Through extensive reading I have been able to determine that there is absolutely, positively no consensus on why some wines give you a headache while others don’t. That being said, I can relate only how I end up with wine headaches, and just my general knowledge of wine.
I love wine, though I favour reds over whites 9 out of 10 times. The image above of Assyrtiko, from Santorini Greece, was a chance find at a local liquor outlet and one of the few exceptions to my statement “I’m not really into whites.” This isn’t a sales pitch though, so let’s move on. Seriously though, it’s good.
When we were poor, we tried cheap wines. Lots of cheap wines. When I say cheap, I’m talking about clearance wines from $1 to $9.99. Next-day headaches and deep regrets were almost inevitable, but we always wanted to say that it was that particular wine rather than that particular price tag– probably because we could do something about the first scenario, not the second. We always drank between 2 and 3 glasses of each wine. We’ve agreed that I suffered far worse than she did, and even worse, we had to agree that the wine wasn’t all that great anyhow and therefore not worth the pains we’d been experiencing.
As mentioned above, there isn’t conclusive evidence of why or even that cheap wines produce more headaches, but the two favoured opinions are:
- Excess sulfites and histamines
- Some really dodgy artificial aging practices
The word histamine should paint a self-explanatory picture, but histamines are a fact of wine, though their amount is not. The same is true of sulfites. It should be noted that people like me who have an allergy to sulfa drugs are no more or less likely to react badly to wine than someone who does not. The name and chemical relationship is meaningless.
That said, I do believe that many people are sensitive to sulfites and would end up with a headache from any wine that had them in spades. Let me skip to the point before your face falls down on the keyboard.
In our experience, the pain of the wine regrets is highly unlikely in the $12-$25 range of wines, leaving us only with warm, fuzzy feelings. However, I must add that I’ve had the chance to drink several wines ranging from $30-$120 and have not found them to be anything special at all.
Wine, like so many foods, is an experience unique to each individual. I don’t think anyone is qualified to tell you what you will like- it’s trial and error because it is such a complex beverage. Try some, find some you like, buy a few bottles, then try something new. You can quickly isolate types of grape you don’t like (in my case malbec, merlot, chablis), and can rely on the fact that most bottles advertised as such will not be your winner.
Here are just a few wine tips from our perspective:
- Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s good. Many wines age very badly, or have a peak age after which they start to suck. A little research will help.
- Just because it’s expensive doesn’t mean it’s good. There has been convincing evidence that connoisseurs have been unable to separate a cheaper wine from a pricey wine in a blind taste test.
- Beware of screw cap wine. It’s usually fine in whites, but in our opinion it is often disastrous in reds.
- Don’t get attached to a specific winery. The quality of your wine has way more to do with how the year’s seasons turned out. Lousy summers make lousy grapes, no matter how skilled the winery can be. Personally, I thought 2012 was a really crap year the world over, and 2010 fantastic.
- While we prefer international wines, the U.S. makes a lot of great cab savs!
I avoid headache and wallet regrets by staying in the mentioned price range, and I hope that works for you too. More than anything though, don’t write off wine because you had one you didn’t like or which gave you a headache, or because you rue the amount it cost you.
All we are saying- is give wines a chance. 😀