Wine Drinking Made Healthy (ier)
Anyone who knows me well, knows how much I love a glass of red wine. For me, there is no better way to enjoy an evening. I love the smell, the taste, and how the flavors change as the wine travels to different parts of the mouth. I especially love the rituals I have created around it. It marks the end of day, and usually the welcome of friends and family for a shared meal, conversation and connection. It opens the doors to relaxation, enjoyment and play time in my mind and body.
In addition to the pleasurable experience of wine drinking, there are compelling studies showing some positive heart-health benefits to drinking a glass or two. While drinking wine alone does not do much in terms of improving health markers such as cholesterol, blood glucose, triglycerides or other inflammatory markers, coupled with physical activity, it can be a good thing. This is true for both red and white wine drinking.
The benefits do not end there. Red wine in particular, is a polyphenol powerhouse. Polyphenols, for those unfamiliar, are loaded with antioxidant properties and are phytochemicals found in natural plant foods. They are known to fight disease by reducing oxidative stress and neutralizing free radicals. Furthermore, polyphenols from red wine have a prebiotic effect on the gut, meaning it feeds the gut with beneficial bacteria.
So, shall we move happy hour to noon in the name of health? Not so fast. As always, there are two sides to every story. Wine drinking, especially overconsumption, can lead to a cascade of undesirable issues including liver damage, addiction, depression and gut disruption (from the ethanol). In addition, the truth is, most wines today are not a simple concoction of fermented grapes, especially the cheaper wines. In the case of wine, you truly do get what you pay for!
Conventional grapes are one of the most highly pesticide ridden crops out there. Most of us make a point (or at least SHOULD) of seeking out organically grown, pesticide free foods, but not many of us think about this when considering wine. Perhaps we convince ourselves that the alcohol in the wine will kill any of the pesticides lingering on the grapes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.
Aside from pesticides, toxic additives of all kinds are insidiously mixed in to improve the color, texture and flavor of wine. We are talking about some seriously dangerous junk here. The FDA approves a variety of chemicals, fillers, coloring agents, added sugar and sugar concentrates in winemaking. Arsenic is a major culprit, for example. Arsenic at levels up to 500% or more than what’s considered the maximum daily intake was found in 60+ bottles of very common and well known wines. The effects of arsenic toxicity is well documented and include several types of cancers, skin disorders and neurological conditions. Personally, I don’t understand how this can possibly be legal.
Water is another issue. Because irrigation is used as a method of watering the vines of 95% of American wines, nasty contaminants found in water such as fluoride, chlorine and even birth control pill run-off may be making their way into the soil and ultimately into the grapes. This can lead to a variety of health issues including hormonal dysregulation and impaired gut health. Honestly, it is just flat-out disgusting.
Basically, in the US, there are no laws dictating what wine makers must disclose in terms of what is in their product, how they producing their products and the environmental effects, or how they treat their employees. It’s truly a secret society!
This slow poisoning would put the kibosh on any pleasure I would normally gain from my wine drinking rituals.
Fortunately, I have found some ways to continue filling my glass with luxurious goodness and cheer without the deleterious additives and I am happy to share this with you!
1. Try drinking Natural Wines. What is a natural wine? Natural wine refers to the way the wine is produced, ideally with as little intervention as possible. These wines are organic, often biodynamic (more on this below). They are like bread baked from scratch, from grains grown, cut, and milled by hand. Natural wines are made with wild yeast, native to the land in which the grapes are grown (terroir) and exude the character of the land, contain no additives and low to no sulfur is added. The end result: a clean, fresher, often earthier and funkier tasting wine, with a lower alcohol content (drink more, suffer less). These wines are also more beneficial to the gut flora because of the wild yeasts used during fermentation. The production of natural wines is historically commonplace in Europe, and is a growing movement in the US.
