Some think that sulfites, a preservative in wine, are to blame. But sulfite sensitivity usually causes breathing problems rather than headaches. Moreover, many white wines and other foods also contain sulfites.
Getting a headache after drinking red wine seems to be common, but no single explanation has been found. Several theories have been proposed, but none has much evidence behind it.
One theory holds that the culprit is histamine, a compound found in grape skins. Red wine contains more histamine than white wine because it’s made from the whole grape (including the skin), not just the juice. Some people have a shortage of an enzyme that breaks down histamine in the small intestine. Alcohol also inhibits the enzyme, so the combination may boost histamine levels in the blood, which can dilate blood vessels and cause a headache.
Histamines are also produced by microbes that can live in lower acid wines aged in barrels. That is mostly red. They are the most likely cause of “wine headache.” It is one reason we pick grapes when pH levels are below 3.5.
Sulfites, a technically incorrect term, often gets the blame. Sulfur Dioxide is the issue for a very, very tiny percentage of people.
We use SO2 in winemaking as an antioxidant and to inhibit many of the bacteria that can produce histamines. It is my view that it makes a healthier beverage when used properly. It keeps the antioxidants found in wine intact and reduces the level of toxic histamine.
Can you eliminate Sulfur dioxide from your wine? Yes, easily, and don’t buy a gadget to do it.
The primary function of SO2 in wine is to counter the hydrogen peroxide molecules produced as wine evolves. Hydrogen peroxide is produced in all living creatures as a result of enzymatic processes,it is a powerful oxidant. Our bodies produce both sulfur dioxide and hydrogen peroxide during metabolic functions.
When a molecule of sulfur dioxide contacts a molecule of hydrogen peroxide they destroy each other. H2O and a molecule of acid.
Typical drug store hydrogen peroxide is a 3% solution. We use it to clean wounds, as a mouthwash, not exactly a toxic substance unless you drink to much.
If you put three drops of 3% hydrogen peroxide in a glass, then pour in five ounces of wine the sulfur dioxide will be broken apart in a few seconds. You don’t need more. Less will probably do the job but if it is at the legal maximum you need three drops.
In my experiments with many people, there was no detectable difference in the wine unless it sat more than five hours. Then the wine seemed more oxidized to sensitive tasters.
The drop or two of excess hydrogen peroxide will get quickly broken down in your digestive system, your body is equipped to deal with both hydrogen peroxide and sulfur dioxide. It is a rare individual that is affected by the amount of sulfur dioxide found in wine.
If you can eat soft, yellow, dried apricots you aren’t sensitive to sulfur dioxide. If you can be in close quarters with a lit match (the match head burns sulfur into sulfur dioxide) you aren’t sensitive.
If you get a headache because you drank a whole bottle you have low level, self induced, alcohol poisoning!