A grisly wine hangover is the stuff of nightmares. Thumping headache, bloatedness, anxiety, nausea. Hangovers, I posit, are much worse here in Los Angeles, where the relentlessly oppressive sun beams you directly in the eyes without your consent. My only beef with the aesthetic of this city: It needs some fucking clouds. Plant a few more trees, for Christ’s sake. And it’s not just the bright, bullish tyrant in the sky I have an issue with when I’m nursing alcohol-induced miseries, it’s the police helicopters, the sirens, the everybody. Recovering from a hangover, even in a town full of antidotes like boat noodles, burritos, and gamjatang, is hard. Unless you have Xanax. Man, Xanax is good.
Wine has just never been something that I’ve cared too much about, so I was the first one to write off natural wine as a pretentious, overpriced, agro-chic fad. Moreover, the wine industry already skeeves me out due to its perceived exclusiveness—slimy, well-dressed DJs sniffing and swirling glasses at hip wine bungalows in Los Angeles are just not the type of people I like to hang out with.
I digress, though, because like a lot of folks, I’m a human being in pain who needs to drink his medicine. So I started to drink natural wine, and then I started to drink a lot of it. And when I did that, I was surprised to find out that one of the alleged benefits of natural wine rang true: a total lack of hangover.
The first time I got drunk on natural wine, I was with a friend, comedian and all-around good time fun wine boy Karl Hess. We drank a few bottles on his porch overlooking the city and didn’t eat any food, yet somehow the next morning I woke up as if shot out of a cannon. No headache, no nausea, no discomfort. I slept like a baby.
“There’s no hangover,” I proudly exclaimed to friends afterward. But was that true? Was the wine’s “naturalness” the reason I didn’t have the hangover, or was I just regurgitating the propaganda of the natural wine industry without any facts?
It pains me to read studies and learn about science, but I had to investigate. Why the hell did I feel so good the morning after drinking an entire bottle of wine?
There’s just no science to consistently support the claim that natural wine doesn’t cause hangovers, and plenty of articles lead with that headline: “Drinking Organic Wine Won’t Prevent a Hangover,” says Time. Everything I’ve read says that there’s just no proof that natural wine is guaranteed to spare you a headache.
The reason we can’t draw any overarching conclusions about natural wine is that the term “natural wine” is pretty broad. Most of the time, it just means the wine was produced by sustainable and/or organic means, without industrial production methods. But it’s also a term that wades in the same murky, opportunistic marketing waters as claims like “organic” and “healthy” and “sugar free.” Plenty of so-called natural wine companies are simply cashing in on the fact that consumers are seeking a less processed alcoholic beverage.
Across the board, natural wine does contain fewer added sulfites and pesticides than its commercial counterparts (ideally, they should have none of those additives). But the amount of sugar, sulfites, and alcohol by volume (ABV) all vary from bottle to bottle. Moreover, everybody has a different threshold for sugar, sulfites, fats, acids, and preservatives, meaning they’ll process those things differently. It’s hard to conduct a proper hangover study when there are so many variables. And science has tried.
About sulfItes: This buzzword lives at the epicenter of the wine world. It’s basically a food preservative. Consuming sulfites in high doses, it’s been proven, can cause dehydration, headaches, and respiratory distress—sounds like a hangover to me—but tolerance to sulfites can vary. One study shows a direct link to higher sulfite levels causing headaches, but it also notes that the headaches can be caused by any number of variables, including the wine’s ABV. There’s also such a thing as sulfite sensitivity, which the FDA asserts less than 1% of the population has.
Per this New York Times article, Andrew Waterhouse, director of the Robert Mondavi institute of Wine and Food Science at The University of California, Davis, declares, “There is absolutely no proof that your natural wine hangover will be any less severe.”
All right, fine. But why the hell have I been feeling better after draining my bank account on natural wine?
Could it simply be that consuming good food and drink makes you feel good? I certainly feel better when I’m eating foods that are less processed, coffee that isn’t served in a styrofoam cup by my mechanic, and wine that isn’t purchased at the gas station.
The book Natural Wine: An Introduction to Organic and Biodynamic Wines Made Naturally, written by Isabelle Legeron, makes this point: “If you understand how proper food can provide a nourishment that goes beyond merely satisfying hunger and that the energy, commitment, and intentions of natural wine producers matter, then you’ll see just how special fine, natural wine is.”
The problem is that it’s increasingly difficult to know what exactly is in a bottle of wine, since, as Legeron points out, wine isn’t subject to the same labeling laws as packaged food. There’s often a lack of transparency in the wine industry; the processes are so guarded that it’s nearly impossible to make a broad statement such as “natural wine reduces your hangover.”
Perhaps the real reason I feel so good after drinking natural wine is that a lot of the stuff I drink has a lower ABV. That bottle of Meinklang that I drank with my buddy Karl was 11.5% ABV. Compare that to, say, Josh Cellars pinot noir, a grocery store go-to, which carries a 13.5% ABV. It makes sense that drinking less alcohol would produce less of a hangover.
Whether or not natural wine is proven to reduce your hangover, you just have to listen to your body as you drink it, because there’s no concrete evidence that it will. Personally, I drink a lot of water, eat a big-ass pizza, and if the helicopters come out in the middle of the night, well, it’s time to take a Xanax.