Do You Like Wine, But it Doesn’t Like You?

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Mouse & Wine

Over the years people have asked me to write about what I have done to overcome various health issues and reactions, in particular what I did and did not do to ultimately recover from chronic fatigue syndrome a disease, which affected me for 3 years.

Before beginning to address that difficult time, I want to help you gain an insight into a topic, which needs to be a pleasure for people, rather than a negative experience, which it was for me.

Do you enjoy wine yet it doesn’t appear to like you?

While many people do appear to have reactions to wine, they blame wine as the being culprit rather than delving deeper.

Barring any clearly defined allergic responses, there are numerous issues each person does need to explore, so they too can enjoy the pleasures of wine.

There are at least eleven points, which need serious consideration.

We’ll look at a list of most of the possible triggers followed by a simple explanation about each. Grape variety is without doubt a most important area for you to consider … first – you’ll understand why in the article penned by Diana Todd-Banks previously, a long time international wine consultant and US wine importer.

Finding a suitable wine for you and your body can seem like a fruitless exercise certainly when you continually experience unexplained reactions to wine.

You could do some complex time consuming research on this entire topic, if you knew what to search for, or to save you time and money, you could do this:

In this article you can read about the results of my continuing personal research on this wine topic, which began well over 4 decades ago as I constantly experienced nasty reactions to wine. Yet I persisted. For 28 years I was an international wine consultant and surprisingly Australia’s first female wine importer in the US.

Continually exploring, I ultimately had the pleasure of regularly associating with oenologists – wine scientists – who studied all aspects of wine and winemaking except growing and harvesting. This association gave me the wonderful opportunity to explore people’s reactions to wine.
While many people do appear to have reactions to wine, they blame wine as the culprit rather than delving deeper.

Early on I certainly did that.

From my experience grape variety is without doubt the first area to address but I’ll mention that last. However wine style, manufacturer or better still wine maker are other important issues to address. This article addresses varying styles of red wine including a surprising ingredient – sulphites from petroleum … yes petroleum!

To provide you with practical useable information let’s look at a list of most of the possible triggers followed by a simple explanation about each.

Barring any clearly defined allergic responses, there are numerous points each person does need to explore in order to fully enjoy the pleasures of wine.

Major Triggers

Here are the major triggers – and it’s important for each person to identify and know which trigger(s) affect them.

You can begin identifying those triggers that may affect you, by following these 3 steps:

  1. Try different red grape varieties/styles toward the end of the list below.
  2. Read the alcohol content as this can have a big negative effect if the alcohol percentage is high. If it’s 13% or higher avoid that. Some reds can be up to 14.5% or higher and these do cause issues unless you have a superbly strong constitution.
  3. Read the back label description to determine if any oak is mentioned, if so avoid that.
  • Histamines
  • Tannin
  • Vintage – Age
  • Yeast
  • Sulphites
  • Percentage of Alcohol By Volume
  • Umami
  • Oak
  • Sugar / Baume
  • Acid
  • Grape variety is the first and usual culprit

Here is a brief explanation about each trigger:

Histamines – compared with most foods that contain histamine, wine is much lower in histamine. However, in general red wine has more histamines than white wine that’s because white wine is made without skin contact. While red wine sits on skins for some time, cheap red wine sits on seeds and stalks as well as skins and it is these that can cause reactions along with the wine being of a cheap quality.

Tannin – primarily comes from grape skins, seeds and stems but ALSO from oak or oak barrels and will be high in young wine.

Age – Vintage – Read the label, as this is certainly worthwhile understanding. Generally young (current vintage) that denotes the latest release of a wine; but later in a year (ie October on) some wines are released. Stay away from these if acid and tannin are an issue for you, the same applies if a white wine is described as crisp and green.

Yeast – a few people may have allergies to yeast if they consume unrefined wine and possible reactions to the refining agents that ‘clear’ the wine.

