The party season is officially here. And with it, all too often, come the after-effects — that pounding head, nausea and mouth that feels like the bottom of a birdcage.
However, this year, it may well be easier to avoid the pain. For Britain is currently in the grip of a boom in organic booze and low-alcohol wines, with supermarkets rushing to fill their shelves with head-friendly products as we embrace ‘cleaner’ living.
Lidl is restocking its ‘hangover-free’ prosecco this week, after it sold out last month. Tesco launched its own 0.5 per cent alcohol wines last week and, in the New Year, Aldi will start selling two new wines at 5.5 per cent. while M&S will follow suit with two half-a-percenters of its own.
Helen McGinn (pictured) revealed the best festive tipples to avoid a hangover this season
One thing to note before you get too excited, though: anything with alcohol will give you a hangover if you drink too much of it. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it speeds up the loss of water from the body, leaving you dehydrated — hence the dry mouth and headaches.
Then there are congeners, biological compounds produced during fermentation or the ageing process that flavour and colour drinks.
Generally, clear drinks such as white wine and spirits such as vodka and gin have lower levels of congeners compared with red wine and dark spirits such as whisky and dark rum. (Tannins — the mouth-drying compounds found particularly in red wine — are congeners). Various studies suggest the more congeners consumed, the worse the hangover is likely to be.
Some people are also wary of sulphites, sulphur compounds found in all wines, but in varying amounts depending on how much sulphur dioxide the winemaker adds to the wine after fermentation to keep it fresh.
While most people have no problem with sulphites, some report everything from sneezing to facial flushing to headaches.
Bearing all this in mind, I’ve collated my pick of the drinks with the lowest chance of a hangover . . .
She says drinking too much of anything containing alcohol will cause hangovers (file image)
LIDL’S BARGAIN NO-HANGOVER PROSECCO
Organic Prosecco Spumante (£7.99, Lidl)
Lidl recently launched this organic prosecco billed as ‘hangover-free’, which, given that it contains alcohol, sounds too good to be true.
It sold out within days, with more due to hit Lidl’s shelves on Thursday. I suggest you go and get some before it sells out again because, for the price, it’s delicious. Think lemon sherbets in liquid form.
WHITE THAT WON’T WIPE YOU OUT
The Doctors’ Sauvignon Blanc, 9.5 per cent (£8.99, Waitrose)
A brilliant, bright white, with plenty of gooseberry fruit flavour. Opting for a white, rather than a red, will always cut your congeners, but what’s different about this wine is the alcohol content.
She advises lovers of white wine to try The Doctors’ Sauvignon Blanc because of it’s lower percentage of alcohol
The man behind it, Doctor John Forrest, has used his grape-growing know-how to make a wine with just 9.5 per cent alcohol by volume (most are around 13 per cent).
So you still get the warm fuzzy feeling that comes with alcohol, without it leaving quite such a mark the next day.
RED WITH NO ADDED NASTIES
SO Organic No Added Sulphur Cabernet Sauvignon (£6.50, Sainsbury’s)
This one’s organic, so we know there are no nasties used in the vineyard. And with no added sulphur, it’s another one to look out for if you think sulphites make your hangover worse.
Made from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape grown in the Western Cape, it’s actually not too tannic, either, which, given it’s made from a thick-skinned grape, is quite surprising.
Helen says Beaujolais Nouveau 2017 is a real revelation for those who enjoy lighter red wines
(As a rule of thumb, the thicker the skin, the more tannic the wine, as the tannins come from the skin.)
And that might just help when it comes to minimising the effects the next day.
This is a Fairtrade wine, too. But the wine itself tastes a little like stewed jam and, at 13.5 per cent, the alcohol content might cancel out the benefits of going organic.
THE LIGHTER FRENCH FAVOURITE
Beaujolais Nouveau 2017 (£8, Marks & Spencer)
No longer naff, Beaujolais Nouveau is definitely worth a go if you like your reds on the lighter side.
Made from the thin-skinned Gamay grape, this is naturally low in tannins, compared with many other French reds, and it hasn’t been anywhere near an oak barrel.
Juicy and fresh with flavours of just-squashed strawberries and cherries, it’s a real revelation.
GIN THAT’S A FRIEND TO YOUR LIVER
Brighton Gin (£39.95, tanners.co.uk)
As far as congeners go, white wine is a better bet than red — but best of all are clear spirits such as gin.hii
Given that Brighton Gin is one of the only gins to contain milk thistle, known for its liver- cleansing properties, this one’s an obvious candidate.
She says clear spirits such as gin can be better than white wine but be sure to use lots of tonic and ice to keep hydration levels up
Mild and creamy, compared with more powerful, juniper-heavy gins, it whispers, rather than shouts.
Just make sure you use lots of tonic and plenty of ice to up your hydration levels and boost your hopes of waking up without a sore head.
VODKA WITH A CLEAR CONSCIENCE
UK 5 Organic Vodka (£18.95, thewhiskyexchange.com)
According to the producer of this vodka, conventional vodka is made from grain that’s been sprayed, on average, seven times with chemicals.
Meanwhile, this one’s made from organic grain and should therefore give you less of a hard time the morning after.
In my own taste-test, it stood up well against more expensive vodkas, with a clean, pure taste.
Great packaging, too. It really looks the part.
THE HANGOVER BUSTER FROM JAPAN
Ozeki Dry Sake (£7.98, japancentre.com)
Sake, the national drink of Japan, is made from fermented rice and, compared with other wines and spirits, is comparatively low in congeners and sulphites.
Helen says Ozeki Dry Sake is a good place to start for anyone who hasn’t tried a sake before
This one’s also labelled as dry, so is lighter in style and lower in alcohol compared with many others. It’s a good place to start for anyone who hasn’t tried sake before and fancies giving it a go.
Plus, sake is for sipping, rather than gulping, so it does slow down the intake. Just as well, given that it’s 14.5 per cent.
THE PINT THAT DOESN’T PACK A PUNCH
Samuel Smith’s Organic Lager (£2.75, vintageroots.co.uk)
Made by a small, independent brewery in Yorkshire, this is a fresh, light ale with a lovely hoppy character and a touch of toffee about it.
All the base ingredients — malted barley and hops — are organically produced. This certainly doesn’t mean it won’t give you a hangover if you drink too much of it.
But you can feel better for drinking something chemical-free when it comes to the main ingredients. And at 5 per cent, you can probably have two pints and not feel terrible the next day.
AND IF ALL ELSE FAILS . . .
Tesco Low-Alcohol Cabernet Tempranillo 0.5 per cent (£3)
If you’re still waking up under the weather whatever you drink, here’s one to try.
There’s a red, white, rose and two sparkling wines in this recently launched own-label ultra-low alcohol range, but this is by far the best of the bunch.
Made from Spanish Cabernet and Tempranillo grapes, the alcohol is taken out via ‘spinning cone’ technology, which, in theory, removes the alcohol, but doesn’t completely strip the wine of flavour.
This one smells of juicy bramble fruits. The taste is a little sweeter than I’d normally like from my glass of red and, at just 0.5 per cent, there’s no hint of the warm fuzzies, but it’s perfectly drinkable.
Clear heads all round. I’ll drink to that!