Are some wines healthier than others?

Are some wines healthier than others?
Jan 18, 2023

Q: Are some wines healthier than others?—Linda, Tuscaloosa, Ala.

A: While many studies have demonstrated the health benefits of moderate wine consumption, it makes sense to wonder how drinking different types of wine—red or white, sparkling or fortified, orange or rosé—affects one’s health.

Many studies on wine and health don’t differentiate between the types of wine subjects consume. The few studies that do, however, indicate that different wines impact health in different ways, likely due to their varying levels of polyphenols, the antioxidants researchers hypothesize are responsible for many of wine’s health benefits. For instance, one recent study linked red wine, but not white or sparkling, with reduced levels of visceral fat. The same study associated white and sparkling wine, but not red, with increased bone mineral density. Compared to red wines, white and sparkling wines contain about twice as much protocatechuic acid, a polyphenol the authors believe may protect bone health.

Some researchers, notably Dr. Roger Corder, emeritus professor of experimental therapeutics at Queen Mary University of London and author of The Red Wine Diet, believe that young, tannic red wines offer maximum health benefits. While some studies suggest that alcohol itself, in modest amounts, has cardioprotective health effects, Corder and others argue that wine’s procyanidins set it apart from other alcoholic beverages. Because procyanidins, a class of polyphenol that includes tannins, are found in grape seeds and skins, they’re present in highest concentrations in dense, tannic reds. Rosé and orange wines, which both involve some skin contact, contain them in smaller amounts, and most white and sparkling wines contain very low amounts. Likewise, aged red wines contain fewer procyanidins than young reds, since the procyanidin concentration decreases as tannins polymerize over time.

Though our understanding of polyphenols and health continues to evolve, the difference in polyphenol content between different wines can be dramatic. According to the database Phenol-Explorer, 100 milliliters of red wine contains an average of 0.12 milligrams of resveratrol. White contains a third of that, just 0.04 mg, and Champagne a miniscule 0.009 mg. Even more dramatic disparities exist with the flavonol quercetin, which a recent study linked to reduced cognitive decline. Red wines contain 0.83 mg per 100 ml, while white and Champagne contain 0.04 mg and 0.0085 mg, respectively.

What about sweet and fortified wines? Like still and sparkling wines, these wines’ polyphenol content depends largely on the level of extraction during winemaking. The more important health factors to consider may be their elevated levels of sugar and, in some cases, alcohol. While a standard 5-ounce glass of dry wine at 12 percent alcohol contains around 120 calories, many sweet and fortified wines contain significant amounts of residual sugar. In addition to sugar, fortified wines such as Port also contain elevated alcohol, often around 20 percent, which raises their calorie count even higher. While there’s nothing inherently unhealthy about these wines, drinkers watching their sugar or alcohol intake may wish to consume a smaller glass. Many of these wines, such as Sherry and tawny Port, are also made in an oxidative style, which gives them elevated levels of acetaldehyde, a byproduct of alcohol metabolism that researchers have linked to hangover—yet another reason to consider savoring these delicious wines in moderate amounts.

Finally, is there any health advantage to organic and so-called natural wines? According to existing evidence, not really. Unless you have a sulfur allergy, which is exceedingly rare, there’s no reason to worry about the sulfites added to many wines. And while many wonderful wines are made from organically farmed grapes, experts say wines made from vineyards treated with pesticides present minimal risks to consumers.

As always, talk to your doctor about incorporating wine—whatever your vinous pleasure—into a healthy lifestyle.—Kenny Martin

Q & A health natural-wine orange-wines red-wines rose sparkling-wines white-wines quercetin resveratrol

You Might Also Like

Is it safe to drink wine while nursing?

Is it safe to drink wine while nursing?

Though nursing mothers should avoid excessive alcohol consumption, experts say moderate …

Dec 7, 2022
Can drinking wine cause holiday heart syndrome?

Can drinking wine cause holiday heart syndrome?

Though excessive wine consumption can cause alcohol-related arrhythmia, known as holiday …

Nov 23, 2022
Is it safe to have a glass of wine after receiving one of the new bivalent COVID-19 vaccine booster shots?

Is it safe to have a glass of wine after receiving one of the new bivalent COVID-19 vaccine booster shots?

Though excess alcohol consumption can dampen the body's immune response, experts say …

Nov 9, 2022
Is it safe to drink from a sabered bottle of Champagne? Won’t tiny pieces of glass get into the wine?

Is it safe to drink from a sabered bottle of Champagne? Won’t tiny pieces of glass get into the wine?

While it's possible that sabering a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine could produce …

Oct 26, 2022
What are the risks of drinking small quantities of alcohol while pregnant?

What are the risks of drinking small quantities of alcohol while pregnant?

While experts now recommend avoiding alcohol while pregnant, it's true that pregnant women …

Sep 14, 2022
As wine ages, do its health benefits change?

As wine ages, do its health benefits change?

Wine undergoes a variety of chemical changes as it ages, some of which still aren’t clearly …

Aug 31, 2022