A raw or chilled shellfish platter consumed with a cold bottle of champagne or Sancerre is our ideal of holiday merrymaking. That said, cold weather and the foods that countenance it almost always beg for red wine. Red wine is one of winter’s cherished companions, but so often it adds to the many inevitable reasons it’s hard to stay awake around the holidays.
Tannic, oaky wines, often from California, Australia, and France, have many counting sheep at the dinner table. While tannins are the biggest culprit of post-meal narcolepsy, the histamines in grape skins and added sulfur dioxide can also cause headaches, allergy-like symptoms, or leave one feeling generally crummy. There’s even an official name for the array of symptoms red wine can incite: Red Wine Headache, or “RWH.”
Most oenophiles are willing to suffer the consequences of red wine drinking, perhaps only saving the meanest bruisers—the big Cal Cabs, super Tuscans, Australian Shiraz and first growth Bordeaux—for special occasions. There are ways to mitigate against red wine-related fatigue and RWH; choose wines that are translucent rather than opaque, drink lots of water, consume with food. Or heed our most effective recommendation and start drinking medium-bodied Italian biodynamic wines, many of which offer more nuance than conventional wines, but won’t have you stumbling off to bed or the medicine cabinet.
It may be surprising to learn that biodynamic wines are no longer funky or niche. In fact, many prestigious commercial-sized wineries (such as Domaine Leroy and Maison Chapoutier) now use these methods because they believe that their vineyard’s health and wine quality depend on it. Though nine official preparations are necessary to qualify as “biodynamic,” at its essence, biodynamic viticulture must meet organic certification guidelines and rely only on natural methods of enriching the soil and pest control. Many wine experts assert—and we agree—that biodynamic wines best express the wine’s terroir; in other words, the pure earthy flavors intrinsic to the wine’s location are prominent in its aroma and taste.
Though excellent biodynamic wines are produced all over Europe, no country seems to match Italy in pervasiveness and variety. Italy knows how to do biodynamic—their wines are beautifully balanced, deep, flavorful, and full of earth and spice. Whether you are sensitive to tannins and histamines, shy away from reds because they make you sleepy, or try to avoid consuming pesticides, the wonderful earthy flavors expressed in Italian biodynamic wines are reason alone to seek them out. There are many options from around Italy. Here is a short list of suggestions: