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Food & Wine As a migraine sufferer, every wine I’ve tried has given me a headache – except for blueberry wine. Any idea why?

A crate of freshly picked blueberries.

Canadian Press

The question

I love sweet wine, but being a migraine sufferer, every wine I've tried has given me a headache. Recently I discovered blueberry wine. No pain, and I am thrilled. Do you know why no headache?

The answer

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My guess, and it's just a guess, has to do with amines, specifically the relatively low levels in blueberry wine. I can't diagnose your specific issue because there could be various causes for your headaches. I'm also not a doctor. But you should be aware that there is a group of organic nitrogenous compounds known as biogenic amines that have been strongly implicated as a source of wine-related migraines. (Tannins and sulphites are, I would argue, far less blameworthy than is widely assumed.)

Amines – which include histamine, one of the main amines in wine – are produced naturally through microbial action at various stages of wine production, notably during fermentation, whether primary alcoholic fermentation or secondary malolactic fermentation. The latter process is most commonly confined to red wines and to softer-textured whites such as oak-aged chardonnays.

Fresh blueberries themselves contain lower amine levels than do fresh grapes, though I suspect this is not the big issue for you, assuming you are able to eat fresh grapes without cranial discomfort. It's the much higher, postfermentation levels that matter more.

In a 2007 study published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, Canadian researchers Vasantha Rupasinghe of Nova Scotia Agricultural College (now part of Dalhousie University) and Steve Clegg of the University of Guelph found, among other things, that fruit wines made from blueberry, black currant, cherry, cranberry, elderberry, plum and raspberry all contained significantly lower concentrations of biogenic amine histamine than red wine made from cabernet grapes. (White wines and icewines also had lower concentrations than the cabernet.)

Glad you like blueberry wine and that it causes no pain. Some of it is quite good, particularly the versions made from wild blueberries found in Nova Scotia and in the U.S. northeast.

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Wine & Spirits newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.

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