Wine For Health

Wine cheers the sad, revives the old, inspires the young, makes weariness forget his toil. -Lord Byron



It has been shown in many studies that moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. From the French Paradox, which expounds the idea that the antioxidants provided by wine (especially red) consumption are responsible for the lower rates of heart disease in France, to the idea that small amounts of alcohol protect the heart by preventing platelet clumping in the blood, we can safely assume that moderate drinking can be healthful. But, like with food, where the quality of ingredients that we choose influence the value we gain, so to it is with wine.


There are many studies on alcohol consumption and mortality rates, easily found by visiting the Pubmed website. One example “compared 29-year mortality and quality of life in old age by alcoholic beverage preference (beer, wine, or spirits) in a cohort of men whose socioeconomic status was similar in their adult life.” Cardiovascular risk factors were assessed in 2468 businessmen and executives, from ages 40 to 55, who had roughly equal total alcohol consumption.


Men with wine preference had the lowest total mortality (34% lower) due to lower cardiovascular mortality, and as well, wine preference was associated with better quality of life in old age, based on general health and mental health.   Study



According to Yale neuroscientist Gordon Shepherd, author of “Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine”, the flavor of wine “engages more of our brain than any other human behavior.” According to his research, slowly drinking wine requires a complex interaction of air and liquid controlled by coordinated movements of the diaphragm, jaw, tongue, and throat.


Then, once inside the mouth, the wine molecules stimulate odor and taste receptors, the ensuing signals to the brain in turn triggering huge amounts of cognitive functions involving emotion, memory, pattern recognition, pleasure, and value judgment.

To read an interview with Gordon Shepherd that goes into more detail follow this link: Link



For a lot of moderate drinkers the choice is between beer and wine, and many swing both ways. But, for a man past middle age, when andropause (our version of menopause) is on the horizon, wine is clearly the better choice.


Because, during this period of life, testosterone levels in a man decline, we become much more sensitive to excess estrogen. While all alcohol in excess can raise estrogen levels, beer particularly will elevate two female hormones: estrogen, due to the hops, and prolactin, due to the barley. High estrogen levels, accompanied by low testosterone levels (at any age) will cause a man to lose muscle mass and vitality, and to develop a pot belly (or “beer belly”).


Prolactin (which causes a woman to lactate) in excess, will lead to breast growth in men (“man boobs”). As well, in clinical studies, men and women with elevated levels of prolactin report decreased sexual interest, arousal, and orgasm, as well as mood disturbances such as anxiety and depression. Prolactin also acts as a local growth factor in the prostate gland. Recent research now identifies overexpression of prolactin in the prostate as something which can cause prostate swelling (BPH), and even increase prostate cancer risk.


These concerns are for heavy beer drinkers, and mostly apply to older men. In fact, if a woman in menopause is lacking in estrogen, then beer drinking could be of advantage to her. But in any case, one should always choose beer in bottles and not cans, since beer cans are now lined with plastic and leach xenoestrogens into the beverage.


For the same reason, do not drink wine from boxes. My research on xenoestrogens (for my upcoming book, Health Secrets for the 21st Century: Volume 2) has revealed that even water stored in a Tetra Pak will leach xenoestrogens out of the plastic lining. The leaching of these chemical estrogens is even worse when an acidic substance, such as wine, is stored in Tetra Paks (or any soft plastic bottle).



As agribusiness gets dirtier, and pesticide residues build up in soil and water, it becomes more apparent the healthful choice in wine should be organic. But, when shopping for such wines one should be aware that, while some are labeled “organically-certified” wines, others are defined as “made with organic grapes” a term which means other substances can be added and (given the power of the wine lobby) not listed on the label.


Conventional wine is allowed to use hundreds of chemicals, including sulfites, sugar, oak chips, and flavor agents. Organic wine is still allowed to use around 70 chemicals, including organic and naturally occurring acids, salts, and enzymes, but they are required to be a higher caliber of additive.


Certainly growing grapes organically does not require the use of artificial fertilizes, herbicides or pesticides, and therefore, drinking any wine made with organic grapes reduces our exposure to dangerous chemicals. And, growing grapes organically also reduces the impact of pesticide use on the workers who grow and harvest the grapes, reduces the threat to groundwater contamination, and helps to promote biodiversity, and so is the best choice both ethically and environmentally.


