Are preservatives and sulfites to blame for my hangover?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

When I visit Italy, France, Spain, I can drink wine all day and never get a hangover. I wake up refreshed and ready to start all over again. Is it because of the preservatives or sulfites they put in wine to ship over here? Please let me know if the winemakers make wine differently to ship to the United States.

—Bill W., Hackettstown, N.J.

Dear Bill,

Poor sulfites. They get such a bad rap. Sulfites are naturally present in many things we consume, including wine (it's a byproduct of fermentation). Most winemakers also choose to add some additional sulfites to wine for protection against oxidation and bacterial spoilage. This is a good thing, especially if you've ever been anywhere near an open bottle of spoiled wine. It can be ugly.

The laws of the country where a wine is sold govern its label. And here in the U.S., labeling laws require the mention of sulfites in wine. Wines from all over the world contain sulfites, but if you drink them outside the U.S., they won't mention it on the label. It's confusing, and it leads people to believe that there's a different set of wines sold abroad. As an aside, you may notice that U.S. wines exported to Europe usually have the Surgeon General's warning covered up. They think it's silly overseas.

About 1 percent of the general population is sulfite-sensitive (as are about 5 percent of asthma sufferers). If you're looking to avoid sulfites, check out organically made wines, which won't have any added sulfites, although they'll still have trace amounts. But don't blame sulfites for any headaches or hangovers. Sulfite reactions are like a bad asthma attack, or they might result in hives, not headaches or hangovers.

—Dr. Vinny

Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

Should I be worried about small temperature and humidity changes in my wine cellar?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers advice for wine storage and a helpful tip for …

May 29, 2020

Is it normal for old wine to be cloudy?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains where sediment comes from and strategies for …

May 27, 2020

I love screwcapped wines, but I had two stored on their sides that started leaking. Is that common?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains proper storage for wines with twist-off caps.

May 25, 2020

What are wine tasters trying to communicate when they describe “texture”?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the concept of "texture" in wine, and how …

May 22, 2020

Can I grow wine grapes in Ohio?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers advice and resources for anyone considering …

May 20, 2020

What’s the best way to keep an open bottle of wine at the ideal serving temp?

Wine Spectator 's expert Dr. Vinny offers some tried-and-true methods for cooling down a …

May 18, 2020