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