Natural Wine May Be Better for You Than Regular Wine—But Only Slightly
If you've been to any sort of wine bar or restaurant with an extensive menu of wines recently, you've more than likely noticed a few options of "natural wines" on the list—as well as the higher price point attached to them. Aside from being a trendy term that you can throw around in order to impress your friends or coworkers at the next happy hour, what exactly is a natural wine? And does the fact that it's natural mean it's actually better for you than a regular, conventional wine?
This type of wine may have just begun popping up in more places around the U.S., but it isn't exactly a new concept. According to a report published in Foods, natural wine was believed to have begun in France around the 1960s as an alternative to wines that used additives and pesticides. From there, it's believed to have gone global after winemaster Isabelle Legeron developed Raw Wine, a maker of natural, biodynamic, and organic wines, helped popularize natural wine in 2009.
While naturals haven't made its way everywhere yet, it seems to be on its way based on the fact that it keeps sneaking its way into bars and restaurants. However, we wanted to find out if trying this wine was worth it, and if it could provide any sort of health benefits that are different from drinking a regular ol' glass of wine.
What exactly is natural wine?
Although natural wine seems to be a hot topic on people's lips, there aren't many clear cut definitions of what it is exactly.
"While there's no real accepted definition for wine that is natural, most winemakers and drinkers have come to accept that natural wines are those using grapes grown organically and using no additives in the winemaking process," says Matt Morin, The Armchair Sommelier.
"Natural wine is not a term that has any regulating body or even a clear definition, and it is often used interchangeably with terms like 'low intervention,' 'raw,' or 'naked,'" explains Will Howard, sommelier of Rococo Steak in St. Petersburg, FL. "The intent of making a wine 'natural' is to make it without additives, minimal sulfites, and organic or biodynamic farming practices. However, this label has created controversy in the world of wine because anyone can market their wine using the word 'natural' without any restriction."
According to the Foods report, aside from being without additives and containing minimal sulfites, natural wines have "minimal intervention during the fermentation process" and are unfiltered, which is what gives apparently gives them their slightly cloudy appearance and tasting notes that are less fruity than regular wines.
Is it different than organic wine?
According to Howard, "'Natural wine' is a term in the wine world that is loosely connected to organic and biodynamic wines as well."
In fact, the report from Foods states that a rising interest in organic wine is what created multiple divisions of these types of wine, including biodynamic, clean, and natural wine. In other words, 'natural'—along with clean and biodynamic—fall under the "organic" umbrella.
The report states that biodynamic wines are very similar to organic in that they both require sustainable farming practices, but biodynamic is allowed to have a higher level of sulfites than an organic wine. Grapes used in biodynamic wines are also not allowed to contain any roundup, a common herbicide.
Clean wine is another subset under the organic umbrella, and it is very similar to a natural wine. According to the Foods report, both clean and naturals are made with the intention of using fewer additives, but natural wine is focused more on getting back to the "roots" of winemaking.
Ultimately, natural isn't much healthier than regular wine
So, is wine that is natural actually healthier for your body than conventional wine? Overall, the differences seem to be slight, and even then, more research needs to be done, as only small studies have been recorded.
For instance, a small triple-blind study published in Nutrients found that natural wine was found to induce a lower blood alcohol concentration—the measurement of how much alcohol is found in your bloodstream after you drink—than regular wine when consumed in the same amount and in the same circumstances. The researches claim that this could be due to a number of reasons, such as differences in yeasts used as well as lack of pesticide residue.
Even though there were differences found in blood alcohol levels, there don't seem to be any long-term health effects of natural vs. conventional wine that have been discovered yet. And ultimately, it's important to keep in mind that when it comes to the effects of alcohol on your body, natural wine is still wine.
"While natural wine or organic wine may appease the concern of avoiding pesticides or other additions, heavy alcohol consumption, regardless of whether it is natural or not, is linked to an increased risk of developing certain cancers. And drinking excessive amounts of natural alcohol can also negatively affect liver health, cognitive function, and have a slew of other effects, just like conventional wine can," says Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, registered dietitian and author of The First Time Mom's Pregnancy Cookbook and Fueling Male Fertility. "So, no matter which wine variety a person is choosing, whether it be natural, regular, biodynamic, etc., limiting consumption is a wise idea."
It really comes down to what your own goals are with choosing a wine. If avoiding pesticides and lowering your intake of sulfites is important to you, then you may want to try your hand at a natural or organic wine. But, if you're fine with a more conventional wine, you can stick to a regular wine, as long as it's in moderation.