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Oct 31, 2007 01:00 PM

Pinot Grigio vs. Riesling with Allergies

I just wanted to throw this question out there. A few years ago I developed an allergy to alcohol. As a wine lover I decided not to give up, and to try again. I tried a few different Pinot's with no problem at all. However, I decided to try a glass of Riesling and my symptoms (severe burning and redness of the face) appeared almost instantly. Could someone explain to me the differences in production and grapes used that might be causing my problems? None of this makes sense to me. Thanks!

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  1. riesling usually has a hefty dose of sulfites added to it throughout the winemaking process to minimize oxidation and bacterial spoilage. but your symptoms sound more like a histamine reaction than a sulfite sensitivity, which is usually manifest as respiratory irritation. riesling usually has less alcohol than pinot grigio, so it's not an alcohol allergy. maybe pinot grigio is ok because they are usually so dilute. try a pinot grigio made with better quality grapes, like an alsatian pinot gris from a decent producer. if that bothers you, then you'll know to stick to over-cropped, dilute wines.

    3 Replies
    1. re: warrenr

      alsatian pinot gris
      What would you recommend?

      1. re: elizaladouce

        Here are all the Alsatian Pinot Gris recommendations made on the Wine Board from
        the last year:

        1. re: maria lorraine

          I'm too lazy to check the list so I'll just recommend the Lucine Albrecht Romanus '04 that I had last night; a very nice wine.

    2. I've been doing a lot of research on wine and headaches, as well as on the vascular response you described. Melanie Wong has written about this previously on Chowhound,
      and I believe the response you had comes from consuming alcohol infrequently. With infrequent consumption, the body processes the alcohol TOO quickly and the redness/flushing and "burning" are indications of that.

      Quoting Melanie:
      "Actually the flush comes from the build up of excess amounts of acetaldehyde. It's not a lack of enzymes to convert alcohol to the more toxic acetaldehyde, but instead a super-efficient ability to make this transformation. The imbalance of this reaction with the speed of the subsequent breakdown of acetaldehyde to acetic acid is the problem. Some gastroenterologists I've talked to have alluded to the possiblity that the enzymes might be inducible, meaning that your liver can be "trained" to produce an appropriate amount if you have small amounts of alcohol on a regular basis."

      So you might get around this reaction you have by consuming tiny amounts of alcohol a few times a week to "train" your body.

      Sulfites have been completely ruled out in medical studies out as causing wine headaches or the redness/flushing courtabella describes. Sulfites in wine cause a reaction only in those persons with existing asthma (5% of the population) of those with a rare disorder called sulfite oxidase deficiency (1% of the population). If sulfites were a problem when consuming wine, then eating dried fruit would cause an extreme reaction, as would lunchmeat, salami, etc. The litmus test is if you don't have a reaction to those foods, you don't have a sulfites sensitivity. Bear in mind that a glass of wine contains, IIRC, 40 mg of sulfites and the human body itself produces about 1000 mg/day.

      Likewise, histamines have been ruled out as causing headaches or redness/flushing.
      Several medical trials in 2006-7 recruited histamine sufferers who were then given wines doctored with various levels of histamines (including none), and the wines did not cause a reaction.

      The most significant culprits for wine headaches currently are tannins, which cause a serotonin "rush" that hits the brain and causes a headache, and tyramines, found in all aged foods like wine (especially Chianti), aged cheese, salamis, etc. While a few glasses of wine might be OK and not cause a headache, combining that wine with aged cheese and salami could result in enough tyramines to cause a headache. By the way, migraine sufferers learn to avoid tyramine-laced foods, but they can cause a doozy of a headache in anyone.

      More studies are being done on wine and headaches. I'll write more as I gather the research.

      Finally, bear in mind that an allergy is a reaction to a protein, so I doubt you have an allergy to alcohol. You may indeed have the rapid conversion of alcohol to acetaldehyde to which Melanie refers. If you did have an "allergy" to something in alcohol, it may be to one of the filtering (or fining) agents used to remove cloudiness or particulate in wine. The main three are casein, egg white, and isinglass (derived from sturgeon bladder, among other fish sources), and those would all cause a reaction in those drinkers with an allergy to milk, eggs, and fish, respectively. But the allergic reaction would be obvious, i.e., hives, difficulty breathing, etc., and you would already have experienced this reaction when consuming foods with those substances.

