When a celebratory party starts with sparkling wine, continues with white wine, some red wine, and later perhaps more bubbly and a dessert wine, many people can be at risk for morning-after agony.
And thus, a search for morning solutions to the pounding head, queasiness, and anything else that afflicts.
My first taste of dry wine came a few days before Christmas when I was 17. I didn’t drink much, but by the time I got home at midnight, I realized how little I knew about drinking.
Since then, I’ve rarely had a problem, and have looked into hangovers, patent medicines, and various anecdotal “cures.” Many don’t work; some make things worse. This column starts with the best idea to avoid the pain. Not only does it work, but avoiding pitfalls is better than treating symptoms -- and it costs virtually nothing.
About 40 years ago, a friend picked me up to drive us to a New Year’s Eve party. When I got in, he was munching on a raw potato.
“What a taste treat,” I said.
“There’s gonna be a lot of booze this evening,” he said. “If you eat a lot of carbs, they’ll sop up the booze and that protects you from a hangover.”
His explanation of how it works may have been off-center, but a germ of truth was there. And it starts with prevention.
My friend actually was doing two things that made sense. He was right that carbs slow down the absorption of alcohol. Also, the sugar in the spud helps with problems associated with low blood sugar.
Treating hangovers is a bandage on a bruise. Avoid the bruise and you won’t need a bandage. Here are a few ideas to prevent morning-after issues.
1. Abstain. Or at least, moderate consumption. It’s possible to get a little light-headed if you drank a lot of sparkling water (see point No. 3), but sparkling water in almost any amount, by itself, poses no danger of a hangover.
But don’t drink too much water -- it tends to reduce electrolytes in the body. In extreme cases, deaths have been reported from what is called “water intoxication.”
2. Water. This is the savvy drinker’s perfect solution (pun intended) to combating the ill effects of high ethanol ingestion. One reason the body has such a reaction to alcohol is dehydration. So replace the fluids. Another is the loss of vitamins and minerals. To begin the rehydration process, start early, and start the next day with a hearty breakfast.
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Raw potatoes (or even charcoal capsules) may have some protective effect, but water is the simplest.
I consume 6-8 ounces of water for every six-ounce alcoholic beverage. Another idea: use Pedialite, Gatorade or any liquid with electrolytes and sugar, both of which are at risk of being depleted when drinking alcohol.
3. Drink bubbly sparingly. The carbon dioxide in sparkling wines can accelerate the transfer of alcohol from the stomach to the bloodstream faster than still wine. So even though the alcoholic content of sparkling wines is often lower than, say, a Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel, it gets into the body faster.
4. Avoid carbonated sparkling wines (anecdotal). For decades I’ve heard long-time hangover sufferers say they rarely have next-day problems when they drink naturally fermented bubblies, such as wines made by the French method in individual bottles (Methode Champenoise) or by Charmat (in large tanks). Problems, they report, mainly come after consuming inexpensive, usually sweet, carbonated beverages.
5. Don’t ignore the bubbles in drink mixers. Carbonated water used in mixers acts the same way as Champagne when it comes to the rapidity of alcohol absorption into the bloodstream. Scotch and water is a bit “safer” than Scotch ‘n’ soda.
6. Beware of “hidden” alcohols. Most people assume all still wines have about the same amount of alcohol. You may like Zinfandel, and the label may say it has 14.1 percent alcohol. But with most wines, the government never checks for accuracy. I know of wine labels that said the alcohol was around 14 percent, but tested out closer to 17 percent.
The government’s so-called Market Basket analysis of alcohol levels for pricey wines is so faulty there is not even a penalty for violators.
I wrote about this in August 2014 (https://www.pressdemocrat.com/lifestyle/2519556-181/regulation-of-wines-is-scattershot).
So there is a possibility that a Zinfandel listed at 14 percent could be a lot higher.
7. Add water to high-alcohol wines.
I hate despoiling wine, but I almost never consume anything over 15 percent (the impact is simply not wine-like for me). If I have to evaluate such wines, I add a tablespoon of water to my glass, the way I judge Cognac.
8. And that “one-more-for-the-road”? Make it 2018 Chateau Hetch-Hetchy.
Discovery of the Week: 2017 Domaine du Bois-Malinge Muscadet Sur Lie ($13): This gorgeous, underrated white wine is an excellent lower-alcohol (12 percent) dry accompaniment to canapés, mild cheeses, and lighter seafood dishes. It comes from the western Loire Valley in France, from the Melon de Bourgogne grape. The wine is fermented dry, but it’s not austere. Aging on its lees (dead yeast cells) gave it a richer mid-palate and it retains much of its ocean breeze aroma notes. Often seen at about $11.