Low Histamine Wine, Explained: Why Certain Wines Make You Miserable

Let me guess: You’re enjoying a glass or two of red wine and suddenly it feels like you have an instant hangover. It’s baffling, mostly because you haven’t even had the time to get halfway into a bottle of cabernet. Then, you start wondering if the pain–and maybe even the face rash–is worth it.

If you’re nodding your head emphatically, it’s time to grapple with a probability—wine allergies. Tragically, some of us are especially prone to the miserable side-effects of wine sulfites and histamines. Why does this happen and why do some wines cause more problems than others?

Low histamine wine is one way to manage the issue of wine histamines. Here’s some information on wine histamines and some options to avoid them.

Where Does the Histamine in Wine Come From?

Histamines come from the amino acid histidine, which is present in various foods, including wine. Wine contains naturally occurring amines from grape varieties and the winemaking process. Histamine is produced during fermentation and can also be present in wines made from fruit that has ripened on the vine. 

The amount of histamine found in wine depends on several factors, including grape variety and winery practices. White wines contain lower levels of histamine than red wines. Wineries may also add yeast to accelerate fermentation which can lead to the release of more histamine into the wine. Aging in oak barrels can also result in an increased amount of histamine. 

To be clear, all alcohol can cause inflammation. But the higher histamine levels in some make them especially irritating for histamine-sensitive people.

What wines have lower histamines?

Generally speaking, white wines have lower histamine than red wines. This is because a large portion of wine histamines come from the skin of grapes. In general, red wine has more grape skins than lighter-colored varietals. 

Here’s a helpful breakdown:

  • Red wines histamine levels ranges between 60 and 3800 micrograms per liter (mcg/L).
  • White wines have some of the lowest histamine levels of all alcoholic drinks, ranging from 3 to 120 mcg/L. 
  • Sparkling wines have a maximum histamine level of 78 mcg/L.
  • Sparkling wines have an average of 46 mcg/L and a minimum of 15 mcg/L.
  • Champagne histamines range between 15 to 670 mcg/L.
  • Rosé wine histamine levels are between 15 and 61 mcg/L. 

It’s clear that white wine is usually the best choice for those looking to minimize wine histamines. The average histamine level for white wine is 37 mcg/L. And red wines have 20-200% more histamines than white wines, depending on the varietal and vintner. 

The histamine effects of red wines were confirmed by the Red Wine Provocation Test, in which 22 out of 28 subjects had much higher plasma histamine levels after drinking 125ml of red wine. 

Rosé wines and sparkling wines are also good options for people sensitive to histamines. Opting for these varietals can help limit adverse reactions. A good rule of thumb when it comes to histamines is that the less “red” the wine, the better. 

Also, dry wines generally have less histamine than wines with residual sweetness, and young wines contain less histamine than mature wines.

Low Sulphur Wines

Low sulphur wines tend to have histamine levels of around 30 mg/L, compared to regular wines which can have levels between 50 and 150 mcg/L. This is because lower levels of sulfur dioxide helps reduce histamine levels in wine. 

It is important to note, however, that even low sulfur wines can still contain high levels of histamine. This is why it’s important to research the specific wine to ensure it’s a good option for you and your situation.

How to Find Low Histamine Wine Brands

  1. Research online for companies that advertise low histamine wine. One such well-known company is Veglio Michelino e Figlio, located in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy.
  2. Check to see if any of these companies have information regarding their wine’s testing for histamine levels. If not, consider trying one of their natural wines, which have no added preservatives, to drastically lower sulfite levels.
  3. Look for companies in the US that sell low histamine wine brands. Bacco Wine & Spirit, based in Pennsylvania, sells three types of Veglio Michelino e Figlio brand wines.
  4. Try a wine wand to remove the histamine and sulfites in wine if you are still having trouble but craving a glass of red.
  5. Consider an alternate non-alcoholic beverage if the wine wand does not help.
Low Histamine Wine
Veglio Dolcetto D’alba Low Histamine Wines have less than 5 mcg/L of histamine.

Are there “histamine-free” wines?

It depends on how you define “histamine-free.” Currently, there are no wines that are completely histamine free (containing zero histamines). However, researchers are currently exploring the possibility of using alternate bacterial strains during the fermentation process to help reduce the histamine levels in wines.

But there are wines that contain lower levels of histamines, as discussed above. These wines are obviously better for people with histamine sensitivities, as they can enjoy a glass of wine without experiencing any of the associated symptoms. 

To reduce histamine levels, some wineries have started to use “gentle winemaking” techniques. These methods are designed to reduce histamines without using harsh processes, such as additives, yeast and enzymes, excessive sulfur dioxide, or high alcohol concentrations. 