Sulphites are Preservatives – Sulphites are found in all wines, as they are a natural product of fermentation and because of that and the fact many people are allergic to some form of sulphites, and processed meats are a serious culprit, and are served antipasto platters and in snacks at cocktail or casual dinner gatherings and yes with wine. They’re a cheap solution to providing cheap food with wine.

Now look at these two points:

1) More sulphites are found in white wine, but are higher in sweeter styles.

2) When sulphites are used in cheap mass produced wine they are usually derived from petroleum and added in high quantities and these wines certainly do cause headaches.

Naturally derived sulphites produce far less reaction unless you drink excessively.

Percentage of Alcohol By Volume – If you have reactions to wine, stay away from wine higher than 13.5 alcohol by volume, or preferably 13%. Wines higher in alcohol than this are often red grape varieties and fortified wines. BUT be aware the low alcohol wines will not keep for more than two days with a good stopper.

Umami – a new essentially fifth taste to western scientists and gourmands, – it was discovered over 1200 years ago by the Chinese. Mushrooms, consommés, long cooked meats, shrimp, dried tomatoes, soy sauce and the real culprit, cured meats, all contain umani. As well this 5th taste tends to enhance tannins or the oaky character in wine and a known trigger.

Oak – can be a problem for some people as they contain high levels of strong tannins that are the astringent component of timber. If this is the case do not consume a wine, if you read the word Oak, on the wine bottle label.
Sugar or Baume: Since wine is made from the fermentation of sugary solutions there is residual sugar and is another possible issue for some people.

Grape Variety, (the first and common culprit). Here is a list of grape varieties in descending order of tannins, histamines, and other major triggers. While it is hard to obtain a list in accurate order, this list is a good guide for you to identify what grape variety is better for you to consume and what to avoid.

The list begins with the worst offenders:

  • Shiraz
  • Cabernet
  • Merlo
  • Syrah
  • Tannat
  • Petite Sirah
  • Mouvedre (Mataro, Monastrell)
  • Sagrantino
  • Bobal
  • Aglianico
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Merlo
  • Petite Verdot
  • Carignan
  • Montepulciano
  • Monastrell
  • Tempranillo
  • Grenache
  • Carignan
  • Malbec
  • Nebbiolo
  • Zinfandel
  • Pinot Noir

The Bottom Line Notes:

If you know you will consume wine during the day or evening, do not consume, numerous foods or beverages high in histamines and tannins before drinking any wine.

Good wine doesn’t always mean expensive but it does always mean well made.

Be aware some wine producers consciously use far more sulphites and preservatives than others, as their major market is overseas.

By learning to read a label thoroughly then nosing a wine well, you will easily detect most if not all of the triggers that cause you concern.

When you do drink wine, plan on consuming protein rich foods or snacks at the same time. Do not consume any processed food or cured meats.

Do not drink wine on an empty stomach, as it will enhance your reactions to wine and the alcohol content.

Salicylates and Amines are very specific issues for some people but are not addressed in this article.

In case you’re wondering which red grape variety I can consume without any side affects, that is a young low alcohol (12 – 12/5%) pinot noir or oak free chardonnays which say on the back label …’has a crisp finish’. They’re sure to cause you issues.


There is one generally accepted full proof solution to trigger free sensible wine consumption.

But first, this quote is worth mentioning and it is by Madame Lily Bollinger – who ran the champagne House of Bollinger after her husband Jacques died in 1941. After answering many questions from a little cadet reporter from the London Daily Mail about champagne, the young girl posed a final question “Madame, do you even drink champagne yourself?” Her wonderful reply was:

“I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes, I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it if I am; Otherwise, I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.”

On a serious note “real” champagne, that is only Champagne produced in French Champagne regions, is considered the best wine for your heath certainly because it is the purest wine made. Countries outside France, which produce a similar style wine, must refer to them as Sparkling Wine.

And there you have it …I hope you this information has helped you.

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