Are "natural" wines healthier?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

I saw an ad for a wine club. They say their wines are "natural,” with grapes grown without chemicals, they don't add sulfites, the wines are 100 percent sugar free, and they are much better for your health than other wines. It sounds good, but my visceral skepticism has me on the fence. What do you think?

—Jerry, Minneapolis, Minn.

Dear Jerry,

I’ve seen those wine clubs advertised. Minimal-intervention winemaking is a popular trend right now. Some of these vintners have adopted the term “natural” to describe their wines, which makes me a bit uncomfortable for several big reasons: I don’t like that it suggests that wines not adopting these practices (or terms) are “unnatural,” there isn’t any consensus about the definition of what a “natural” wine is (so I’ll continue to put it in quotation marks for now), and the claim that these wines are "healthier" for you is dubious.

Despite all that, I would expect that these “natural” wines are produced on a small scale, and are made sharing some of the ideologies that you mention, and that might be very appealing to you.

But are these wines healthier for you? Wines grown without pesticides are certainly better for our environment, and that’s good for us all. But there are plenty of wines that are grown sustainably or organically that don’t call themselves “natural.” These growing practices don’t affect the parts of wine that have been linked to health benefits—polyphenols, antioxidants, resveratrol, etc.—all wine contains those. And lots and lots of laws are already in place that prevent the sale of wines with detectable levels of pesticides or other chemicals that come anywhere near levels that would be considered harmful for human consumption.

The sulfite thing is slightly more complicated. All wines contain sulfites—it’s a natural byproduct of winemaking. Many winemakers add additional sulfites to help keep wines stable and prevent them from spoiling. There’s a very small percentage of the population that are very sensitive to sulfites, so they are probably staying away from wine no matter what to avoid some serious respiratory difficulties. And most wines don’t have added sugar (aka chaptalization)—but if you need to keep an eye out for sugar in your life, check out our complete guide to what wine drinkers should know about sugar, and also talk to your doctor.

I think your skepticism is well-founded, but I also think it’s OK if you decide these viticultural and winemaking practices are important to you and you want to sign up for this wine club. I just hope you also like the way the wines taste!

—Dr. Vinny

Ask Dr. Vinny Health

More In Dr. Vinny

Does Pinot Noir come in both red and white versions? Are they the same grape?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how red wines get their color. (Hint: It's not …

Jun 22, 2022

If you're supposed to hold a wineglass by the stem, why are stemless glasses so popular?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert Dr. Vinny explains the pros and cons of stemless …

Jun 13, 2022

How much do our taste buds influence our perception of wine?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert Dr. Vinny explains how taste sensitivity impacts our …

Jun 6, 2022

What's the shelf life of a box of wine?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert, Dr. Vinny, explains why box wines aren't meant to …

May 31, 2022

Should I refill my own wineglass, or ask the host or server to?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the etiquette or wine service, for hosts and for …

May 23, 2022

What’s the best way to remove the cork from an imperial (a 6-liter bottle of wine)?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains best practices for opening—and serving—large-for…

May 16, 2022