What To Do About That Wine Headache?!

What I’ve learned over the years working as a wine merchant, hopefully, will be helpful to all you oenophiles out there. Being a professional can be hard work at times, but someone’s got to do it. I had my first drink when I turned 21, not at a kegger in high school or someone’s basement playing spin the bottle like other cool kids. I have not know the unique taste of booze till the legal age, so it took some time to acquire a taste for it.

I started nice and easy, like Snoop Dog a gin and tonic was my go to, for obvious reasons, it was a refreshing beverage any alcohol virgin could love. Then it was big Cabernet Sauvignon from California, which also was a no brainer since I live in proximity to wine country. The smooth tannins matched with juicy fruit made it go down all that much easier. Once you get a taste and feel of drinking one would think the quality would progress; but for the early part of my twenties with little budget, I’m not embarrassed by the fact that me and “two buck Chuck” were bestie.

So, I had my fair share of headaches; it primarily became worse after we opened up our wine store. Since we were quick to open our doors in 2011, Kenneth and I managed to taste 4-8 wines in a day, and it wasn’t unusual for us to try 20 (and upwards). We had a job to do and keeping our shelves stocked with deliciousness was the priority- no matter the cost. But I started to notice that I kept waking up with severe headaches.

These persisted for a bit, enough so that I gave up wine for a while, not wanting to compromise my work I’ve always managed to taste the wines. Just like one would image in the movies, where you see an elder gentlemen swooshing the wine inside his mouth to get a full taste, then inevitably spitting out the wine- sigh.


Wine is made of grapes as everyone knows, the concept is simple enough, the farmer grows the grapes, once it’s ripe, it gets crushed and bottled. All this is true. However, once the grapes are crushed, there are naturally occurring sulfites as a result of the fermentation process. Most likely than not winemakers add a modest amount of sulfites to stabilize the wines. Some organic/natural/biodynamic winemakers do not add additional sulfites, but as I said before, there are naturally occurring sulfites, about 6 to 40 ppm (parts per million). I have customers coming to me all the time asking, if they are getting headaches b/c of the sulfites in their red wine, which is a misnomer, white wine have more sulfites than red wines.

There are also tannins to consider, they are a naturally occurring compound, which leaves a wine drinker a drying mouth feel that one would get drinking an aged Barolo or Bordeaux. Tannins come from the stems, skin, and the oak barrels that could have havoc on your system. Lastly, the pain in most my headaches I’ve learned are histamine; it is present in a variety of bacterially fermented products such as wine, and aged cheeses. As it turns red wine has 20–200% more histamine than white wine.

So what is a wine lover to do with so much wine and a narrow tolerance for it, I’ve learned to live with it, dreadful I know. Most days I will use a nasal spray, for my histamine and my oak allergy, yes Virginia god has a sick sense of humor. When the meds don’t work out, and the headaches persist, I carry on and do my job, cause every time a wine merchant gets a headache an angle gets its wings.

Hope this helps others out there with similar issues, also talk with your otolaryngologists (ear, nose, and throat doctor), they can best gauge what’s happening in your noggin.