Consider another dimension for your wine decision making: wine and health
You probably already know how wine is made. You might even recall the names of your favourite wines or grapes. Not too confident about wine-tasting technique – head to our wine tasting at home lesson. We hope you also had a look at our wine and food matching lesson.
Current wine lesson would be slightly different as you are encouraged to consider another dimension for your wine decision making — health aspect.
You have heard about organic, other certifications, but we need to put it all in a simple system, so you can proactively explore healthier options with no compromise on flavours and excitement!
Organic, biodynamic, vegan and natural wines with no added sulphites
For you to start forming the system of healthier wine hedonism, the first two terms refer to what happens in the vineyard, and the latter to what happens in the winery.
Organic wine is made from grapes grown organically. Organic farming presumes that no harmful pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and chemical fertilisers are allowed to grow the grapes. No artificial or synthetic preservatives are to be used, no colour adjustments allowed and no agents added to alter the taste; obviously nothing genetically modified.
Organic certification also means that the whole process is monitored, preservatives are kept to the minimum and growing environment and winemaking processes are compliant to the organic standards.
Would you agree with a statement that fewer toxins and less harmful substances will mean a healthier you? That is how you can care for yourself better (and the environment too).
Organic wines are richer in nutrients & antioxidants* with no harmful pesticide residue. This is a great benefit for every wine drinker.
*Organic wine benefits as per Department of Human Nutrition at the University of Southampton, University of Rome’s Clinical Nutrition, the University of California at Davis and University of Newcastle.
The biodynamic movement has started before the organic one and, simply put, is a more strict version of organic. Only natural herbal treatments are allowed for the growers, every manipulation is in sync with the lunar calendar. It is a philosophy that uses maximum synchronisation with nature and aims to create a sustainable ecosystem for any grower.
This term puzzles a lot of people, how a product made of grapes can be not suitable for vegans?
The answer is very simple — winemakers may decide to use animal-derived materials (isinglass made of fish bones, cows’ intestines, dairy, eggs) for filtration, fining and clarification of the wines.
It is not just to support the vegan movement as such, but also to safeguard ourselves (i.e. who suffers from dairy or egg intolerance) from unwanted allergic reactions.
Sulphites in wines
Sulphites (sulfites) or ‘preservatives 220’ are additives that are used during winemaking process as preservatives against unwanted bacteria, but also to hide some faults, prevent oxygen from entering the vats and, as a safety net, protect the winemaker from accidental flaws. It became quite a common practice, yet some decide to minimise the amounts of sulphites they add or, as with natural wines, restrain from adding sulphites.
Please note that all wines contain some minor levels of naturally occurring sulphites as a result of fermentation. Wine made with grapes grown organically normally calls for sulphites no higher than 100 ppm, so if you see ‘organic’ sign on the label it doesn’t mean that there are no sulphites added, just the fact that the levels are much lower.
The wine will not mention sulphites if the levels are lower than 10 ppm. Some winemakers that do not add sulphites to the finished product may also opt-in for adding ‘no added sulphites’ on the label.
What’s wrong about sulphites?
Sulphites are quite aggressive preservatives that can give that ‘morning after’ headache, allergic reaction or, in some cases, more severe symptoms like fast heartbeat, dizziness, stomach upset. It can be even life-threatening for people with asthma.
This group of wines needs much more explanation and clarity as some of the terms are a bit vague, lacking certification and proper legal definition.
Natural wines are such made with minimal interventions in the winery, which in most cases means using indigenous yeasts, not interrupting fermentation and not using additional sulphur to stabilise the wine and prevent it from oxidation. As we already know, sulphites are preservatives and can exist in the wine in two forms — naturally occurring and added in the winemaking process. First ones are harmless and exist in minimal quantities (vary based on grape variety and soil). Second, added sulphites could be a problem for allergy sufferers and are noticeable to asthmatics when the levels exceed 45 mg/l.
Organic certification will only guarantee you levels below 100 mg/l. This is the first part of confusion: not all organic wines are with no added sulphites.
The second issue is with the legal requirement that every product that has sulphites’ levels above 10 mg/l needs to have ‘contains sulphites’ on the label. It does not take into account whether they are added or natural.
As a result, this product category appears to be very confusing as there are contradicting statements.
