A long time ago I read that it is histamines, not sulfites, that induce headaches when drinking wine, especially red wine. I can not find the article now. Just wondering if you have heard of this? I work at a local winery and the statement comes up often that customers can't drink wine because of the headaches caused by sulfites. I thought sulfites are naturally occurring in most of the food and drinks we consume so unless there has been a huge amount added to preserve the wine it should not be an issue. Your thoughts?
I have answered numerous questions about sulfites in wine, but, fortunately, the furor seems to have died down. I am guessing this does not mean that the subject is settled, however, as the reaction of your customers confirms. You touch on many of the issues involved. I have pointed out in other responses that it is alcohol, above all, which is the main culprit in causing headaches (and, in excess, other health problems as well). The notion that sulfites are responsible is not supported by medical research, but many still cling to this idea. You are right to suggest that sulfites are, in very small amounts, naturally occurring in wine as a byproduct of fermentation. They are as well a universal additive used all around the world to protect wine from spoilage; and they are employed for the same purpose with dried fruits, juices and other foodstuffs. It is thought that histamines or tyramine could possibly be a cause of so-called red wine headaches. They are also found in aged cheeses, for example. Some have speculated that tannins, a component of many red wines, may be a factor. As you can see, there is still a great deal of scientific research that needs to be done, and we may discover that the causal factors are many and vary by individual. In the meantime, unfortunately, many will continue to blame sulfites despite the advice of the scientific community.
About The Expert
Roger has enjoyed a lengthy career in the wine trade as an importer and retailer, and at present he is an educator, speaker and consultant. He set up and managed Millesima USA, a New York merchant affiliated with a leading European company. Previously, he served as senior executive of importers Frederick Wildman & Sons. In recent years, Roger has judged wine competitions in Argentina, Turkey and China. Roger became one of America's first Masters of Wine in 1993.
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