What qualifies as a “histamine-free” wine?

In order to qualify as a histamine-free wine, the wine must contain less than 7 mg of histamine according to laboratory tests. Low histamine wines can be found in different types such as red, white, rosé, and sparkling, but the most common low histamine wines are dry wines as they contain less histamine than wines with residual sweetness.

Wine and histamine headaches

Histamine headaches are caused by an overload of histamines in the body and can be triggered by consuming any food with histamines, including wine. Since histamines are found in the skins of grapes, they dissolve into the grape juice (unfermented wine) and end up in the finished product. 

When the histamines in the wine overwhelm our body’s capacity to cope with them, a histamine headache can be the result. Because red wines are fermented with their skins and are higher in histamines, they are more likely than white wines to trigger a histamine headache. 

To reduce the chances of a histamine headache, it is best to look for wines made from healthy grapes that don’t undergo malolactic fermentation, and wines that are fermented in stainless steel vessels at lower temperatures.

Histamine levels in other alcoholic beverages

Histamine Levels in Beer

The histamine levels in beer range from 21 mcg/L to 305 mcg/L. Darker beers with more malts tend to have more histamine. Ales, lagers, and low-alcohol beers followed, in that order.

Non-alcoholic beer (Alcohol-free beer) has an average of 26 mcg/L, with a maximum of 38 mcg/L and and a minimum of 15 mcg/L. So if you’re willing to pass on the alcohol, non-alcoholic beer is a good choice for people sensitive to histamines.

Histamine Levels in Liquor

Vodka, bourbon, whiskey, gin, rum, and tequila all have different levels of histamine and range from 21-305 mcg/L. The reason different liquors have different levels of histamine is because of the type of fermentation used to make the alcohol and the ingredients used. 

For example, some liquors are made from grains that are fermented in a way that produces more histamine than others. Furthermore, some liquors may contain added ingredients such as fruit or spices that can increase the histamine levels as well.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are natural wines histamine free wines?

Histamine content in natural wines is generally lower than it is in other wines. When wine makers use sulfur dioxide and other additives, it increases histamine levels in wine. This is why natural wines usually contain less than 15 mcg/L. 

If you’re looking to buy a low or histamine-free wine, natural wines are a good option. And if the natural wine is a white wine, that’s probably even better.

Can wine manufacturing processes play a role?

Yes, wine manufacturing processes can play a role in the formation of histamines. The ripeness of the grapes, the processing in the cellar, the bacterial and yeast strains used in the fermentation process, and the nutrients supplied to the microorganisms all influence the amount of histamines in the final product. 

Prolonged storage in wooden barrels during the maceration and fermentation periods tend to favor the formation of histamines, while wines produced in stainless steel containers are less likely to form histamines. In addition, the use of alternate bacterial strains during the fermentation process has been shown to reduce the amount of biogenic amines in the final product. 

What is the Histamine Bucket?

The histamine bucket is a metaphor to describe the body’s natural ability to process a certain amount of histamines. Everyone’s bucket size is unique and it varies depending on factors like genetics, age, medication, environmental factors, nutritional deficiencies, hormones, and stress levels. 

When these histamines enter the body, they go into the “bucket”. As it fills up, the capacity for additional histamines becomes smaller until it is full and causes unwanted symptoms such as headaches. 

Your Histamine Bucket

Wine is a popular alcoholic beverage that can have an effect on the histamine bucket of a wine drinker. Histamines are a natural chemical produced by the body in response to allergens or inflammation.

When the body is exposed to certain allergens, the immune system produces histamines to help ward off the threat. This is why some people can drink an entire bottle of wine without repercussions, while others may experience a headache after only one glass.

The size of a person’s histamine bucket varies from person to person, meaning that some people can take in more histamines before experiencing negative reactions, while others may not.

Factors such as genetics, age, medication, environmental factors, nutritional deficiencies, hormones, stress levels, and exposure to various substances like perfume, chemicals, caffeine, soap, detergent, UV light, smoke, and red wine can all affect the rate at which your bucket fills up.

For those with chronic allergies and inflammation, understanding the histamine content of wine is key to determining how much they can safely drink. Grapes, yeasts, sulfites, and ethanol all play a role in the histamine levels of wine – with some wines having higher levels than others. Therefore, it is important for those with chronic allergies and inflammation to read the nutritional information and choose a wine that has minimal histamine content.

What to do now

Armed with this information, you can now shop and drink much smarter. Be sure to steer clear of red wine unless it’s a brand that minimizes histamine and sulfites. And try to develop buying history with vintners who especially focus on creating low-histamine wines. If you can do that, you’ll be able to keep enjoying wine while avoiding the misery of allergies.