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Saturday, November 1, 2008

How to avoid a hangover with natural wines

This the most common question I get asked. I don't know the scientific answer. I do know that I love organic & natural wine. Aroma Thyme offers lots of wines that fit into this category. View our wine list here.
Marcus & Jamie Guiliano go to lots and lots of wine tastings to offer these wonderful wines.

Toxin-free natural wine promises an end to sore heads. Or does it? Fiona Sims pours herself a glass

From The Times
November 1, 2008
How to avoid a hangover with natural wines
Toxin-free natural wine promises an end to sore heads. Or does it? Fiona Sims pours herself a glass

Fiona Sims
The older - and wiser - you get, the more you worry about what you drink. Or that's the theory, and one which a new bar, Terroirs, is banking on as the first natural wine bar in Central London. Opening this week, it promises the biggest selection of natural wine in the country - and no hangovers.

OK, so that last bit is not based on any scientific fact - just lots of research undertaken by myself (hic) and an increasing number of others. Run by Vincent Wallard, Ed Wilson and Richard Martinez, just off The Strand, Terroirs offers up to 200 wines, half of which will be natural, the rest a mix of organic, biodynamic and conventional - but all made with minimal intervention.

Natural wine is made in small quantities, on low-yielding vineyards, with handpicked organic grapes by a band of dedicated winemakers. The wine is then made without added sugars or foreign yeasts, and often without any sulphur dioxide added either. Even organic wines made by organic winemakers use a variety of sulphur dioxides. Yup, natural winemaking flies in the face of modern day viticulture.

Sulphur dioxide, also known as sulphites, are used by more than 99 per cent of winemakers mainly as a preservative and a disinfectant. It's often added to freshly picked grapes and during the winemaking process to kill off any bacteria or wild yeasts. The disadvantage is that it can sometimes whiff a bit; and it's blamed for causing many a hangover headache, possibly because the sulphites destroy thiamine (vitamin B1) and are thought to destroy folic acid. It can, claim some, even trigger an asthma attack.

Now I don't have asthma, but like many people I do get a thumping head after drinking wine sometimes. And I do (usually) stay within my weekly limit. There's no rhyme or reason to it - the post-wine headache can appear after just a glass or two, be it red, white or bubbly.

Wine hangovers are hotly debated

It would be great to be able to blame sulphites for my self-inflicted woes - your natural winemaker certainly does. Philippe Pinoteau, one of the foremost natural wines experts, spreads the word about natural wines from the Parisian restaurant Le Baratin (3 Rue Jouye Rouve) he opened 20 years ago. “Why do I sell these wines? Because I drink a lot and want to be clean in the morning,” he laughs.

To prepare for the opening of Terroirs, the boys (and me) have come to Paris for a final bit of research, to check out the vibe, and see how much we can drink without getting a hangover. But the scientific evidence to support the argument that sulphites are responsible for hangovers is flimsy, to say the least.

Dr Jamie Goode, the author of Wine Science, agrees: “The standard message is that some asthmatics are sensitive to sulphites, but the evidence indicates that adverse reactions to sulphites are rare and at the levels used in wine it's unlikely that people will be affected. The strongest argument for not using sulphites during winemaking, and just a little at bottling, seems to be that the natural wines thus produced seem to show greater aromatic purity, better texture and are just a bit different. I've liked many that I've tried, even though as a scientist I know that it's risky from a microbiological point of view, as there's nothing to keep the bugs out or maintain the wine's stability.”

Paris is natural wine central. At the last count there were more than 30 natural wine bars, and many more restaurants listing some natural wines. The smelly, fizzy Cabernet Franc I'm drinking is certainly different. So is where I'm drinking it, in Racines, a natural wine bar (8 Passage des Panoramas). The pong coming off the redwine is overpowering. “You don't like it?” asks Pierre Jancou, Racines's owner, seeing my nose wrinkle. Racines also attracts many Japanese visitors; natural wines work well with their food, where modern, over-concentrated blockbusters wouldn't. “It's huge in Japan; they buy 70 per cent of these wines,” Jancou says.

This news sits oddly with the reality of your regular natural winemaker. There's no money in it for starters; these are independent growers producing tiny quantities and charging modest prices. Wines generally start at about £7 a bottle and go up to £40 for the top stuff.

I'm still not really getting it, though. I've just tried an odd rosé bubbly - at least the fizz is supposed to be there this time. But the next one does excite, a 2007 L'Anglore Comeyre, made by Eric Pfifferling in the Rhône - spicy, fruity, earthy, and it sets the bar for the rest of the wines we taste. A fizz - or prickle - is often present in these wines, and often mistaken for being a fault. Some recommend chilling the bottle first, then decanting it to rid the wine of its more volatile, reductive aromas.

And in case you are thinking that natural wine is a French thing, it's not. The Stellar winery in South Africa launched a Cabernet Sauvignon in Sainsbury's this spring. Italy is also producing a fair number, many of which will be on the list at Terroirs alongside the French wines, supplied by Guildford-based Les Caves de Pyrene.

You can expect much of the magic of the Parisian bars at Terroirs, too, from the zinc bar top, to the gravelly crooning of the Alsace singer Alain Baschung. And to eat? Dishes include hearty plates of charcuterie and the best fish soup, devised with a similar respect to produce.

And I know what you're wondering; did she get drunk in Paris and, more importantly, did she have a hangover? Yes I did, and, incredibly, no hangover. But I found some natural wines a challenge and I did question whether they are really more natural because all wines contain some sulphites as a by-product of fermentation. So my advice is to approach natural wines with an open mind - a whole new hangover-free world may open up for you. It has for me.

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