How to Choose a Healthy Wine to Drink (in 6 Easy Steps)
A glass of wine with dinner is a cliché for good reason. Whether you’re having family over, heading out for a romantic evening for two, gathering together with a group of friends, or just wanting to unwind after a long day, a glass of wine can be a source of pleasure and celebration. Yet finding the right wine can be complicated. In addition to choosing one that fits your taste preferences, it’s also a good idea to find a healthy wine to drink.
Of course, no matter how healthy a certain wine may be, excessive alcohol consumption of any kind can lead to all sorts of problems. Most wine drinkers are familiar with hangovers after having one too many glasses. Yet long-term drinking can also lead to problems like high cholesterol, weight gain, liver issues (including cirrhosis), depression, heart disease, and overall increased risk of chronic disease and early death. So, no matter how luscious your relationship with wine, rather than “rosé all day,” stick with the “minimum effective dose”; that means 1 glass per day for women and 1 – 2 glasses per day for men to avoid long-term problems. In addition, take a break from any alcohol each week for at least a day or two.
There may also be additional benefit to taking a day “off” from alcohol between days; in other words, try to avoid drinking alcohol on consecutive days. According to Dr. Stephan Guyenet, “Over time, the less and less you expose your brain to foods [such as alcohol and junk food], the more their power over you will dampen…they have less power over you the less you eat them.”
Now that that’s out of the way, it’s time to pop the cork on how to choose a healthy wine to drink.
6 Easy Steps to Choose a Healthy Wine to Drink
1. Look for a rich, vibrant red
While my personal taste preference has long been for a dry white wine, red wine, generally speaking, provides a bigger health boost. It all comes down to the abundance of antioxidant phytonutrients (such as gallic acid, resveratrol, quercetin, and rutin) found in red wine. 1,2 Red wine is also higher in potassium, manganese, iron, riboflavin, and niacin than white wine.
Moderate red wine consumption has been associated with more positive health benefits than any other source of alcohol. For example, drinking around 5 ounces of red wine per day has been shown to help reduce the risk for heart disease. 3,4
Further, as we get older, the heart health benefits may increase even more. 5 For example, some research has found that drinking one to three glasses of wine three to four days a week may decrease stroke risk in middle-age men. 6 And these cardiovascular system benefits have been shown in numerous studies.
Red wine consumption has also been associated with decreased risk of cancer, dementia, depression, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. 7 – 11
That said, any more than light to moderate drinking increases the risks. So, keeping the quantity in check is just as important.
2. Choose dry over sweet
Now that you are in the right section (i.e., by the reds), the next consideration is dry over sweet. Pinots (i.e., Pinot Noir) are one of the, if not THE, top choices as healthy wine to drink as they tend to be lower in sugar, calories, and alcohol, not to mention higher in the antioxidant resveratrol than any other red wine.
Resveratrol has been shown to support brain health, insulin sensitivity, and longevity. That said, you likely need more resveratrol than found in a glass of red wine for benefits. That doesn’t mean you should finish off the bottle. Rather, ensure you are getting the nutrient from other food sources as well, such as peanuts, pistachios, grapes, blueberries, and even dark chocolate, or perhaps in supplemental form.
Other antioxidant-rich options of dry red wines include Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah/Shiraz, if prefer more variety. But you’ll probably want to skip Zinfandels, Grenaches, and Ports, which can be higher in sugar, calories, and/or alcohol.
If you just can’t get behind a dry red wine, then you can switch to a glass of Petite Sirah or Rosé from time to time. Those lighter reds tend to be lower in antioxidants, but they still have lower sugar contents than most white wines.
White wines offer fewer health benefits as they are fermented without the grape skins, which (like many fruits and vegetables) are the most robust source of antioxidant phytonutrients (as evidenced by their deep, dark color). In other words, they have lower levels of antioxidants.
If you prefer white wines, however, they may still have some benefits. For example, research from the University of Buffalo indicated that Pinot Grigio may help improve lung function over red wines. 12 This type of white wine also provides compounds like tyrosol and caffeic acid, which act as antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties. 13
Even the world’s most popular white wine—Chardonnay—may provide some benefits. One small study found that Chardonnay had positive effects on cholesterol levels and mild benefits on the heart for people who exercise at least twice per week. 14
And finally, Sauvignon Blanc—known for its crisp, refreshing flavor—is also a lower-sugar wine. It also provides a unique combination of antioxidants that may support cognitive health, at least according to animal research. 15
Other wines to leave off of the usual menu are the sweet Rieslings, Gewurztraminer, Chenin Blanc, and Moscato. These wines are higher in sugar, offer little in the way of antioxidants or nutrients, and can also lead to more severe hangovers.
3. Choose quality over quantity
By being willing to spend a bit more of your hard-earned money, you’ll enjoy a higher quality wine that will likely taste better, will be less likely to make you suffer the next day, and will also help you be more mindful about your consumption. You can easily enjoy a bottle of wine over several days by using a bottle stopper or vacuum pump.
For even higher quality wines, choose natural, organic, or biodynamic wines, which avoid pesticides, herbicides, and added sulfites that can be all too common in conventional wines. (Grapes regularly land on the Dirty Dozen list, and this includes the grapes used in wine.) Organic wines also avoid synthetic chemicals, added sugars, and yeast.
What’s more, organic and natural wines tend to provide even higher levels of the powerful antioxidants like resveratrol, which are produced by “stressed” plants. In other words, plants like grapes produce powerfully health-promoting compounds like resveratrol in response to environmental stressors (e.g., temperature variation, water/nutrient availability, predation). Scientists believe that, through a process known as xenohormesis, these bioactive compounds can benefit human health by enhancing stress resistance, activating longevity pathways, bolstering antioxidant and detoxification systems, and more. Pretty nifty and important when choosing a healthy wine to drink!
4. Consume wine with food
Let’s face it, any alcohol on an empty stomach can cause problems. First off, the wine goes straight into the bloodstream. That means you get intoxicated faster, which can lower inhibitions, increase dehydration, and cause you to drink more than planned. Wine was made to go with meals, appetizers, or a charcuterie board to be fully appreciated and enjoyed, without going overboard.
5. Cut the carbs and calories
If you enjoy the flavor of wine but not all of the excess calories, you can cut back by making a wine spritzer. By diluting the wine 25 to 50%, you’ll get a refreshing drink half (or fewer) of the calories.
Simply add some ice cubes to your wine glass, then fill it halfway with sparkling water before topping it off with your favorite wine. For an even more delicious and visually appealing drink, add a slice of orange or a sprig of mint and a raspberry for a garnish.
You can also choose a very low-sugar wine such as Fit Vine’s Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Chardonnay, which have extended fermentation to bring the sugar content down to under a gram per serving. Pedroncelli’s Mother Clone Zin is also surprisingly low in sugar, especially for a Zinfandel. Another low-sugar brand to consider is Dry Farm Wines.
What if you want something bubbly for a celebration? You have low-sugar options for sparkling wines as well. Just choose a brut, dry, or extra dry wine rather than asti spumante or Moscato d’asti, which indicate a sweeter (and thus higher sugar) sparkling wine.
While low-sugar options can come in with around 1 to 3 grams of sugar per 5-ounce pour, the sweeter wines can come in at up to 25 grams of sugar! Lower-sugar wines also have a lower alcohol content, so you’re less likely to lose inhibitions, get sloppy, and overindulge (leading to a very unpleasant hangover the next day).
To avoid wines with higher sugar contents, avoid those that say dessert, late harvest, ice wine, spatlese, eisweive, dolce, demi sec, or semi sec on the label. You’ll also want to look at the alcohol by volume, or AVB. This is the alcohol level, and it’s required on the wine label. For a lower carb/sugar wine, shoot for 13% or lower ABV.
6. Examine your relationship with wine
From sayings on T-shirts to ending every day with “wine o’clock” to oversized novelty glasses, wine is a big part of today’s culture. Yet too many of us couple (either consciously or subconsciously) alcohol with coping with stress, anxiety, or a bad day. This is when the wine relationship can go from warm and bubbly to toxic—and it can happen quickly.
Are you enjoying a single glass of wine for the taste and sensory pleasure? Or is it becoming a crutch to combat or numb pain and discomfort? Especially if “your” time means “wine time” every night or you’re starting to notice negative effects—such as drinking more than you planned, disrupted sleep, hangovers, or worse—take a look at your relationship with wine to determine if it’s souring.
If you find you are using wine to cope regularly, instead of choosing a glass of wine to unwind, at least a couple of night a week, choose self-care to nourish your body and mind and process emotions instead.
For example, write in your gratitude journal, call a friend, show affection to your pet or partner, diffuse your favorite essential oil, write down a list of incredible experiences you’ve had or are looking forward to, buy yourself some flowers, take a walk, be barefoot in your backyard or a park, let yourself cry or simply sit with your feelings (even if they’re uncomfortable), practice a random act of kindness, play a feel-good playlist (and maybe add in some dance moves), get some fresh air, mindfully make and eat a healthy meal, take your supplements, get in a good workout, take a class, stretch your body, give yourself a massage… you get the idea. Just find ways to be good to yourself.
You can also choose to get sober curious or take off a month of drinking. You may even find that you miss a healthy glass of wine less than you expected.
Choosing a Healthy Wine to Drink: A Wrap-Up
As long as you don’t overindulge, drink daily, or let your relationship go sour, vino—especially of the red variety—offers more health benefits than much of what’s found at the bar. With it’s free-radical fighting phytochemicals, wine has been found to support a healthier heart, brain, lungs, and an overall longer, more fulfilling life. Plus, it’s lower in calories than many of the other popular options. And now, with the six steps above, you can make an even better choice when choosing a healthy wine to drink. Cheers!