      8 Replies
      1. re: maria lorraine

        Tannins and tyramines are not only in wines and cheeses, but can also be found in teas, nuts, chocolate, cured olives, etc. As a woman, I've always found it interesting that these things can cause headaches and flushed face, yet are very soothing during menstruation.

        1. re: maria lorraine

          "The most significant culprits for wine headaches currently are tannins, which cause a serotonin "rush" that hits the brain and causes a headache, and tyramines, found in all aged foods like wine (especially Chianti)"

          Why especially Chianti? Is it the sangiovese grape? If so, then are all sangiovese -based wines affected?

          1. re: Husky

            This is an area of some interest to me, Husky, and tonight I read some more research to answer your question.

            Actually, Chianti may have gotten a bad rap. In a 2000 study, the highest level of tyramines was found in red wines from the US. Tyramines form during malolactic fermentation, regular fermentation and during wine aging. Higher levels of tyramines seem to be related to volatile acidity, longer fermentation times and greater skin contact. More to come.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              Would you please give a referance for the 2000 study listing tyramine contents in red wine?

              1. re: greader3

                If you can hold on a few weeks, I hope to have my hands on a brand new report that lists the individual measurements of several biogenic amines (tyramine is one) in wines by varietal and country of origin. Please feel free to write me at the email listed on my profile if your need is more urgent, or if you have further questions.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  Brand new to this place & format--
                  Have you in fact any further info on wine and headaches? I drink Cavit Pinot Grigio at home and usually get a headache in the morning after only 1 glass. Just tried Ruffiino PG with actually a much worse headache in AM.
                  My allergies are dust, mites and mold on the 30 yr. old scratch arm test, however, they caused post nasal type problems, beginning after childbirth. Also am gluten intolerant and hypoglycemic determined around '01. Any info will be appreciated. Thanks so much.

                  1. re: elizaladouce

                    With the two wines you've mentioned, my guess is your headaches are caused by cheap wines and fast fermentations. Lots of impurities/toxins in those that will give anybody a headache.

                    Read more here:

          2. re: maria lorraine

            As a practicing allergist/immunologist, I was reading the questions/responses provided here and I want to say that I agree with most of what maria lorraine states above. True alcohol allergy is a very rare entity and many argue its existence. You are correct that it is proteins to which we develop allergy. As allergists, we are very careful to distinguish true allergy (i.e. IgE mediated -- hives, angioedema, reactive airway issues) and food intolerances which is more of what is described by the OP. Food intolerances are often nebulous and unpredictable. The vast majority of people that have issues with food (this doesn't apply to children) have food intolerances that they wrongly ascribe as being food allergies. In the case of food intolerances, there is no accurate testing available but for true food allergy, there is testing (which is not any where near 100% sensitive).

            As an addition to the allergies that maria lorraine describes above with wine, there has been a recent report (in the New England Journal of Medicine) of a person with anaphylaxis to wine that had positive skin testing to a stinging insect and the authors found that stinging insect antigen in the wine.

            I hope this is helpful.

          3. Virtually any glass of wine that I have (or beer for that matter) causes me to get congested. I've just grown to accept it and get up and go to the bathroom to blow my nose every 15-20 minutes.

            1. I have had the same reaction unfortunately. Once due to champagne, more recently due to red wine. I don't drink alcohol very often (am on a lo-cal diet, so alcohol is empty calories for me) and I don't drink any one varietal in particular. I am also in the food business, and when we have wine tastings, I have to be very careful, as I don't know what will produce the reaction. So, I share your pain, so to speak.

              As to the poster below who said that allergies are due to protein, I am deathly allergic to enoki mushrooms, of all things which I believe isn't protein. I've never been medically tested, but know for sure, and have ended up in the ER on at least one occasion. The last time I tempted fate and ate something that had enoki oil, I was cursing myself a few hours later, very sick.

              2 Replies
              1. re: rednails

                The protein content of mushrooms is quite high, almost that of meat or soy. It's a good idea for you to be tested for mushroom allergy, rednails, and possibly carry an epi pen. Many people have an allergy to mushrooms; in others without an allergy, raw mushrooms (like enoki and button mushrooms) cause a reaction, but cooked ones do not. If you'd like to talk more about mushroom reactions, we should probably do that on a board other than the Wine Board. All best, good luck.

                1. re: rednails

                  I seem to have the same problem, I'm not always sure what will cause the reaction. I'm glad I'm not the only one!

                2. I'm glad to see there is some research on this subject. We may never find all the answers as each person's physiology is different but it does look promising.