But, truly organic wines are actually quite rare; usually what is sold in this category is just wine “made with organic grapes”. This is because a true certified organic wine is not allowed to add sulfites (nor any other non-organic additives), and this makes them prone to spoilage. A wine that only has its grapes certified organic, but is not itself certified, can add sulfites up to 100 ppm.



Small amounts of sulfites are present in all wine, whether it is conventionally made, certified organic, or made with organic grapes, since there is a certain amount that is naturally occurring. But, since sulfites are a highly effective preservative, more can be added to wines at the discretion of the winemaker. And, small amounts are even allowed to be added to organically-certified wine.


Non-naturally occurring sulfites that are added to wine are listed on the label as potassium metabisulfite or sulfur dioxide. Adverse reactions to sulfite exposure, which occurs in those sensitive to it (especially those with asthma) include: dizziness, headaches, shortness of breath, sneezing, watery eyes, wheezing, and sinus congestion. For the sensitive, sulfites can also trigger anxiety, depression, or panic attacks, while extremely high levels of sulfites on a regular basis can for most people cause damage and chronic degeneration of the nervous system.  Article


Unfortunately, one wine specialist said it is nearly impossible to produce high quality wine without using sulfites, so they are prevalent in commercial wines. If you are sensitive to sulfites, or just wish to protect yourself from their negative effects, there are a couple of things you can do.


According to Dr. David Williams ( taking vitamins C (1 to 4 grams), and/or vitamin B12, in the form of sublingual methylcobalamin, (1 to 2 mg), can help reduce sensitivity to sulfites.  Quick B12


Another approach for those sensitive to sulfites, or who just wish to make a healthier wine, is to use an Australian product called “Pure Wine.” Adding 5 drops of Pure Wine to a glass of wine will dramatically reduce the level of sulfites by creating hydrogen peroxide which reacts with and dissipates the sulfur dioxide, evidently without affecting the taste or quality of the wine. Study


Now, some people have a negative reaction to wine that is mistakenly assumed to be due to sulfites, when in fact it is caused by histamines, which are also commonly found in commercial wines. The irony here is that the histamines are produced by a bacteria called Pediococcus, which is inhibited by sulfites.   Reference



The U.S., like Europe, has established pesticide residue standards for grapes but not for wine, and of course, commercial wine grapes are allowed to use all manner of synthetic fertilizers, fungicides, insecticides and pesticides (whereas organically grown grapes can only use natural, safe versions of these compounds).


Grapes come in at number 8 on the Earth Watch Group’s list of the 12 foods highest in pesticides. In 2010, non-organically grown wine grapes in the U.S. had around 25 million pounds of pesticides applied to them. Along with that, conventional wine grapes are heavily treated with insecticides, fungicides and these days are also treated with the dangerous herbicide Roundup (glyphosate).   Reference


Pesticide studies have revealed that fungicides applied in the fields tend to dissipate and are present at various levels in the finished wine. According to studies done between 1996 and 2000, out of 12 fungicides commonly used on wine grapes, six were found to persist in the finished wine in amounts that were considered unsafe. These same studies found that, while some pesticides were not detected in the finished wine, other pesticides persisted during the wine making process, and some pesticides were found to be extremely persistent, leaving residual concentrations in the wine that were similar to the initial concentrations on the grapes, following spraying. Among the nine pesticides commonly used on wine grapes, five of them exceeded the safe reference dose.   Reference


Unfortunately, most grapes will rot on the vine if not treated for mildew, so all grapes are sprayed with some kind of fungicide, but organic grapes are treated with organically-approved compounds, such as elemental Sulfur, Copper, or “Stylet Oil” (a biodegradable agent).


Fungal infection of wine grapes is most common in humid growing environments, which is why some cutting edge wine purveyors offer wines that are “dry farmed”, there being far less need for fungicides to be used to get the crop to harvest. Based on this principle wines from regions with drier climates, such as Argentina, California, and Chile, should contain relatively low levels of fungicide residues.


