Hangover is a term used to refer to feelings of discomfort after drinking alcohol in excess..
For many years I've been at a loss when I received the 'no thank you' response to what I considered a generous offer of
a glass of wine. Frequently it is a woman who says "no thanks, just a little bit of red wine gives me a headache". Stymied I
probably persisted "No, no, never mind the headache, this is really great ...... it's from the Napa Valley, I made it" before I
realized they were serious. Perhaps you've been on one end or the other of this conversation yourself. Until recently no one
really understood why this abyss existed between the happy hedonist and the person who suffers from wine headaches, but now
there is hope that one day science will be able to end this problem. Let's explore why this type of headache and others happen
and while we're at it expose some common myths on things that actually don't cause headaches.
First let's look at a subject that doesn't cause headaches in wine. Ready for the shocking truth? It's that familiar warning
label, "This wine contains sulfites". The most common explanation for headaches and unpleasant experiences with wine is this
ready made excuse printed right on the label. The wine does contain sulfites but unless you're one of a miniscule number of
people who are hyper-hyper-sensitive to sulfur dioxide you aren't reacting to it and it isn't giving you a headache or anything
What this warning refers to is the presence of a chemical called sulfur dioxide, SO2, which has been added mostly by the
wine maker and a little bit by the yeast that turn grape juice into wine. Sulfur dioxide is added to the wine by the wine maker to
prevent the wine from turning brown (oxidizing), from tasting and smelling oxidized and to prevent unfriendly bacteria and molds
from taking over and ruining the wine. The addition of sulfur dioxide to wines is a very old practice dating back to the Greeks.
Sulfur dioxide in wine, present in quantities measured in parts per million, doesn't cause headaches. In fact, the small amount of
active sulfur dioxide that is in wine disappears quickly after bottling as it gets absorbed and deactivated by the wine.
Why is it printed on the label then? Well, years ago, in the 1970's actually, open salad bars became the rage and
restauranteurs and deli owners knew that spraying sulfur dioxide on the lettuce would keep it from going brown. Unfortunately,
they thought that if a little is good then more must be better and they managed to spray on so much that people who are allergic
to sulfur dioxide at high concentrations began to react to the sulfur dioxide used in salad bars. Justifiably the government became
involved and typically they took the broad position that the public needed to be warned about anything containing sulfites. The
American wine makers knowing their levels were so low they didn't create a problem saw a public relations problem of national
proportions and gave in to the government warning label rather than risk a damaging battle in the public press that few would
understand. That's how Americans learned about sulfites existing in wine but the wine makers had to take the bum rap that it
was causing some wine drinkers to feel bad. All wine sold in the United States requires the sulfites warning although no other
country requires the warning, which explains why you don't see it on wine labels when you buy wine in other countries.
Next we'll take a look at the things that do cause wine headaches. (to be continued next week).