Have you ever wondered why some nights you can drink a half or a whole bottle of wine (just kidding, my whole bottle of wine days are LONG gone) and feel fine the next day, while others you can have one glass and wake up with a fog over your head? I’ve also had clients find that sometimes a glass of wine leaves them feeling fine, while other times they feel awful the next day. So, I set out to explain why this is happening!
On nights I drink wine, there’s a good chance I’m out at a restaurant too, so it’s always tough for me to distinguish whether it was something about the food or the wine... (or both). When I started to do some digging though, I realized there are actually a few interesting reasons why some wines make you feel worse than others.
Tannins are naturally occurring phenolic compounds that exist in grape skins, seeds and stems. Phenolics happen to be what give wine its beneficial antioxidant levels. If you also get headaches from dark chocolate, black tea, or soy, which are all high in tannins, this could be the compound in wine that is problematic for you.
White wines have almost no tannins but if you’re a red wine drinker, you may only have an issue with very high tannin wines like full bodied reds such as Bordeaux, Barolo, Syrah or certain Cabernet Sauvignons. Low tannin reds like Pinot Noirs, Sangiovese and Rioja’s or rosés might be okay (source).
This is the most common culprit people associate for wine hangovers. Sulfites are a compound used in wine production dating back to the very early days of production to preserve the wines and maintain their colour. However, they’re also a preservative in many food products, including baked goods, vinegars, processed foods and premade sauces, dips and dressings and the amount in most wines is significantly lower than many processed foods. About 1 in 100 people are thought to have a true sensitivity to sulfites, which can result in symptoms like hives, digestive upset, respiratory issues (wheezing, coughing, nasal congestion, etc). If you have asthma, you may be one of those people.
Here’s the tricky thing: the Canadian government requires that sulfites be listed on the label at amounts greater than 10ppm, but it’s not required to list how much sulfite is in the wine.
For a full list of what ingredients to look for to decipher sulfites, click here. Certified Organic wines are not allowed to contain added sulfites, so that’s a good starting point. Wines with more colour (i.e. reds) tend to have less sulfites than clear wines (i.e. white). Wines with more sugar also tend to need more sulfites. Keep in mind that sulfites develop naturally during the fermentation process so it can be difficult to find a wine that is truly sulfite free, but by choosing Certified Organic and less commercial wines you are at least limiting your amounts as much as possible. If you have a sensitivity to sulfites, the store where you purchase the wine may have more information on which of their wines are best for you.
Histamines are chemicals that are released when you have an allergic reaction and can cause symptoms such as a runny nose or congestion, dry eyes, nausea and headaches.
In some sensitive individuals, foods that are high in histamine, like aged meats, chocolate, aged cheeses, alcohol and fermented foods and beverages, can cause allergy-like symptoms. And of course, these high histamine foods are often paired together! Rosé and white wines are usually much lower in histamine than reds because there is less contact with the skin of the fruit during production.
If you have an issue with histamine but want to enjoy some wine, try lighter whites and rosés and if you prefer reds, aim for very light ones like pinot noir. Some people who have a histamine intolerance can try the supplement Quercetin as it can help reduce the release of histamine.
This one will make sense if you’ve ever had a champagne hangover. There is a big difference in the sugar content of some wines. A wine with 15g of sugar per litre will likely make you feel worse than a wine with 3g of sugar per litre. This is because your body requires additional hydration in order to process both alcohol and sugar. You are much more likely to become dehydrated, and therefore develop a headache from a sweetener wine.
To see how much sugar is in a wine, when you’re at the store , you’ll see a price label on the shelf where that wine is (at least you can at the LCBO). The sugar content looks like this: __g/L. I will usually aim for a wine that has less than 4g/L and if I’m drinking prosecco, will aim for the lowest sugar content I can find. If you are sensitive to sugar, it’s best to avoid sweeter wines like riesling or dessert wines, and cheaper or more commercially available wines often have additional sugar added to speed up fermentation. In Canada, the term “dry” indicates that the wine has little to no sugar, but it depends on the wine and the ranges vary. If you’re ever unsure, you can usually search the wine online.
This is the part where I anticipate most of you will be surprised. When wines are still in the cellar, they are hazy and contain tiny molecules that affect their clarity. This isn’t a bad thing, but because people desire a nice clear, bright wine, most wine makers use a clarifying process called ‘fining’.
This is where it gets interesting. Traditional fining agents are casein (cow’s milk protein), albumin (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein), and isinglass (fish bladder protein). Fining agents are removed from the wine but for someone with a severe allergy or intolerance, it’s possible that tiny traces of these agents may be absorbed into the wine. Research says the risk of allergic reactions to wine because of the egg/dairy/fish added “presents a very low risk for the respective food allergic consumers”, however, positive immune responses were noted from the wine in those with allergies.
Even though dairy, fish and eggs are common allergens, the Canadian government does not require wine makers to list these ingredients on the label unless there is a detectable amount of that protein in the finished product (more on that here). For most people with allergies or sensitivities, reading the label should be sufficient.
Many ‘natural wine’ producers, for example, don’t fine or filter their wine, but this could mean it has a higher tannin content. Those wines may say ‘not fined and/or not filtered’ on the label. It’s not a comprehensive list but if you want to be sure, you can also search for your wine and beer on Barnivore.com to see if it is vegan-friendly, which means none of those animal products are used.
It’s easy to blame the issues you experience with wine on a single ingredient or substance - after all, any alcoholic beverage can dilate blood vessels in the brain and dehydrate you, causing a headache. But having personally experienced the difference in how I feel the next day after certain wines, I know that there are at least steps you can take to reduce your symptoms. Start to make note of wines that make you feel worse or okay the next day.
Make sure you are well hydrated before you start drinking, and drink water consistently between glasses throughout the night. We have some other tips for dealing with and overcoming hangovers here. Lastly, this article by Wines of Canada is a great resource if you’d like to learn more about wine labelling in Canada and the difference between Certified Organic, Organic, and biodynamic wines. They also have a list of Certified Organic wineries in Canada, which seem to have the best ingredients, and happen to be better for you and the environment too.