You’re in the middle of a romantic evening with your favorite someone, sharing a tasty little red vino you discovered on your latest wine tour and BAM! – suddenly you’re in the middle of a major gastronomical crisis. Forget about romance. You’ve got a four-alarm fire raging through your midsection and you need relief – fast!
Whether you know it or not, you’ve just fallen victim to a common wine-drinking hazard: Red wine and heartburn. Many people report higher rates of heartburn when drinking red wine than they do when drinking any other alcoholic beverage. But instead of trying to identify the cause of their problem, they give up drinking red wine altogether.
That’s unfortunate because red wines account for some of the best vintages in the world. In the region where I write about wine, New York state, quality reds are becoming the norm with Pinot Noirs, Merlots, and Cabernets that are simply out of this world.
As a wine-lover, you can’t afford to remove red wines from tasting equation. But since raging heartburn isn’t acceptable, either, you’ll need to get to the bottom of your red wine and heartburn dilemma ASAP. Here are some of the usual red wine suspects that may play a role in causing heartburn.
Tannins. You’ve probably heard that red vintages are high in antioxidants. That’s true – in fact, tannins actually prevent oxidation during the wine aging process. Tannins are found in grape skins and seeds, which is why reds have more tannins than white wines (skins and seeds are removed during the white winemaking process). Commonly associated with wine headaches, tannins are also thought to contribute to wine-based heartburn and acid reflux – but no more than coffee, which is also a beverage with high tannin content.
Histamines. Most people associate histamines with allergies. But believe it or not, histamines are also an important aid in digestion. They are produced by the stomach as a way to protect it from damage. Without histamines, your stomach wouldn’t be capable of producing enough stomach acid for proper digestion. The problem is that red wines are notorious for containing an abundance of histamines. It’s possible that too much red wine could result in higher levels of histamines than your stomach can handle and lead to elevated levels of stomach acid.
Acids. All wine contains a certain amount of acidity. But contrary to popular belief, white wines are generally more acidic than red wines. However, wines that are produced in cooler climates tend to contain higher acid levels than wines produced in warmer climates. So if you want to avoid heartburn, all you have to do is to focus on red wines produced in warmer places, right? Not exactly. Low-acid red wines that are produced in warmer locales also contain more histamines than wines produced in cooler areas. In the end, it’s a trade-off between histamines and wine acidity.
So how can you avoid heartburn when drinking red wine? Since I’m not a doctor, it shouldn’t surprise you that my first suggestion is to consult your physician. Beyond that, experiment with different vintages, paying close attention to details like where it is produced, its level of acidity, etc. Start with reds that were produced in warmer climates like Australia and gradually work your way up to vintages that were made in cooler climates like New York state.
If heartburn is still an issue, consider taking an over-the-counter histamine blocker either immediately before or immediately after drinking a tantalizing Shiraz or Cabernet. There’s a good chance that a combination of acid awareness and histamine inhibitors will make it possible for you to uncork your favorite bottle of red without fear of heartburn or acid reflux.