If you want to know more about our stance on natural wine and what is natural wine definition as per Living Vino, head to our post detailing what are natural wines here. All our natural wines correspond to the tight requirement of organically grown grapes and levels of sulphites at minimum and strictly less than 45 mg/l. You are safe with us, browse our natural wine list here!
Units of alcohol and calories in wine
The second part of this lesson is about alcohol units and calories in wine. We need to be mindful about it but also to make sure we have a plan!
In an example, the latest UK Government guidelines and recommendations from DrinkAware state that both men and women should try not to exceed 2- 3 units a day and in total not more than 14 units per week.
In wine terms, this is 175ml of a 12% abv wine and you are done for a day.
There’s increasing concern about the rising levels of alcohol in our wines, and it is not unseen that alcohol contents can climb up to 17% abv. It happens due, in part, to our palates changing in favour of bigger, fruitier wines and global warming causing riper grapes with higher sugar levels.
The critics and the wine-drinking public are divided. Many are looking for wines with big personalities and deeper flavours, which mean grapes are ripening on the vine even longer than they would in the past, resulting in richer, fuller-bodied wines which contain more alcohol. According to Conetech, around the world, the average alcohol level in a wine is 2 degrees higher than it was 20 years ago. It is a huge increase!
Many people do like to take advantage of a lighter alcohol option, especially during daytime or at lunch meetings when it’s considered impolite to nap afterwards; but the flavour could be a concern. One would love to get 2% abv wine with a flavour of your regular 14% one. You’re not going to find a low-alcohol wine that replicates a powerhouse red wine, so trade-offs definitely have to be made.
Low alcohol, non-alcohol and alcohol-free wines
For some of us, this is still not enough. Those with serious cardiovascular issues, the weight conscious and those who resolutely remain teetotal are still looking for the vinous holy grail: a product that doesn’t over-excite the blood pressure; has minimal sugar and calorific implications yet preserves the taste and texture of the real thing.
Nature can give us wines as low as 8 or 9% abv. If we want even lower there are several methods involved – namely, reverse osmosis and vacuum distillation. Reverse osmosis, unfortunately, is quite harsh for wine’s delicate aromas and flavours and filters quite a lot of them out even before the alcohol is being removed. Vacuum distillation evaporates the wine using a vacuum chamber. Unfortunately, with the evaporation goes most of the aromas. Consequently, leading producers don’t use it.
The general consensus so far is less than a ringing endorsement: removing the alcohol, critics say, strips the wine of any flavour and texture, damages the wine and produces wines that taste more like breakfast juice; they might be better for the liver, but not to our tastebuds.=
We recommend you opt for a wine that is naturally lower in alcohol. There are magnificent wines that are between 10 and 12% abv, we have Aladasturi by Gvantsa’s Wine at just 11% abv!
Calories in wine
You can have a relatively healthy eating pattern or diet, but can still notice some the pounds creeping up. It can be annoying and a bit of a mystery. How many calories do you drink?
It’s a sobering thought to realise a bottle of red wine with 14% abv could be the calorie equivalent of 3 McDonalds hamburgers. While most of us would judge those who eat up to a dozen burgers a week, a bottle of wine to consume with your friends or co-workers when you are hosting or out socialising seems altogether more civilised and sophisticated. However, it may result in weight gain.
Alcohol is high in calories with 7 calories per gram (carbs have 4 calories per gram). It means that wines with a higher abv come in packed with a lot more calories.
An extreme example of 17% abv bottle of wine will set you back by around 650 calories. This is a third of the 2000 calories the NHS recommends to consume daily to maintain a healthy weight. Simply put, it only takes a person to consume 500 extra calories per day for a week to put on a pound or two of fat, and in wine terms, that’s only 3 medium-sized glasses of a fruity red.
Try to stick to wines around 13% abv on average, don’t drink too close to bedtime, so you get a better night’s sleep. Feel smug in the knowledge that red wine is higher in antioxidants than some of the so-called superfoods.
Most importantly, we should all just consume higher quality wines (but less) instead of more of the ones that are just so-called booze. Better less, but higher quality.
Healthier wine decisions
How can we make sure we are taking good care of ourselves whilst drinking great wines that are healthier for you?
Exercise, diet and hydration
A healthy lifestyle also means a good amount of exercise. We are not going to cover any training programmes here yet for many people who sit all day it is important to maintain some level of physical activity.
