Stevie Martin | Staff Writer | 1,073 day ago

Ask An Adult: Why Does White Wine Turn Me Into Someone Evil?

The Debrief: Because we've all got that white wine shame story, right? Right?!
Photograph by Lauren Hillebrandt

Ever drunk white wine and turned into a banshee/monster? No, me neither. But that’s mainly because I can’t remember doing it. After trying to temper my Sauv Blanc consumption thanks to one too many nights spent tearful or telling people about how ‘I’m just in a really hard place in my life right now’ (I’m not), or screaming at my housemate about something incredibly important like tea bags, I decided to investigate whether there really is merit in the oft-slurred phrase ‘I can’t drink white wine because it makes me [insert haunting experience]’.

Interestingly, it appears that the screechy, monsterous effect of white wine is most probably not down to the wine itself, but both the amount and rate in which you drink. ‘Alcohol is absorbed in the stomach and small intestine, goes into the bloodstream, causes it's effects and then is processed by the liver,’ medical expert Dr. Rosalind Haire tells The Debrief. ‘One of the products of this process, acetaldehyde, is a toxin (and partly responsible for the “hangover" effect), but our bodies have adapted to deal with this by breaking it down into a non-toxic substance. If we binge drink, we overwhelm this protective system and the effects of alcohol and acetaldehyde build up. Simply the more you drink the more you become a mess.’

But why does it sometimes feel like wine has a more seriously awkward effect than, say, a nice dram of vodka? Turns out there are certain factors or ingredients within wine that could affect the rate in which you get hammered – and so, the rate at which you embarrass the crap out of yourself. ‘The kickers with white wine are going to be acidity and oak influence,’ says Steffan Griffiths, who works at Berry Bros and is essentially a wine wizard (as well as a bonafide specialist). ‘Some people can’t deal with too much acidity and therefore the more acidic the wine, the more likely they are to be reacquainted with it while leaning over a toilet bowl. However, the bigger influence is oak.’

Some people can’t deal with too much acidity and therefore the more acidic the wine, the more likely they are to vom

Apparently, the finer the wine, the longer it has spent in the barrels in order to give it that lovely, woody flavour everyone only pretends to be able to taste unless they’re a wine specialist/have accidentally swallowed some wood. ‘Oak usage can leave chemicals called 'wood tannins' in the wine, which are not a problem at all, but some people might find this naturally richer, heavier style of wine a precursor to a banging headache the next day,’ says Steffan. Fizzy wines are often blamed for getting us drunk way quicker than we bargained for, and this isn’t entirely unfounded – although there’s no scientific research to back it up. ‘We still don't quite understand why, but think it's to do with the carbon dioxide bubbles helping the alcohol into the bloodstream faster,’ he adds.

In terms of your average bottle of vino blanco, though, a major issue is the amount of sugar in bottles of white. ‘It is interesting the idea of more sugars in white wine being a potential cause of bringing out the inner psychopath, I think it probably does depend on the quality and type of wine,’ muses Dr Rosalind. ‘When you think about the percentages, white wine is about 10-14 per cent, which is double to triple that of beer. It is sweeter and easier to drink as it isn't carbonated so people get very drunk very quickly on white wines.’ Steffan agrees: ‘A lot of commercial wines are a hell of a lot sweeter than most people realise, like Blossom Hill White Zinfandel, and sugar can really cause problems,’ he adds. A sugary wine is a quaffable wine – and so you end up drinking way more of it than you bargained for. See also: rosé.

On the more serious side of things, you could actually be allergic to white wine, which would definitely provoke a reaction slightly stronger than crying down the phone to your ex. ‘Some people, albeit few, are intolerant to sulphites, and this really does suck because sulphites are present in just about every wine under the sun,’ Steffan explains. ‘They're there to preserve the wine, and wines without sulphites typically have a very short shelf life.’ Symptoms of sulphite allergy include a headache, a rash, swelling of the mouth and lips, wheezing or trouble breathing, a full-blown asthma attack or anaphylaxis – where you swell and can collapse. Yep, definitely worse than crying down the phone to your ex.

On top of the physical aspects of the wine, it could actually be down to you personally. If you don’t have a sulphite intolerance (again, you’d REALLY know if this was the case) but just act like a lunatic on a bit of vino then – just like perfume reacts differently from person to person – so a glass of white might provoke aggression in one woman, crying in another, and render the third an absolute delight to be around. ‘There is a massive variety between individuals and how much alcohol they can consume. It depends on how regular a drinker they are, as more frequent drinkers building up a tolerance, and it also depends on factors like whether they’ve eaten food prior to drinking and what sex they are – women have more body water and less of the break-down enzyme in their livers,’ explains Dr Rosalind. ‘People with known liver disease will have a reduced threshold and can become very unwell under the influence of alcohol and different people are genetically programmed to metabolise alcohol at varying speeds, too.’

Memories of having a bad experience when drinking a certain alcohol may influence how you are the next time

More interestingly, though, it can be purely psychosomatic. If one time you drank yourself into a stupor and got kicked out of a club while on white wine, you’re more likely to react similarly when you get into the same state on that particular type of alcohol again. ‘Memories of having a bad experience when drinking a certain alcohol may influence how you are the next time, so if you were a white wine monster, you potentially can again be it.  The influence of emotion/mood/thought on health is really interesting part of science, and probably what is understood the least,’ Dr Rosalind adds. 

Overall, though, it’s pretty rare that you’re genuinely unable to consume a specific drink without snot-crying on your best mate. ‘I am not convinced there is enough scientific evidence that white wine causes people to bring out their inner monster more than another type of alcohol,’ Dr Rosalind concludes. And Steffan agrees: ‘It's extremely rare that people are just “unable to have white” or “unable to have red” unless they have a real medical condition, so I tend to raise an eyebrow slightly when people say that to me,’ he maintains. ‘The main thing is alcohol, and in the last few decades the average alcohol level of wine has risen across the globe.’ To counteract this, low alcohol wines are hitting the market but, again, this often means more sugar in the wine which, again, pretty much ensures you’re going to drink way more than you would normally. It seems that, if you want to avoid screeching and/or crying, it’s not the poor little Chardonnay that’s the issue – but your inability to moderate/have a sarnie before. Or you could just be setting yourself up for failure by convincing yourself that you can’t drink white wine.

Either way, bottoms up! Moderately.

Follow Stevie on Twitter @5tevieM

Tags: Ask An Adult, Boozing