Patricia Dinsmore - Wine Writer, Event Planner and Wine Consultant



I Can't Drink Wine

Posted on October 10, 2014 at 12:30 AM

Have you ever had a long day at work and came home looking forward to unwinding with a nice glass of wine? I am sure we all have but what happens when that glass of wine does not agree with you and it makes that already long day become a long evening ahead? I know it feels a little disheartening because I have been there myself but there are definitely options out there on how to deal with this and how to prevent it in the future.


A lot of finding a way around how to prevent it in the future comes from knowing our bodies and knowing what works and does not work for them. Allergic reactions can take many forms and, even within the world of wine, the physical manifestations of them can be just as varied as if it was an environmental allergy. Just for a couple of examples, some wines can give headaches while others can make the stomach feel sore and raw on the inside. Some can cause heartburn and some can make a person feel bloated and sick to their stomach. Personally, certain sparkling wines, and I include a couple of Champagne’s in this category, can give me a headache. For several years, oaked Chardonnay’s always seemed to give my stomach a real problem. In my family, there are people who cannot drink a lot of wines because they are allergic to the yeasts the wines are made with.


Each one of these is a different situation but it comes down to knowing how to deal with them which will turn around a bad situation into a learning experience and many good experiences down the road. In some cases, it can be a simple fix – for me, with the oaked Chardonnay issue, I spent several years where I did not drink those wines. If I had a Chardonnay, it was an unoaked Chardonnay. I then started to do experimentation with different yeast and different oaks and that is how I determined that it was an oak issue and not a yeast issue for me. To avoid an embarrassing situation because I did not want others to see the bad reaction I could have, I did this experimentation in a controlled environment. In the end, the conclusion I came to was that it was the oak and it was specifically American Oak barrels with Chardonnay grapes that caused a problem. It did require research – I would either have to ask the winemaker or search their website to find any information on the types of oak barrels that were used. If I had a Chardonnay that had been aged or fermented in French, Hungarian or, in later years, Canadian oak barrels I would not have a reaction.


For those with yeast allergies, the process of elimination can be a bit more difficult to identify. This is largely due to the fact that each winemaker has a variety of possible yeasts to choose from if using cultured yeasts. Even larger would the issue be if the winemaker has chosen to use a natural yeast because those yeasts are unique to the grapes they grow on and are hard to duplicate from wine to wine. Essentially, a natural yeast that works with your body in one vintage could, in theory, not work the next vintage because there may be variations in the yeast itself. The one recommendation I have in a situation like this is, with only a small group of friends, at your home and, not in a restaurant, bar or winery, try a variety of wines. Chances are, if you have been dealing with this type of allergy and the reaction that it entails for a number of years, you know what the best “cure” exists for you. It may be a cooler or a shot that helps “cut through” the reaction but, whatever it is, make sure you have some on standby should the situation arise. Most importantly, when you find a wine that does not cause a reaction, buy several bottles or a full case of the wine. There are several wines out there that can age for years to come so even if you buy a full case and spread it out over a multitude of occasions, you are at least guaranteed that you will be able to enjoy a glass or two of a special wine when you want.


There will always be medications that you can take if a reaction does arise. There will be always be painkillers if a headache comes along because a particular Champagne does not agree with you. Hopefully none of this will happen and hopefully you will have taken some time over the years to discover what agrees with your body and what to avoid so that you do not have to deal with the nasty side effects. At the end of the day, it is all about what is right for you and with the true variety of wines that are available on the shelves of our local wine shops and wineries I am sure you will find a wine that is perfect for you. Talk with the people who know wine – the winemakers know what kind of yeasts they use and the people that work in retail stores or wine shops are always more than happy to answer questions about the wines. After all, at the end of the day, if you want to enjoy a glass of wine, we want you to be able to do so.


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