2. Look for organic and/or biodynamic wines. Biodynamically grown grapes are grown according to a process based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, where the vineyard acts as its own ecosystem, dependent on its surrounding, sun, moon and stars. They are intrinsically organic. Organic wines are made with grapes grown without the use of pesticides and added chemicals, but are not necessarily grown in a biodynamic manner. This is important because conventional grapes are one of the top listed items on the Dirty Dozen list due to the high levels of pesticide residue found on them, which then become part of the wine created from them. The cleaner the grapes, the cleaner the wine, the better off we are, the better off the people handling the grapes are, the better off the environment. Win, win, win.
3. Seek out dry farmed wines. This is a type of farming without irrigation and relies solely on natural annual rainfall for growing grapes. The reason for this is twofold. One is water conservation. Dry farming can save as much as 16,000 gallons of water per acre annually. Two is grape quality. Dry-farmed grapes are smaller, and denser. Dry farming also ensures the quality of the water hydrating the grapes is clean. (Irrigation is illegal in some regions of Europe, so in a pinch, choose old-world style European wines over American.
4. Minimize sulphites. It is very difficult to make high quality wine without added sulphites, which act as a stabilizer and preservative. Unfortunately, this is also what can cause headaches, migraines and lethargy. Wines produced by smaller, artisan producers tend to have significantly less sulphites than large production wines. Organic wines are allowed a certain amount of sulphites to be added to wines during the wine making process, but at much lower levels than non-organic. (Another reason we should choose organic). Older, high-quality European wines and properly aged wines contain lower levels of sulphites. While their standards of wine making are slowly becoming more relaxed, in general, their practices are much higher and more tightly controlled. “Old European Winery Laws” protect the land.
(Side note, white wines usually contain more sulfites then red)!
5. Purify your wine to remove sulphites. There are a couple of ways you can go about doing this. First, there is an Australian based company producing food grade hydrogen peroxide drops you can put into your wine, without affecting the taste and quality while minimizing sulphur dioxide gas. It’s called Pure Wine and is available for shipping worldwide. Second, there are a couple of products on the market available for removing sulphur either by the bottle or by the glass. Check out Ullo Wine Purifier and The Wand by Purewine. We haven’t tried either product, but they both sound promising. I’ll update you once we give them a whirl!
Funny how people pay so much attention to what they eat, but so much less often what they drink. While industrialized food has gotten so much attention in the past decade or so, industrialized wine is only now being explored. Beautifully made wines are becoming much more accessible in the US. This is an exciting progression. Need some proof? We’ve got some resources for you below.
There are some people looking out for fellow health-enthusiast-wine-lovers, sourcing natural wines for the US market. We love Dry Farm Wines. Dry Farm Wines procures wines from smaller, mostly European sources and lab tests every batch for sugars, alcohol content, mycotoxins/mold and sulphites. It’s a wine club so the specially curated wines are delivered to your doorstep monthly, or at whatever speed you desire. Easy! We’ve loved the taste and clearly feel a difference drinking the wines we’ve received from them. Full disclosure, we are affiliates of Dry Farm Wines. While we get a small kickback for every order placed using our link (with no additional cost to you, of course), we would not be recommending them if we did not truly believe in them.
If a wine club is too much of a commitment, our friend Matt Franco owns a beautiful little rare wine shop in Lower Manhattan appropriately named MCF Rare Wine. He is not only passionate about the wines he carries in the shop, but also about his clients. Going into the shop is true boutique experience. He knows every single bottle on his shelves and each visitor is treated with personal attention and care. He has a knack for selecting just the right wines for your palate or occasion and can help steer you in the right direction in terms of natural wines. Worry not if you don’t live in NY. He also delivers.
For incredible California wines, we love Rudd Wines. They are a small, family-owned winery, based in Napa Valley, California and truer wine artisans, you will not find. Passionate about their vineyards, they are 100% organic and currently integrate biodynamic farming into their practices. They produce 4 world-renowned craft wines, 2 reds and 2 white, all of which are absolutely exquisite. I had the pleasure of visiting the estate and fell in love not only with the property and the wines, but the family, their vision and their practices.
(Full disclosure: We are affiliates of a few of these brands listed above. While we make a little bit of money if you make a purchase using our links, it is at no extra cost to you. Rest assured, we honestly wouldn't be recommending them if we didn't believe in them)!