In France, the humid regions of Bordeaux and Champagne are notorious for the amount of antifungal agents that they use, and those chemicals are found in all their wines (and Champagne) whereas, wines from drier regions in the South of France, tend to harbor far less fungicide residue.


Currently, France is Europe’s top user of pesticides (and is third globally, after the U.S. and Japan). And, though their wine industry uses just 3.7 % of the country’s agricultural land, it accounts 20 % of the country’s pesticide volume. France also has 58 nuclear reactors, so I can’t help but wonder how much of their ground water is contaminated with radiation.


In 2008, researchers at Kingston University in the UK, examined wines from Europe, the Middle East and South America. They found disturbing amounts of heavy metals in wine from 15 countries, which may have been a byproduct of fungicide and/or pesticide use, or may have come from contaminated soil. France was on the list of the worst offenders, along with Austria, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, Slovakia, and Spain. The countries with the lowest levels of heavy metal content to their wines were Argentina and Italy, but unfortunately Canadian and American wines were not included in this study.


(As a side note, not long ago there was a media flurry about arsenic in American wines, but after examining the story in depth I concluded that there was no valid reason to be concerned about that particular issue, so I am not going into the subject here.)


Now, according to my research, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario does a chemical analysis on every wine sold in that province, and they maintain that most wines tested for pesticides (by which they also mean fungicides and insecticides) fall well below their guidelines, which are even stricter than Canadian Federal guidelines.  Reference



Here is a partial list of additives allowed to be added to wines, without being required to be stated on the label (due to the power of the wine lobby): Genetically modified yeast; yeast nutrients (diamonium phosphate, vitamin B1), milk and milk derivatives; malolactic bacteria; tannins; sugar; corn syrup; stabilizing agents (e.g. gum arabic); enzymes, tartaric acid; malic acid; citric acid; calcium carbonate; fining agents (e.g. egg whites, gelatin, isinglass made from fish bladders); as well as various other additives to make wine taste better.


Calcium carbonate and tartaric, malic or citric acid are used to adjust the pH levels of the wine in order to attain an ideal taste, texture and fragrance. However, using these substances is considered by wine connoisseurs to be a way of cheating on the process of wine making, and is usually done when wine is produced in industrial settings and quantities.


Industrial wineries also seldom use wooden barrels anymore, given the cost and the space they occupy. “Barrel alternatives” involve using chips or shavings of oak and such woods, which are added to the wine fermenting in stainless steel tanks. And to be truthful, most of us cannot tell the difference since the oak taste will still be imbued into the wine, and stainless steel tanks are not necessarily a bad thing; no harm done and they do help to keep the costs of the end product down.


One expert said: “If you’re drinking an under-$20 wine with nice oak character that flavor probably comes from wood in wine, not wine in wood.” And another had this comment: “A tea bag (a permeable bag filled with oak chips) imparts a flavor of oak,” he says, “but not a refined or elegant flavor. It’s not a smooth oak flavor. It’s almost like a soda pop answer to adding oak to your wine.”  Reference


Another common wine additive is a thick juice concentrate (made from Teinturier grapes) which is sold under a variety of names including “Mega Purple” and “Ultra Red”. These additives are designed to correct “color deficiencies” in red wines, making the wine darker than it would naturally be, as well as adding textural elements (making it full-bodied), “popping” the fruit flavor, and creating a uniform taste in cheaper wines. One winery maintained that almost any wine that you buy that costs less than $20 would have used a version of this grape concentrate.


Now, since it is only a fruit concentrate, its addition to a wine is not really a health issue but more an issue of true quality of a wine. That being said, a grape concentrate from non-organic grapes is going to have a higher pesticide count than just the grape juice used to make the wine, so such additives are probably adding more pesticides to any wine that uses it.


From a quality point of view, wine experts are of the opinion that all the wines that use these grape concentrates will have similar flavors, and lose their distinctive characteristics, which are based on the type of grape, the growing region, and fermentation and barreling techniques. All factors that a wine connoisseur treasures.  Reference



Pure, true wines can be at a bit of a disadvantage these days, especially if the palate has become used to the new wave of bold red wines (as mine has). I found when I tried a couple of the wines mentioned below that they seemed thinner in texture, with less body, and more subtle in flavor than I was used to. But for a friend of mine, sensitive to chemicals and sulfites, while she also found the wines to be less flavorful initially, said that they tasted very clean, and did not cause the headaches or agitation that she gets from most commercial wines.


