Is it possible to choose the right wines to avoid headache?

It is definitely challenging to know what to select if you are sensitive to wine, or histamine intolerant:

  • Area: So far only very few wines have been identified as histamine free
    – while wine from neighbouring farms might be way off the limits.
  • Production: Absolutely clean (NO pollution) in production and tanks is a must. Tanks of steel are the only ones accepted. Wooden barrels are banned.
  • Grapes: Grapes with a lower concentration of tannins in skin and stones are selected.
  • Tannins: A maximum of 1,9g/l is accepted
  • Histamine: A maximum of 0,5mg/l is the absolute highest accepted level
  • Sulphite: A maximum of 75mg/l is preferred

The criteria for choosing these have been:

Low on tannins and histamine

Unfortunately, quite a few people get an”abnormal” reaction to wine, red wine in particular. The reaction could be skin rash, sickness, severe headache, migraine or pain in the joint pains. This reaction could come after a very short time, just as well as on the day after. 1 out of 5 people are bothered with headache, even after as little as 1 or 2 glasses of red wine. Research shows that 22% of women, 11% of men, avoid red wines they from experience know they respond negatively to.


A major group of chemicals in wines are Polyphenols. These are extracted from the skin of the grapes, the stones and the stems during fermentation. Wine that has been stored in wooden barrels, will obtain additional levels of polyphenols from wooden structure that is dissolved. These have a complex chemical structure. The amount of polyphenols, depend on where the grapes have been growing, and the method of production for the wine. Some of these have a coagulating effect on the proteins in the saliva, resulting in reduced viscosity, leaving a sensation of “dryness” in the mouth. These are the natural conservation chemicals of the wine. As the wine ages, these polyphenols tie together and to the colour particles in the wine, so that the feeling of dryness disappears. The normal amount of tannins in red wine is 2,5 g/l, but can be as much as 4g/l or even more in heavy, aged wines.


The amount of histamines in wine varies a lot, showing small amounts in white wine, more in red wines. Among the red wines, the highest values are found in European high quality wines. This has to do with the hygiene of the production, where the lactic acid fermentation is not as carefully controlled in Europe as in e.g. US and Australia. They will use isolate cultures of yeast that does the job. In red wine, the normal level of histamine is 5-10MG/L, but can also exceed thiese values conciderably.

Average histamine in wine is 5.7 ppm and 3.4 ppm for red and white wine respectively.

Formation of histamine by the enzymatic decarboxylation of the amino acid histidine.

© 2007