Here’s how to minimize the instances (and severity!) of hangovers via lessons learned in France.
Me, on my vacation-studio balcony in St. Jean Cap Ferrat, with two of my three hangover prevention tactics. Yes–one of them is wine (but the right wine) Read on!
I am very hangover-prone. Actually, I think this is a good thing, as it keeps me from over-serving myself.
I consider myself a moderate drinker; at home, I rarely drink more than two glasses of wine a night. I start with an apéritif, and I have a small glass of wine with dinner. And then I’m done, because I know that that third glass will scalp me the next day.
Trouble is, when I’m out enjoying good food with friends, and the night stretches on, I’ll have that third glass. And it never fails to do me in the next day. (Yes, you’d be fair to ask why I never learn….the answer is, well, you know: friends, food, and wine.)
And yet, I just spent seven weeks in Ireland and France (mostly France), and only once did I get even a mild hangover, even though I very often went for that third glass of wine.
Over the years, I’ve thought about what it is that makes me less hangover-prone in France, and, more important, what I can do in the US to reduce the possibilities of hangovers (besides of course, not drinking—not an option for this wine-loving epicurean).
A few observations:
1. French Wines Are Generally Lower in Alcohol
French wine currently in my home right now: All under 13% alcohol by volume; all priced under $15 a bottle.
When it comes to hangover headaches from wine, many wine-drinkers point to the higher level of sulfites often used in American wines, claiming that the preservatives are the culprits. However, research on this is not conclusive. Can you eat dried fruits without getting a headache? Then sulfites are probably not the problem–as dried fruits are loaded with ’em.
For me, boils down to alcohol content. Many American wines simply have a higher alcohol content (14 percent and more) than most French wines, which often weigh in at 13.5 percent or—usually—even lower.
Yes, it matters: If you drink a 14.5 percent glass instead of a 12.5 percent glass, you’re getting about 13.8 percent more alcohol in each glass you drink. That adds up over a night.
Let’s get one thing clear here. I’m not anti-lift in any way. I like (actually, I adore) that nice feeling of joy and well being that moderate drinking can bring. But I also like to sustain that light, pleasant lift over an evening, and not get stupid halfway into the first course. French wines let me do that (not get stupid, I mean).
Takeaway? Drink French wine, and look at the label: Go for those with 13% alcohol or less. Happily, the timing for this is just right: These days, with the strong dollar, you can find good values from France. In fact, most of the French wines I buy these days are around $12 a bottle.
2. For Heaven’s Sake, Eat Something! (Even If You Have to Be Sneaky About It!)
The modest nibble with your drink. So common in France; so hard to find state-side. These days, I BYON (bring my own nuts) to bars that don’t serve snacks.
Drinking on an empty stomach = a dumb idea. We’ve known that since college, but why is it so hard to get a little nibble alongside a drink in an American bar? (And no, I don’t always want a plate of cheese and charcuterie or a basket of fried appetizers at this point, okay? A nibble. Just a nibble. Please.)
I wrote elsewhere about the little snack that the French always serve with a drink, even at the most casual of cafés. Not only is it a gracious gesture, but it’s a smart one, too. Drinks on an empty stomach get you drunk. And hungover the next day.
What? Serve drinks without a little snack? Well, that might happen in France…if you were dining chez a pack of badgers.
Hence, the little bowl of nuts or olives or snacks served alongside drinks in just about every café in every French town.
For me, eating something when I drink has become such a ritual that I cannot do without. Back home in Amerique profonde, if I’m meeting friends for drinks at an American bar that doesn’t serve food (and wouldn’t think to bring a little nibble alongside your drink), I often bring a little bag of nuts along to furtively nibble on while I imbibe. I share, of course.
3. Eaux, the Water!
In France, Mr. Eau and I always start the evening with an apéritif, either in our apartment or at a café. We have dinner with wine—but in moderation. Then, we take a walk; a nice long walk around wherever it is we’re staying.
At home, I call my husband Mr. Sportcoat, but in France, he has another nickname: Mr. Eau. He adores French mineral waters, even more than I do.
And then, it’s time for what we call “Café Eau.”* We are absolutely nuts about French mineral waters, and always have a huge array of them in our apartment or hotel room. We pull up a table and chair by the window (or in the garden or on the balcony) and polish off a liter of cool, wonderfully tasting mineral water as we chat into the night, recounting our day’s pleasures, annoyances, and discoveries. Café Eau is just as important (and enjoyable) to us as that pre-dinner apéritif.
Some hotel, somewhere in France. Mr. Eau and his supply of water.
And it’s a piece of the puzzle that keeps me from getting a hangover.
Not just any water will do. I think there’s something in mineral waters that truly do the body good–as in nutrients that get replenished. And they taste good. My favorite is Vittel, a very rain-on-wet-stone-tasting still water. And I adore Badoit**, a very-lightly-fizzy, slightly bicarbonate-y sip that’s really refreshing and also makes you feel better after a heavy meal.
Mrs. Eau and her after-dinner bottle of Badoit.
Drinking great French mineral waters is so much more joyous than that end-of-the-night gulping down of tap water. (Kind of like the way taking long walks in a beautiful city is is more pleasurable than walking on a treadmill.)
In short: It’s easy to drink more water when you love the taste of the water you drink. And the more water you drink, the better you’ll feel the next day.
Forget San Pellegrino. Would somebody please start importing Badoit? Photo credit.
Sadly, neither Badoit nor Vittel are available back in Amerique profonde, so I settle for the ubiquitous San Pelligrino (yawn) or Volvic (good, but dreadfully expensive at my local Whole Foods).
We don’t have “Café Eau” every night at home, because we’re not exactly on vacation anymore and our days and evenings aren’t as leisurely. But I do keep lots of really good water around.
And that, my friends, is how I generally avoid getting hangovers in Amerique profonde.
So, I’m curious: Do you find you get fewer (or less severe) hangovers in France—and if so, what do you attribute that to?
* Eau is the word for water. Eaux is the plural. Either way, it’s pronounced “Oh.”
** PS: A word to the wise: Select St. Yorre mineral water at your own peril. It’s refreshing and has a compellingly saline-y minerally flavor and wonderfully tummy-soothing qualities, but can also have, um, laxative effects. You’ve been warned. You’re welcome.