From hangover damage limitation to the lowdown on sulphites and organic labelling, here's what you need to know, by nutritional therapist and wine connoisseur Eve Kalinik
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of a drop of vino or two; I believe when it’s drunk in moderation, wine does have some positive health benefits including polyphenol antioxidants that support the gut microbiome. I didn’t use to be as fussy over the type of wine or the grape, but these days I’m much more aware of what goes into wine. For me - it’s got to be organic, biodynamic or ‘natural’ all the way.
One of the questions I am asked the most is which is the ‘healthiest’ wine; my epiphany came when I was researching ‘natural’ wines a few years ago. Once your eyes have been opened to the difference, you’ll find it hard to go back. The issue is rather complex, in some ways a bit shady, but hopefully, I can help will help demystify what is included in your bottle of plonk.
Commercial wines - additives can cause reactions
When it comes to most commercial wines, synthetic sulphites (or sulfites, same thing) are added as a mild preservative and stabilizer, among other things. Sulphites do occur naturally in many foods but to put it into perspective, wine has a lot more. A single egg contains six parts per million sulphites as opposed to a standard wine, which contains a whopping 350 - and while some of them are a natural part of the fermentation process, most of them are chemical derivatives.
Sulphites aside there are other ‘ingredients’ used in the winemaking process that you would have your eyes out on stalks (and not because you have overdone it). These are additives such as yeast strains, sugar, casein, gelatin and isinglass which comes from the bladders of fish. Yes really!
All these chemicals can be pretty nasty and can cause reactions in some people, from a heinous hangover to immune type reactions such as skin rashes.
Organic wines - not quite as pure as you think
You can find organic wines in most major retailers and you might assume that the term equates to a ‘natural’ wine. It does, but not entirely. These wines are not quite as pure as you think and in fact, EU certified organic wines are can include many chemical additives and a large number of sulphites unless they are deemed 100 per cent organic (which is rarely the case). If the grapes are grown organically then this qualifies the wine as organic, but any number of sulphites can be added post-harvesting. So they are not always as clean as they seem, however it’s likely that they contain fewer additives than the non-organic counterparts.
Biodynamic wines - one step closer to natural
Biodynamic wines take a more holistic approach to their production according to the Rudolf Steiner philosophy of following phases of the moon, seasonality and using animals to enhance fertilisation of the soil in order to enhance the quality of the grapes. Sounds a bit woo-woo, but this practice has been followed for centuries. Biodynamic wines can still legally contain up to 90ppm sulphites, so if you are sensitive to sulphites you may still have a reaction. However, they tend to grow organically, without chemicals and with less intervention so are one step closer to being natural.
And the winner is... natural wine!
If you want to drink your wine in the most natural sense and to max on the antioxidant polyphenols then you need to opt for the wines that have no synthetic additives or chemicals, contain only naturally occurring sulphites (which means they are generally low and are chemical sulphite-free), wild yeasts and use minimal technological processing to preserve the goodness from the crops.
Typically, these wines are often organic, biodynamic, sustainable and produced by small-scale vineyards so are also kinder to the environment. Because they are also small-scale producers, they can rarely afford to be certified organic or biodynamic even though they follow these principles. The thing about natural wines is that there is no real definition or indeed labelling on bottles for “natural” so a lot of it is based on trust between the vineyards and suppliers and you will have to do quite a bit of your own research. Good places to start are the website of natural wine queen Isabel Legeron . You can also attend wine fairs to find ones you like.
From a taste perspective, natural wines can be ‘different’ so it really depends on your palate, but in my opinion, they are far superior.
Wine and hangovers - damage limitation
Well, too much of a good thing isn’t so wonderful, even with natural versions, although from personal experience the after-effects are a lot less brutal, probably because our liver doesn’t have to deal with the chemicals on top of the alcohol itself.
As far as hangovers go, it’s kind of irrelevant as to whether its white, red or bubbles as it’s to do with the chemicals and sulphites I mentioned. The wine just needs to be as natural as possible. The antioxidant benefits are pretty much the same too.
Of course, it also depends on how well each of us metabolises alcohol in the first instance, which is largely down to genetics, as well as how often we consume it in the first place. Moderate drinking, as in one to two glasses a few times a week, allows our liver to be primed with the enzymes needed to metabolise alcohol rather than going dry and then bingeing.
Also, drinking with food also slows down the tipsy effects and protects the gut so eating with your vino is my advice.
Finally, while we take care to buy organic, GMO-free and sustainable food we have somehow neglected this when it comes to wine and really this should be treated just like any other food. Making a conscious decision when it comes to your wine may have more of an impact on the planet than you think…and that includes your hangover too.
My best wine picks
If you are buying from a supermarket look for biodynamic and/or organic.
Find Eve at www.evekalinik.com and @evekalinik . Eve’s book ‘ Be Good to Your Gut: The ultimate guide to gut health is out now.