Turning into a tomato
Question from Rebecca: Recently I have noticed with some wines I develop almost a hot rash even after one glass. I have spoken to some of my friends about it and apparently they experience the same. Is this due to an ingredient in the wine, and if yes is there a brand I can drink to avoid having this happen?
In a nut shell: Unfortunately it’s not a simple answer. There are a number of compounds you could be reacting to – sulphites, histamines, tyramine, tannin or alcohol (heaven forbid). Read on for all the nitty gritty.
In a clam shell: Common wine allergies include flushed skin and rashes (in your case), itchiness, headaches, migraines, congestion and asthma which can be attributed to all different compounds so figuring out what you’re reacting to might involved a little trial and error. Before you read on ask yourself a few questions. Do you get that hot rash whenever you drink alcohol or is it just when you drink red wine? Do you get headaches too? Do you get short of breath?
Disclaimer – Let me start by saying that I’m no doctor but I like to think I’m a doctor of wine. Teeehehehe!
Most people who get that hot rash blame it on the sulphites (or sulfites, same thing) but your flushed face could very well be a reaction to something else. Sulphites are a preservative which occur naturally during the fermentation process but are also, more often than not, added to the wine to maintain its freshness. Without sulphites the wine would turn to vinegar so we need these bad boys. Sulphites are commonly used in food manufacturing and are present in much higher levels in dried fruit and processed meat (about 10 times more than wine). So if you chug down sultanas and love a ham toastie with no reaction it’s not the sulphites that are causing the problem.
And if you get headaches from drinking wine you can also eliminate sulphites. Sulphites will generally affect people with severe asthma and will cause shortness of breath (and sometimes a skin reaction) but sulphites will not cause headaches. If you do get asthma from wine stick to red wines because white wines actually contain more sulphites than red wines (wowza – myth busters!). Sweet white wines contain the most! Red wine contains tannins (that chalky mouth drying feeling you get after a gulp of Shiraz) which helps to preserve the wine so less sulphites are needed.
Sulphites are harmless for most people but by law if the wine contains more than 10 parts per million of sulphite the label must say ‘contains sulphites’. Unfortunately there are very few wines without some sulphites because wine is perishable and prone to oxidation (going bad when in contact with oxygen). Wine without sulphites will have a very short life, probably only about six months. But if you are keen to try a wine without sulphites get a wine that’s 100% organic or biodynamic and you’ll be laughing! Dan Murphy’s (because there is one near everyone) has a few organic wines to select from. Check them out here. A common producer that you’ll know is Yalumba from South Australia which actually has an organic range. Curly Flat from Macedon Ranges produce an organic Pinot Noir and Angrove Family Winemakers from South Australia produces a few organics too. Lastly, if you’re a north-sider, Psarakos in Thornbury has a nice organic drop – 2013 Pig in the House Cabernet Sauvignon.
But if it’s not sulphites, what is causing your bloomin’ rash? Now let’s talk about histamines. Histamines are present in fermented products like wine, beer and aged cheese (all the good things in life). It is produced during the fermentation process and if you’re sensitive to histamine you are deficient in the enzyme that breaks this little sucker down. Most people can metabolise histamines but if you’re sensitive expect sneezing, flushed face, headaches and shortness of breath. In this case red wine is the culprit because it has 20 to 200% more histamine than white wine.
If you think it could be the histamine I have a little test for you to do. Take an anti-histamine one hour before you drink a glass of red wine and if you’ve reacted in the past and you’re fine this time around you know it’s an enzyme deficiency to histamine (boom!).
Moving on to tyramine – I actually thought I was reacting to tyramine for a while as I was getting bad migraines but it turns out all I needed was a little vitamin B (phew). As food ages, the enzyme tyramine breaks down and those nasty tyramine levels increase. Tyrmaine is known to cause migraines but it’s in everything so if you’re not also reacting to salami, canned tuna, aged cheese, snow peas, broad beans, sauerkraut, soy sauce, peanuts, sesame seeds, coconuts and vegemite (to name a few) it’s probably not tyramine. And if you’re flushed in the face but don’t get headaches it’s definitely not tyramine either.
Tannin (that mouth drying feeling similar to the sensation you get when you drink strong black tea) comes from the skin of the grape and is present in red wine (not white wine) because red wine is fermented while in contact with the skin and seeds of the grape (white wine is not). Tannin causes the release of serotonin and too much serotonin can lead to headaches. But tannin does not cause redness and it’s also in chocolate, tea and soy so if you’re good with these then you’re good with tannin.
Last but not least in the ‘what causes that wine rash’ discussion is alcohol (this one is very sucky)! If you go red and blotchy after any alcohol (be it wine, beer, spirits, liquor) you mightn’t have enough of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol. When you metabolise alcohol a toxic substance is produced called acetaldehyde. If you cannot genetically break down acetaldehyde you’re going to go bright red and blotchy and you’ll probably get a headache too.
I hope this has helped narrow it down for you and not confused the matter. Unfortunately all these allergens are rather hard to avoid if you’re a wine drinker. But wait! It’s not all doom and gloom. There is this great new wine bar in West Melbourne called Clever Polly’s that specialised in natural wines free of additives and preservatives and you can drink in or take away (pretty clever hey). The wines at Clever Polly’s are less likely to cause a rash or give you a headache as they have been made with minimum intervention during the fermentation process but you may have to trial and error a few until you find a wine that agrees with you. Clever Polly’s is at 313 Victoria Street, West Melbourne. Go there! This weekend! Do it! Good Luck!