The first rule here is to give yourself at least 10000 steps a day. If you eat healthily and do just that you will maintain a healthy weight.
One thing here to say that alcohol dehydrates your body, so it is important to bear in mind that a regular person should consume at least 2 litres of water per day. When you drink your wine do not forget to compensate with a glass of water per each glass of wine. It doesn’t mean it gets any healthier, but the ‘morning after’ effect is most of the times caused by dehydration.
As for the diet, it is not a focus of this lesson, and there are so many interesting diets you can experiment with and see what works for you. We advocate a whole food plant-based diet approach and you can read more about it here.
More tips on drinking less but better wines
If you are thinking that drinking less is a way forward, here are a few tips:
We all know the famous French paradox, which illustrates that the French consume loads of fatty foods with quite a lot of wine and stay healthy with regards to heart diseases. It surely matters how much wine we consume with food. Yet it is also quite important what exactly do we eat. For many people, a meat-based diet would not just mean the temptation to drink more wine, but also quite an unhealthy diet. These days scientists also attribute French paradox to eating healthy fats — good quality extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil are proven to be best for salad dressing and cooking respectively.
Something very obvious is to prepare a veggie dinner. It does not necessarily call for your regular glass of red or white for that matter. You can simply opt for a lower alcohol natural wine. Go online, search for some veggie recipes and start cooking. Or you can visit us at Living Vino.
Do you eat a lot of oriental dishes? It is a safer option to reduce your wine intake as you do not drink loads of wine with the spicy or fragrant pan-Asian dishes. Many wine critics suggest matching spicy food to off-dry white wines (i.e. Riesling or Gewurztraminer), but some other fruity and lower in alcohol wines would do too. You can opt for a lower alcohol wine and prepare a Thai-inspired dinner. Experiment with other pan-Asian flavours and make those evenings fun!
Do not forget to match a glass of wine with a large glass of water. Alcohol is dehydrating you, so when sharing a bottle of red with a few friends, make sure you share and actually finish a large bottle of still water as well.
So all and all, knowing that wine is high in calories and you should drink amounts that are recommended, it is just so logical to drink better wines, so you can savour every drop.
- One may come back home tired, pour oneself a long drink.
- One can feel undervalued and compensate by having a very expensive drink.
- One may have wasted the day by doing some rubbish and can feel unhappy and unproductive.
You can let the steam off by opting for some more active ways of cheering oneself up — running, walking with your dog to a nice park, doing some stretches, or even yoga.
To calm oneself down breathing exercises are great too.
It can be just 5 or 15 minutes of ‘me’ time when one can simply concentrate on breathing and thinking about something nice (or do not think at all).
To make it more therapeutic there are a lot of yogic breathing exercises like the example of ‘Alternate Nostril Breathing’.
It is very simple:
- Press a thumb against right nostril and inhale (for a count of 5), hold it for 5 and then after releasing that right nostril press left one and exhale (for a count of 5 or more).
- Repeat from left to right and so on. It creates an amazing feeling of calm and tranquillity, and even though no one says you can’t have your drink, but you will need fewer drinks on that given evening if you spend just 5 to 15 minutes doing some breathing exercises — it is tried and tested!
If you want to really cultivate and train your mins – start your meditation practice. Make it regular and in a very short amount of time you will notice many physical and mental health benefits. See more on how to meditate, concentration meditation breathing and scientific evidence of meditation benefits at Ahimsa Meditation website.
Lastly, let us ask a personal question.
Do we drink a lot simply because we are bored?
Surely we can be more productive and engage in the activities we feel ourselves in a state of flow. Is there something we can learn — if not now then when? Start a new hobby, explore crafts, be creative, start a blog… the list can go on.
Commit to a rule
Finally — get an alcohol free day a week! This can be a no-compromise agreement with a mind. It is a mini-detox for your mind and body that should become a habit. With time two consecutive alcohol-free days a week will be magnificent.
Now it is time for us to ask you some questions:
- What are your thoughts on these different types of healthier wines?
- Do you see how any of them may suit your own lifestyle better?
- Do you want to explore organic or natural wines further?
Let us know please!
We at Living Vino truly hope you found this wine lesson useful. You can always consider enrolling to one of our in-person courses (when they are available) at our wine school in Tbilisi. Until next time!