As you read this, New Year will be just around the corner, so, in preparation for the event, I have decided to write about the unavoidable: you guessed it, the hangover.

Text: Marcus Bratter

Medical research published in 2005* tells us that: “The most effective way to avoid the symptoms of alcohol induced hangover is to practise abstinence or moderation.” I just love the pragmatic approach. However, most of us will just shrug and reach for the corkscrew. So from a realistic point of view, I have decided to try and understand why we get hangovers and what options we have to limit the effect.

It seems hangovers are produced by a variety of chemical interactions with our bodies. Histamines and sulphites in wines can cause allergic reactions but ethanol (alcohol) is the primary culprit: it produces a few by-products, including acetaldehyde, which contribute to that all-encompassing feeling of nausea we know so well the next morning.

Dehydration is a big factor, so drinking a lot of water on the night is always good, but this does leave you running to the toilet as alcohol is a diuretic.  Hangovers tend to become worse as one ages, so another solution is to either find a way not to age or drink an awful lot while you’re younger, because it’s going to hurt a lot more when you’re older.

Perhaps a more reasonable approach is to drink a little less alcohol, drink more water and, based on my personal experience, drink better. I have usually found that the better the quality of the wine the less aggressive the hangover, possibly due to fewer chemicals in the beverage.

Winemakers can use many additives when fermenting and finishing wines including sugars (to increase alcohol levels), yeasts to ferment, sulphites to stabilise and exhausters to enhance flavours. The better the quality of the grape and the more adroit the winemaker the less need for chemicals.

Locally, Didier Joris, from Valais, is making a beautiful Syrah that has low levels of sulphites; over the border in Burgundy, David Duband in Nuits-Saint-Georges is a good example of how environmentally conscious viticulture can produce good quality wines, and down south in Sicily the same can be said of Etna Rosso DOC. Across in the New World there are many producers experimenting with low or no sulphites. I have yet to find a sulphite-free wine that completely stands up but Seresin Estate in New Zealand and Dieter Meier in Argentina are doing a good job keeping sulphites to a minimum whilst maintaining standards. So keep focused, drink with enthusiasm, but drink well. Happy New Year to you all.

*Pittler Max H, Verster Joris C, Ernst Edzard. Interventions for preventing or treating alcohol hangover: systematic review of randomised controlled trials BMJ 2005; 331 :1515


Marcus Bratter takes us on a tour of the vineyards of Valais by Bike

Riding through the vineyards of the Valais is a pastime that is not without risk. I have yet to be pulled over and breathalysed on my bike, but I must admit had this happened, I would probably have my bike confiscated and a slap on the wrist from the local authorities. Beyond riding under the influence there are itinerant birds that can poop on your head, rivers you can fall into or fellow cyclists that actually ignore the cellar door stops and ride quickly past at destabilising speeds. Also, you might actually get lost. But seriously, riding through the vineyards here is great fun. Many of the winemakers have open tasting rooms and the villages have cooperatives running tasting bistros or restaurants presenting a choice of the local winemaker’s best wines.

There is a well-marked trail starting in Martigny and ending in Leuk, which is past Sierre, well into the “other side” of the Valais where they speak German, and make great wines too. The route is clearly sign posted “Route 72, Chemin du Vignoble”. You can take the train to any point along the way and cycle back to your starting point. The key thing to remember is, in summer, the wind in the valley that starts around 11am and blows toward Sion and Leuk from the lake. So plan your cycling with this in mind. A great thing to do is cycle west in the moring, east in the afternoon or catch the train back to your starting point. Swiss trains are bike friendly but remember you need a ticket for your bike as well.

From Martigny the trail is flat until you get to Conthey and follows the river after it becomes a bit more up and down and climbs through the vineyards with a maximum of a 400M vertical climb to get up to the highest point which is Grimisaut, so an electric bike might be called for.Almost every village has a dedicated “caveaux”. The first is just before Fully, over the river from Martigny at the Fol’terres, then ride up to Saillon and visit the Caveau de Sion, drop into the Caveau de Chamoson then continue on to visit the underground tasting rooms of Jean René Germanier in Vetroz and finish with a big push through to Sierre for visit to the “not to be missed” Oenothèque du Château de Villa.Now if you’re ready to head home jump on the train back to Martigny, otherwise get out the dictionary and head into swyzerdeutch land.

Visit the Musee du Vin in Salgesch cycle on to Varen and finish in Leuk. By now I think your gear changing is starting to get sloppy and it’s time for a taxi. Good luck, happy cycling and be adventurous with your tasting there is a lot to discover.

Glögg, Vin Chaud, Gluhwein, Mulled Wine, Hot Wine, Gløgg

Winter is finally here and the temperatures have dropped below zero so I thought a warming brew would be an appropriate topic for this month.

Hot or mulled wine is brewed in all European countries and therefore comes under many names and forms. Some make it red, some make it white, some with cinnamon and some with rum, some with schnapps and some with orange but they all make a hot alcoholic brew that rhymes with after-ski for me.

There’s nothing better than sitting around a table swapping stories of powder turns and black runs. My favorite recipe has been around for years and is with red wine, has orange and cinnamon and is not too alcoholic so my Scandinavian friends will probably be disappointed as every Glögg recipe I found has an incredible amount of alcohol added to the mix.

Start with a bottle of red wine, not too cheap, but no point in anything too expensive either as the mix of spices will cover up any complexities an expensive wine might have. Warm the wine in a pot, add about 60 grams of sugar and stir. Don’t let the wine boil. Once the sugar has dissolved, add half a cup of orange or lemon juice, sliced orange and a few cloves, two cinnamon sticks and leave to simmer for about 20 minutes. That’s it, so no excuses for not giving it a go!

Now, if you’re entertaining Scandinavian friends or feel like adding a bit of fun to the night, or both, you can add 200ml of white alcohol, rum or fruit schnapps. If you’re here in Verbier, Pear Williams would be appropriate, Danes like Akvavit, Swedes will have it with white rum and they may expect a few raisins thrown in for good luck.

If you’re feeling lazy or out on the hill, hot wine is served all over the resort, every mountain restaurant has their own brew.

So here is the list of ingredients for one bottle. If you need two, just double the quantities etc. The key is to not rush, don’t boil and taste as you go.

1 Bottle of red wine 75cl

60 grams of white or brown sugar (3/4 cup)

½ cup of orange juice

Sliced orange

2 cinnamon sticks

4 Cloves