposed to histamines in various ways. Histamines can enter our body from our environment (think plants, animals, air quality) and our diet (yep, this includes wine). Our bodies are designed to cope with some exposure to histamines because it's nearly impossible to eliminate them from our lives. However, just because we are prepared to cope with histamines doesn't mean they can't overpower our immune system and bodies. Even people who don't have allergies or issues with wine can sometimes react to histamines when their level overwhelms our body's ability to cope with them.

Understanding this concept of histamine overload can help us find ways to alleviate wine headaches. First, it is essential to remember that everyone's ability to deal with histamines is different. These differences can be due to age, environmental factors, lifestyle factors, and genetics which is a long way to saying there is no panacea for eliminating all histamine headaches. However, suppose you happen to be one of the people who has a lower capacity to deal with histamines (a.k.a. you get wine headaches from small amounts of red wine). In that case, there are various ways to lower the likelihood and severity of wine headaches.

One way to approach this is to look for wines made by quality producers with a focus on healthy practices both in the vineyard and in the winery. Why is that? It primarily comes down to what microorganisms are in the soil and on the grapes when they come in for fermentation. Histamines are mainly found in the skins of grapes, so if the grape skins are not used, for example, in white wines, then most of the histamines in your wine will be a result of yeast or other fungi and bacteria creating histamines. Wineries with healthy soils and grapes will be better able to control what yeast strain dominates during fermentation, which can go a long way to how the final wine tastes and how many biogenic amines (the class of compounds histamine falls into) are in the wine.

While this is important, whether a wine goes through malolactic fermentation is potentially more critical. This is because biogenic amines, including histamines, are primarily produced by the decarboxylation of amino acids by lactic acid bacteria and, in particular, the spoilage species Pedioccocus. So, the first step to reducing histamine headaches is to find wines made from healthy grapes that don't undergo malolactic fermentation or, if they do, are controlled by the winemaker and not ambient bacteria.

Another way to reduce the chances of a histamine headache is to look for wines fermented in stainless steel vessels, unlike oak, clay pots, or cement eggs. Stainless still will give a winemaker the ability to control the temperature of fermenting wine. The temperature along with the yeast producing alcohol can be used to either extract more or less from the skins and pulp of the grapes. At higher temperatures, compounds from the skins will essentially dissolve into the grape juice more efficiently and end up in your wine. Since we know most grape histamines are found in the grape skins, knowing that the wine underwent fermentation at lower temperatures is a good indication that there are fewer histamines in the final wine.

Following the tips outlined above will go a long way to helping you avoid wine headaches but bear in mind wines will always have histamines no matter how much a winemaker tries to remove them. This reason was one of the primary motivations to launch Ullo and our patented filters. Our filters will remove most free sulfites and histamines from any wine, even those with a higher proportion of them. Removing the histamines and sulfites from a glass of wine will help your body avoid being overloaded on these chemicals, which can trigger headaches, and that is something we can say "Cheers!" to.