Does Red Wine Cause Headaches?

Have you ever found yourself enjoying a glass of red wine during dinner only to realize you have a throbbing pain in your head?

It’s been a common question whether or not red wine causes headaches. No one knows the actual cause of the phenomenon, though there are a few theories. 

So why exactly is red wine linked to headaches?

Woman with a headache

Headaches and Alcohol Consumption

Before getting into red wine headache causes, it would be wise first to take a look at alcohol's overall link to headaches.

When you drink alcohol, your blood vessels become dilated, making it easier to become dehydrated, which can cause side effects like headaches.

Drinking more water before consuming alcoholic drinks can help mitigate dehydration and headaches. 

It’s also best to avoid drinking alcohol on an empty stomach. Food with drinks will help absorb alcohol and slow blood dilation.

Now, let’s examine the wine of the hour and a few possible reasons why you might be experiencing those frustrating headaches after sipping.

Why Does Red Wine Give Me a Headache? Infographic

Why Does Red Wine Give Me a Headache?

The types of headaches associated with drinking red wine include migraines and cluster headaches, both of which radiate intense pain around the eye area. 

There are several possible causes for headaches triggered by red wine specifically. Are you allergic to red wine, or is there something else going on?

Red Wine Allergy

If you experience a runny nose, headache, nausea, or rashes when enjoying a glass of red, you may have a red wine allergy.

This happens when the body has trouble breaking down organic properties like histamines, tannins, and sulfites, which will get into later. 

Found in all red grape varieties, these organic compounds remain in the finished wine after winemaking as the grape juice is soaked in the grape skins until fermentation.

Unfortunately, the best way to avoid an allergic reaction to red wine is to simply stop drinking it. 

Luckily, delicate red fruit wines like Rosé and robust white wines like Chardonnay could prove to be wonderful alternatives.

White wines aren’t soaked in grape skins during winemaking, while Rosé wines have minimal grape skin contact.

Buckets of red wine


Have you ever noticed an astringent texture when sipping red wine? This is caused by organic polyphenols known as tannins, found in grape skins, stems, and seeds. Red wines with higher tannins may have been soaked in grape skins, stems, and seeds before fermentation in winemaking. This is known as maceration.

Tannins are also found in black tea and dark chocolate, so if you notice a headache after eating chocolate, tannins may be the cause.

This compound is often linked to the release of serotonin in the brain, which could cause headaches.

If you think you might be sensitive to tannins, swap out a robust red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon with lower tannin reds like Pinot Noir.


Like tannins, sulfites (or sulfur dioxide) are another organic compound often associated with wine headaches.

Sulfites are helpful in winemaking as they preserve wine color, promote yeast growth, and protect against rapid wine aging from oxidation.

While no one knows whether sulfites directly cause headaches, a small population may experience sulfite sensitivity, which can cause allergy-like symptoms.

If you’re concerned about sulfites in your wine, seek out low-sulfite options like organic wines.


Histamines are natural chemicals found in the immune system. They are also found in grape skins, making red wine higher in histamines. 

While histamines aren’t bad as they are natural to the body, too many of them can cause allergy-like symptoms.

If you sneeze or tear up after drinking red wine, histamines could be the culprit.

High Alcohol Content

Last but not least, red wine headaches could simply be alcohol headaches.

Alcohol inhibits the enzyme in the gut that breaks down histamines, causing your body to make more histamines, which can cause headaches.

As you can see, alcohol goes beyond dehydration. That said, it’s essential to stay hydrated and make sure you’ve eaten while enjoying your favorite sipper. You can also try spacing out your drinks to just one glass of wine per hour.

If you think it’s the alcohol content causing your headaches, seek out types of wines with lower alcohol, like cool climate varietals.

Pouring a glass of red wine

Are Red Wine Headaches a Myth?

While there’s no hard proof to support that red wine is linked directly to headaches, a few of the factors we mentioned could be causing your head to throb.

If you’re unsure why you may have a headache after drinking red, try alternatives like blush and white wines.

There are also plenty of delicious organic, low-sulfite, and sulfite-free red wine options available. Low alcohol reds like cool climate Pinot Noir could also help with unwanted headaches.

Explore exquisite, affordable wines over at Macy’s Wine Shop.

For more fun facts about the wine world, check out The Wine Blog.