We’ve all been in this situation before: we wake up after a night of fun and merriment with a terrible hangover. Normally we’d blame this hangover on ourselves, admitting we probably indulged a bit too much, but this time was different, because we seem to remember one of the guests saying the bottle they brought was pretty cheap, it even came in a jug. That must be the culprit we tell ourselves, cheap wine always results in a bad hangover. But that statement isn’t necessarily true.
Part of this myth originates from the understanding that cheap liquors do often cause worse hangovers, thanks to congeners, also known as fusil oils. These congeners are impurities that our bodies don’t easily process, meaning we need a lot of water to try and flush them out. But often we don’t drink enough water, which means we wind up with a hangover. These congeners are more likely to exist in lower-quality liquors – which are often on the cheaper side – and that’s primarily where the myth that all cheap alcohol causes hangovers comes from. While it is generally true for liquor, it doesn’t always hold true for wine.
All wine can cause a hangover if enough of it is consumed, so why do we normally equate cheap wine with being more likely to cause a hangover than a wine that’s expensive? The main culprit here is sugar. In certain cheap wines, sugar is used to mask the flavors of the lower-quality fruit; this sugar is what creates that pounding headache the next day, because as our body tries to flush both the alcohol and sugar out of our system, it winds up working overtime, pulling water from anywhere it can find it, including our heads. This dehydration is what can cause such a bad hangover, but even some expensive wines can be very high in sugar, and you’re just as likely to be badly hungover the next day by consuming those bottles.
The other culprit when it comes to headaches and wines can be the tannins. Wines high in tannins can sometimes – but not always – interfere with serotonin levels, which can result in a headache. The reason cheap wines get blamed so often is because, just like with the sugar, in cheaper wines these tannins tend to be added or even synthetic, which can create the headache. But then again, even expensive wines that are naturally high in tannins can result in a pounding head if enough of that wine is consumed.
The good news is that in order to continue enjoying wine at any price point, simply trust your palate. Our palates are very sensitive to sweetness as well as the drying sensation created by tannins, so if the wine you’re drinking tastes overly sweet or your mouth is overly dry, either ensure you’re drinking plenty of water, or just don’t drink that wine. It’s much easier to approach wine this way, than to rule out all cheaper wines simply based on a myth.