Q: Is there a general rule for whether cheap or expensive wines will cause impairment more quickly? —Hayley, Sydney, Australia
A: I’ve written before about whether cheap wine is more likely to leave you with a hangover (not necessarily), but never about how quickly you might feel a wine’s effect. Keep in mind the rate of alcohol absorption will rely on the alcohol percentage, how quickly you’re drinking, how dehydrated you are, how muscular you are, and whether or not your stomach is empty or full. It's also influenced by age, genetics and medications.
There really is nothing about the way cheap wines are made vs. the way expensive wines are that factors into impairment. The only relevant relationship I could find is that sugar and alcohol both can mess with a person’s blood sugar, and so sweeter wines can make some people feel a little more lightheaded. But while plenty of cheap wines are sweet, so are some of the most prized wines in the world, like Port or Sauternes.
It's possible that something about cheap or expensive wines can psychologically influence how quickly you drink them, or how big your pours are. Do you get smaller pours of more expensive wines? Do you sip them more slowly, or enjoy them more enthusiastically? Do you get heavier pours of less expensive stuff? These are all relevant questions to consider.