Red wine is supposed to have a wide range of health benefits, but many people find it gives them headaches; others may find themselves getting itchy and sneezy (especially if they're already prone to allergic reactions). So what causes these unpleasant side effects, and why are they restricted to red wine?
The culprit is the skins; the skins of red wine grapes contain tannins (which cause the mouth-puckering taste) and histamines, which are likely to provoke an allergic reaction in people who are already prone to asthma, eczema and hayfever. They also contain tyramine, which constrict the blood vessels. Contrary to common belief, sulfites (a natural product of the wine-making process) are unlikely to be at the root of the problem; less than 1% of the population are genuinely allergic to sulfites.
White wines and rose spend less time in contact with grape skins, and are therefore less likely to produce an allergic reaction; lighter reds like Cienna are ideal for people wanting the antioxidants associated with red wine, but are unable to manage the tannins and histamine. Older wines are also less likely to provoke a reaction, as the tannins and histamine will have been absorbed by the other molecules in the wine; more expensive, boutique wine is also less likely to induce a reaction (cheap wine is more likely to make your mouth pucker, which indicates a higher level of tannins).