I also found that my truly natural red wine did not keep at room temperature for very long, but started to turn vinegary within a couple of weeks. This probably could have been avoided if I kept it in the fridge, but it did indicate to me that the other red wines that I normally drink must contain a higher level of preservatives than this clean, natural wine.


Cutting edge wine companies are doing more than just avoiding pesticides. They may dry farm the grapes, or grow them at higher elevations in order to reduce the potential for fungus or mildew, and thus will require little or no anti-fungal agents to be applied. These wines keep sulfite levels as low as possible, naturally attain an ideal pH level, use secondary fermentation and tighter filtration.


Such labor intensive and expensive processes make for wines that are not only free of impurities, and healthier than other wines, but also create a wine that constitutes food. And from a gourmet perspective, wines that have the true characteristics of the grape, environment and winery, allowing each new wine to be a taste adventure rather than a visit to another fast food restaurant that tastes much like the last one.


Good Wine Options in the U.S.

FitVineWine, while not certified organic, is made from pesticide-free grapes grown at a high altitude, and is made with secondary fermentation, superior filtration and has lower residual sugars. Link


Our Daily Wines are sourced from organic vineyards around California’s Central Valley, which has a consistent dry climate, warm weather and well-drained soils, all key factors in successful organic winegrowing. The type of climate allows the fruit to ripen earlier, reducing the risk for weather-related issues such as mildew and mold. They do not add any sulfites to their wines. Link


Dry Farm Wines “travel the world curating the finest organic & natural wines” which are all dry-farmed and additive-free. They independently lab test every wine so it meets their strict standards of purity, this includes ensuring that the wines are free of mold or mycotoxins. While this is a wine club, one can make a single purchase (they come by the case of mixed varieties of wine), in order to test the waters before committing to a subscription (monthly). This is a rather exclusive wine club given the cost (6 bottles $159 U.S.), but what price good health, right?  Link


Canadian Wine

While I have found Our Daily Red wine here in B.C., the best Canadian option I have found is Summerhill Winery. They produce organic wine, and have received Demeter Biodynamic certification for their Kelowna vineyard (a semi desert valley allowing for less potential mold to contaminate the grapes). Biodynamic growing techniques raise organic to the next level, one which integrates animals, plants, soil and water into a self-regulating ecosystem. Link


“The basic concept of Biodynamic agriculture is that the farm should be viewed as a self-sufficient, integrated whole. A living organism. To create a farm as a closed system, solutions for that farm’s vitality- fertility, soil health, disease and pest control- must arise from the farm itself and not be imported from the outside.


Biodynamic farming includes organic certification prohibitions against the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. But, maintaining that idea of the farm as an integrated whole, the entire farm must be certified (versus a particular crop or field allowed in organic certification). Farmers must devote at least 10% of total acreage to wilderness habitat, for example oak groves, waterways, and meadows.”  Link


And if Biodynamic and organic are not enough, Summerhill actually ages their wines in a true pyramid. The Summerhill Pyramid is a precisely aligned, 4 story high, 3249 ft², 8% replica of the Great Pyramid of Egypt. With regards to the benefits of aging the wine in a pyramid, they have this to say: “We have a twenty year experiment proving the effect of sacred geometry on liquids with a twenty year track record of international gold medals.” Follow this link to check out their story on the pyramid (which you can tour through, if you visit their winery): Link


There are of course many more organic wine options from the US and Canada, not to mention the rest of the wine producing countries, and to ensure you are getting the highest caliber of wine, check the label to make sure that the wine is certified organic, and not just the grapes. Though choosing a wine made with organic grapes, rather than conventional grapes, is certainly your next best option to a truly organic wine.


Wine has served our ancestors well since the dawn of history, evidenced by the earliest signs of human settlements appearing to have been built around brewing facilities (either for beer or wine). If you would like to read (much) more about the history of wine, its health attributes, and the story of the Australian “wine doctors”, have a read of this thesis by Dr. P. A. Norrie. Link

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