December 03, 2023 by Alyssa Taylor

The Sunday Sip: European Wine & Headaches

POV: I was in Europe last summer. Why did I not get a headache when drinking wine?

A: We get asked this question frequently… Someone has gone to Europe for the first time, they ate and drank a ton of delicious food & wine, and they didn’t get a headache like when they drink wine in the US. They think it’s something special about European wines. Usually they think, because European laws don’t require the “has sulfites” warning on the label, that European wines are sulfite free, while American wines have sulfites added. This is definitely not true at all. However, there are a few items likely relating to this feeling, so let’s break them down:

First, it might be related to alcohol levels – European wines (in some areas) tend to have lower alcohol levels than American wines. The key word here is tend to, as it is not an end to a rule by any means, but with many EU wine law specifications, you will often find regulated alcohol percentages. High alcohol leads to quicker dehydration, so keep this in mind no matter where in the world you are drinking!

Second, additives in wine. Many european winemakers produce wines under the motto ‘if you have a good product, and confidence in that product, you don’t need to mask it.’ By masking, we’re referring to things like: additional yeasts for flavoring, added sugar, extended sulfite/sulfur use (as sulfites occur naturally and present in almost all wines to some degree), heavy oak usage or oak chips, stabilizers, or even some fining & filtering methods. In truth, the amount of additives even allowed in the EU is far less than in the America’s. I think this ideal also feeds into their traditional farming and winemaking practices. Many of the EU winemakers have been farming sustainably and organically for years.

Lastly, how you are drinking the wine in Europe, vs how you drink wine in the US is arguably the most important factor.

When you’re on vacation, you are simply more relaxed. The excitement and adrenaline leading up to your trip really helps with endorphin release, and in turn, causes that ‘pure happiness’ feeling while on your trip. On the other hand, often when we are not on vacation, we experience more stress and anxiety that can lead to feeling down and crummy. You can imagine when our moods are behaving this way, that this will factor into our experience with where we are in the world, what we are doing, and what we are eating & drinking.

Also, in European wine culture, you always have a bottle of water on the table, your glass of wine, and a lot of healthy, farm-to-table food. You drink the wine, you drink the water, you eat the food, over a multi-hour long meal. This allows the wine to be absorbed in small doses, and the water helps to moderate the dehydration the wine causes. The food slows down the absorption. In between meals, you are even usually walking around and getting exercise.

In comparison, when you drink in the US it is quite a different situation. You usually eat far less variety of healthy food in one sitting. Often that food is processed, and because of how fast Americans are known to eat, you’re going to hinder absorption. You’re rarely drinking water. You usually aren’t getting nearly as much exercise. All of these things combined will cause the wine to hit you with a much harder effect.

If you’re a fan of European wines, and want to bring their food & wine culture to your home, try checking out these European country-inspired gift sets: Taste of Italy Food & Wine Gift Box and Taste of France Wine Gift Box!

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