Why does cheap wine give me a headache?


Is it true cheap wine gives you a headache, and if so, why would more expensive wine not?

Alison, Hornsby, NSW


Yes, cheap wine can give you a headache. So can expensive wine. The theory that cheap wine causes more headaches may largely stem from the fact that unless we’re spectacularly cashed up or have amazing cellars, we’re more likely to crack a second bottle of budget shiraz than to say “what the hell, let’s open another Grange”. No matter what kind of alcohol you drink, the more you consume the more likely you are to become dehydrated and suffer all the other consequences of over-indulgence.

But it’s true that some unlucky people get headaches after just one or two glasses of wine, especially red. It’s hard to find anyone – drinkers, doctors or winemakers – to agree on all the causes of wine-related headache. The picture is complicated because wines are complex and different, and individual drinkers have varying reactions.

Some people point the finger at sulphites – you often find more of these in white wines – but these are known more for causing allergic reactions. Histamines can trigger headaches, and there are more of these present in red wines than whites. Some claim that expensive wine (or wine from certain countries or certain regions) is less likely to cause headaches but the evidence, if you can call it that, seems to be more anecdotal than scientific.

Cathy Gowdie, Wine Agony Aunt

Got a question for The Dining Doctor? Leave it here.