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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Does getting drunk on cheaper wine give a person a worse hangover? Or does quality have no correlation with the aftermath?
—Molly, Storm Lake, Iowa
Maybe, but not necessarily. It’s not as if wines that cost less than $10 are always going to make you feel bad, or that wines that cost more than $50 are never going to give you a hangover—which is terrific, because one of my favorite notes in wine is “affordable.” How much wine you consume is the biggest variable.
When you’re feeling hungover, it’s because of a few things happening to your body. You’re dehydrated, you’re experiencing vitamin depletion (in particular, vitamins A, B—especially B6—and C), and you’ve got an accumulation of acetaldehyde, a toxic by-product of your body metabolizing alcohol.
Plenty of variables will impact these effects, including what it is you’re drinking in the first place. Sugar can accelerate the depletion of B vitamins, and some cheap wines might be on the sweet side, but some of the greatest, most expensive wines in the world are also sweet. Congeners—impurities formed during fermentation—can make hangovers worse. Some liquors have more than others, particularly whisky, bourbon and rum, and more congeners are typically found in red wine than in white. I’ve heard that less expensive wines also tend to have more congeners in them, but I haven’t seen any proof.
Then there are histamines, which occur in wine and are known to cause headaches, so if you’re histamine intolerant, that might make your hangover feel worse. I’ve heard theories that wild yeast fermentations (which I’ve only seen in pricier wines) and problematic or rapid fermentations (which you might see in cheaper wines) increase the likelihood of histamines.
Tannins can interfere with your serotonin levels, which also have a headache impact. Some cheap wines might have added tannins or synthetic tannins, or because of the way the grapes are handled, they might have a whole bunch of tannins, but sometimes so do expensive wines. Less-expensive wines might use oak alternatives, which I’ve heard can sometimes be treated with chemicals to make the wine absorb the oak flavors faster, and that might also aggravate headaches.
Taking all this information in, you can see that it’s not simply a matter of correlating the price of a wine with how it’ll make you feel the next day. The good news is that some researchers are looking into ways to alleviate hangovers, including one study that suggests we should all develop a taste for prickly pears.
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