The Truth About Natural Wine And Hangovers

Posted: Jan 04, 2021

One year ago, before All This, I was blithely boozing it up with a handful of natural winemakers at Doma?ija Novak in Slovenia when one of them exclaimed, “Thank god these wines are natural—otherwise, we’d be in for a pretty grim day tomorrow!” Everybody erupted in drunken guffaws and nodded in agreement. But I was skeptical: Would I really be headache-free the next day? What could possibly make natural wines less hangover-inducing than their conventional counterparts?

The term natural wine means different things to different people, but the throughlines are organic farming and minimal manipulation in the winery—meaning as few additives, fining agents, and stabilizers as possible chucked into the fermentation vat. Contrast that approach with conventional winemaking, which can legally use up to several hundred non-grape ingredients including sugar, wood chips, artificial flavors, and dyes.

It’s logical to assume that the more “natural” the product, the better it is for you; so, the closer a wine is to pure fermented grape juice, the more digestible it is and the milder the resulting hangover should be. “It’s like Wonder Bread versus sourdough,” said Ilan Saltzman, a sommelier at Bendito Vinos y Vinilos, Madrid’s top natural wine bar. “Most people can digest both with no problem, but there’s a clear winner as to which one is better for you.”

But I needed more than anecdotal evidence to go on, so I started digging. Isabelle Legeron’s Natural Wine offered some intriguing passages. Hangovers, she writes, are all about the liver, which breaks alcohol down into acetaldehyde and acetate, which in turn are excreted through urine or bile. Legeron cites a 2013 study by the University of Rome’s Clinical Nutrition and Nutrigenomic Division of Medicine Faculty that concluded drinking natural wine lowered the amount of acetaldehyde in the blood, giving the liver less work to do and allowing it to flush out toxins at a faster rate. If true, natural wine’s properties could slow down intoxication, resulting in less severe hangovers. (SAVEUR was not able to track down this study, nor could its author be reached for comment.)

Perhaps the most widespread belief about natural wine and hangovers is that sulfites cause headaches and intensify alcohol’s side effects. Since natural wine contains fewer sulfites, drinking it (over conventional wine) should, in theory, make for a milder morning after. Sulfites got a bad rap when “CONTAINS SULFITES” began appearing in all caps on wine labels, like the notorious Surgeon General’s warning on cigarettes. But this labeling policy may have been misguided and not rooted in sound science; in fact, as The Wall Street Journal’s wine columnist, Lettie Teague, reports, it was likely a political ploy by the late U.S. Senator, teetotaler, and segregationist Strom Thurmond to scare people into drinking less alcohol.

By Benjamin Kemper
January 4, 2020

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