My friend, Leanne, recently told me that she suffers migraines, and that her doctor suggested she lay off the red wine. I asked my resident wine expert, Jamie Pangione, whether there were any red wines that might not be such a pain.
First, Jamie said, migraine suffers who also happen to enjoy a glass or two of wine may be experiencing an allergic reaction to the sulfites in the wine.
Sulfites are additives that producers add to the wine in varying amounts to kill bacteria for a clean fermentation. They are also a natural by-product of the fermentation process in wine, present in minute concentrations.
- In nearly all cases, red wines possess less sulfites than white wines.
- Further, the better the quality of the wine, the less sulfites are present, because those producers add less.
So, if Leanne is indeed allergic to sulfites, then a switch to drinking a higher quality red may stave off her migraines.
Second, health statistics show that less than 2% of the population is susceptible to an allergic reaction to the low level of sulfites present in any typical red or white wine. In other words, the low level of sulfites found in any wine may not necessarily be the cause of a person’s migraines. Rather, when people typically imbibe wine, they also partake in snacks or meals that possess a level of other allergy compounds. Leann should consider the ingredients of the individual foods paired with the wine to determine if this may be the cause of the migraines.
Third, organic and biodynamic wines by law do not allow sulfite additives. Keeping in mind that sulfites are a natural by-product of fermentation and will show up in the wine in a minute concentration, Leann might consider trying these red or white wines as their sulfite content would be minimal at best.
By a process of elimination, Leann might just find that there are indeed a plethora of wines from which to choose and pair simply with particular foods that do not lead to a migraine reaction.
Jamie Pangione is a graduate of Boston University’s wine program, a certified wine specialist, and a sommelier, and is the owner of Jamie’s Fine Wine & Spirits I & II on the South Shore of Massachusetts. Jamie’s been a tremendous resource for suggesting and pairing wines for the characters in both my novels, The Race and The Sculptor. Do you have a wine question you’d like me to ask him?