Oenophobia

Via the article “Programming Sucks,” via Maxistentialism, and thence ultimately via Andy Baio’s sidebar, I’ve been steadily making my way through the archives of the delightful wine blog Drinking Wine With Friends.

I went through a bad patch with alcohol in 2012. Not in the sense that I was drinking too much, or even a lot — just in the sense that even seemingly moderate amounts (a few glasses of beer, or half a bottle of wine with an evening meal) were giving me crushing hangovers, and occasionally causing me to be violently ill the next day. (“Open Both Ends” colloquially, “DNV” perhaps less viscerally.) The first time the DNV hit me, I wrote it off as food poisoning. The second time as just a coincidence. By the third time I started looking for a common factor, and the combination of red wine and a large meal the previous evening seemed to be it.

Maybe it was just a function of getting older. Maybe I had developed an alcohol intolerance, or a new food allergy. I had lost a lot of weight over the course of 2012 — deliberately, mind — so maybe my body had just got used to a lower metabolic load, and could no longer handle feast-sized portions. I saw my doctor anyway, who checked me out for liver disease just in case (no), and who gave me the classic sound advice in the face of doctor-doctor-it-hurts-when-I-do-this: “Well, stop doing that.”

So I spent the first half of 2013 almost entirely alcohol-free, with no recurrences of the DNV. In the second half of the year I gradually re-introduced myself to beer, whisky, and small amounts of white wine, champagne, a dribble of Tokaji, and the odd G&T. Small amounts, at first, but I’ve built myself up to the point where I’m fairly confident that a pint and a half of IPA won’t fell me the next morning. (Four SMWS-strength whiskies was pushing it, but only to the point of feeling rough afterwards; nothing worse.)

Reading Drinking Wine With Friends has been such a pleasant experience that it has made me nostalgic for wine, and the experience of seeking it out and enjoying it. I’m no connoisseur, but you don’t have to be one just to like like the stuff, or to be entertained and inspired by someone who does know what they’re talking about.

Veerkade Rotterdam

Veerkade in Rotterdam, near the Westerkade

On Friday we took a trip to Rotterdam, and as we passed the wine shop Jan van Breda on the Westerkade, I thought I spotted the characteristic shape of a Tokaji bottle. Turns out it wasn’t, but I asked the store manager if they had any in stock anyway. He thought they still had a bottle somewhere…and after rummaging around in his books, he located one last bottle of 2001 Hétszőlő 6 Puttonyos. I have no idea if it’s a decent vintage, but so far I haven’t found a Tokaji I didn’t love. We’ll save it for a special occasion with some elaborate dessert.

The final frontier for me has been red wine. Red wine was was the distinctive common factor in the worst DNV incidents, and I’ve been plain scared of it ever since. But I figured that it was time for me to face my fear this weekend: for science! On Saturday evening with dinner I had two tiny glasses of a tasty Bordeaux. No noticeable effects on Sunday. Because we didn’t finish the bottle on Saturday, I had another glass yesterday evening. Today: no nausea, but conspicuously upset bowels. Coincidence? Possibly.

Need more data.

3 thoughts on “Oenophobia

  1. I have had similar problems, but add migraine to DNV – where the migraine is triggered within 2 hours of consumption of said beverage. Sometimes it is less than 2 sips, usually a dark beer, that sends me up and over the edge.

    I am now to the point where I can have a glass or two of red California Zinfandel, Spanish Grenacha, or one glass of Cotes du Rhone, but nothing else in wine-land at all. Merlot is a headache in a sip. Others give me a DNV reaction. Booze makes me go straight to the N & V part of the equation.

    With beer it is easy, I test out as allergic to most brewer’s yeast strains. With booze it is just the hardness of it all vs. my delicate stomach. But wine was much harder for me to figure out.

    After talking to several wine experts, it has been suggested that since I have mold allergies, that it is an allergy to the natural molds and fungi on the grape skins plus all of the additives added to the wine. Very specifically, South American and some Australian wines that are shipped to Europe and US have a chemical additive to make sure it does not go off during temperature swings and rough handling. The Irish Times did an article about an allergy to this additive in 2006.

    I then did a test and found that I was mostly ok with southern French, some Spanish, and some Californian wines, but I definitely get DNV from South American.

    Also, I can’t eat any blue cheeses.

    Anywhoo…

  2. Oh… I forgot…

    If you have any issues with gluten, and getthe D of DNV from gluten, then do beware of wines that advertise that they have been aged in oak barrels. Most oak barrels use a wheat paste to plug up any holes. If the wine says it has oak notes, but not aged in barrels, then it should be fine as the oak notes come from floating oak chips while aging in big steel vats.

    Yes, I have done too much research into wine and food sensitivities. ;o)

  3. I’ve always been allergic to pretty much everything with fur or feathers, but I don’t have any food sensitivities (I won’t count a strong dislike of the whole cabbage family as an actual sensitivity), but it’s not unheard of to develop these things later in life. I’m going to be more systematic about gathering future data – some kind of a wine diary.

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