Whether it’s happy hour with friends, a celebratory meal, or just a relaxing night at home after a long day, many occasions are enhanced by a glass of wine. Of course, we know that alcohol isn’t the greatest thing for your body, but we also know that it’s been part of the human and community existence for thousands of years, and we enjoy indulging in moderation. Fortunately, if you know what to look for and what to avoid, you can make your next aperitif much easier on your body. We already did a full rundown on the healthiest alcohol for your body, so now it’s time to take a deep dive on wine. Read on to learn why you should choose organic wine brands, how to remove sulfites from wine, our picks for the best organic wine, and much more.
The Health Consequences of Conventional Wine
Alcohol already does a number on your body, so you don’t want a whole bunch of extra toxins to deal with when you drink. But with conventionally-grown wine (aka wine grown and produced with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers), that’s just what you’re getting.
First of all, the primary ingredient in wine is grapes, and grapes are #6 on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of produce with the highest loads of pesticide residue. This is pretty scary, since pesticides have been linked to a long list of health issues, including allergies, brain and nervous system toxicity, cancer, and hormone disruption — not to mention the 10,000-20,000 farm workers who may be poisoned by pesticides each year. After all, pesticides are meant to kill living beings (the “pests”), so it shouldn’t be surprising that they also do harm to humans.
Synthetic fertilizers, for their part, leach from the grape growing fields into waterways, where they wreak havoc. Excessive nitrogen from the fertilizers can lead to elevated toxins and bacterial growth in the water, which can then make us sick through tainted fish or contaminated water. Fertilizers also contain nitrate, and excess nitrate in water has been linked to a higher risk for thyroid, bladder, and ovarian cancers.
Most conventional wines also contain added sulfites. Sulfites, which are a chemical compound made up of sulfur and oxygen, are essentially a preservative, as they can help prevent oxidization and thus let wine stay on the shelf longer. But health-wise, they have their own consequences. They can irritate the respiratory tract and cause an allergic reaction for some people (especially those with asthma), and can cause headaches and trigger or worsen migraines. They’ve also been associated with hives, stomach pain, and diarrhea.
Your liver has to work hard to filter out the alcohol from your blood — why also make it filter out chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and sulfite preservatives? When you give your liver too much to filter, it takes away from its other vital functions: making bile to digest food, storing energy and nutrients, and manufacturing hormones, proteins, and enzymes that your body uses to function and ward off disease.
So, yeah, pretty important stuff. Choosing organic wine gives your liver less work to do, which means it will filter the wine better, which you guessed it, means you won’t feel as bad and your body will be better off in the long and short term..
What Is Organic Wine?
If you’re going to drink wine, choosing organic wine brands is the simplest way to avoid all of the health consequences we outlined above. By looking for wine that carries a USDA Organic label, you can be confident that you’re staying away from unwanted toxins.
Let’s look at exactly what that label means. The USDA regulates organic wine made and sold in the United States, and any wine bearing the USDA Organic label must be:
- Made with organic grapes grown without synthetic fertilizers.
- Produced without genetic engineering or prohibited substances, such as synthetic pesticides.
- Made with certified organic agricultural ingredients.
- Free of added sulfites (naturally occurring sulfites are okay).
Another phrase you might see on labels is “made with organic grapes.” Wines bearing this label aren’t as healthy as organic wine brands that fit the criteria outlined above, because “made with organic grapes” just prohibits synthetic fertilizers and pesticides from the grape growing process, not production. But still, these wines are definitely better for you than conventional wine.
In terms of taste, don’t worry: you’re not sacrificing any flavor by only going for organic wine brands. In fact, a 2016 analysis of blind taste-test expert ratings of over 74,000 wines showed that eco-certified wines (a designation that includes organic wine, wine made with organic grapes, and biodynamic wine) rated higher than regular wines.
Choosing the Best Organic Wine
While we’re sold on the benefits of drinking organic wine, unfortunately the rest of the world hasn’t gotten on board yet. That means it’s not always easy to find organic wine brands at the store or at restaurants. Fortunately, there are a number of high-quality, WellBe-endorsed sources where you’re guaranteed to find some of the best organic wine around.
The list below includes stores and organic wineries from which you can directly purchase bottles, as well as organic wine brands you can look for when you head to the wine store:
- Dry Farm Wines: The only health-focused wine club in the world! All wines are all natural and additive-free, and lab tested for purity. You can sign up for a subscription to receive wines monthly, every other month, or every three months.
- Thrive Market: Thrive Market is an online market selling premium natural, organic products at more affordable prices — and they recently started offering biodynamic, low-sulfite, sustainably farmed organic wine brands.
- Sun Basket: This healthy, organic meal delivery service also offers some of the best organic wine.
- Stoutridge Vineyard: This organic vineyard is owned by Steve Osborn, a biochemist and biodynamic winemaker who we spoke to while creating the video above!
- The Organic Wine Company: All wines are GMO-free and made with certified organic grapes. You can purchase directly with no subscription or membership required.
- Cannounau wine from Sardinia, Italy, one of the Blue Zones. (They have nearly 10 times more centenarians per capita than the U.S.) This wine has two or three times the level of artery-scrubbing flavonoids as other wines.
Even if you can’t get organic wine at your neighborhood wine bar (yet!), we’re confident that by using the sources above, you’ll be able to find the best organic wine out there.
(BTW — if you want recommendations for more WellBe-approved wines and other health-boosting items to have in your home, check out the WellBe Non-Toxic Product Lists! You’ll find 1,200+ vetted and researched non-toxic products, from food to sleep to beauty to home and more.)
What About Biodynamic Wine Brands?
When you talk about the best organic wine, you’re bound to hear the word “biodynamic” come up more than once. And even if you haven’t been looking for organic wine, you’ve probably encountered the term: while it can still be tough to find organic wine brands at restaurants or bars, biodynamic wines have become trendy in recent years. So what exactly are biodynamic wines?
The term biodynamic refers to an alternative agricultural approach that’s very similar to organic farming, but also contains various other spiritual, mythical, and mystical elements. One of the main tenets of biodynamic agriculture is the idea that everything is interrelated — so the soil, crops, trees, air, animals, and so on are all part of one single system. Some methods of biodynamic agriculture also rely on the lunar or astrological calendars to inform when they plant crops, and others may use more mystical, magical techniques, like burying quartz stuffed into the horn of a cow to harvest “cosmic forces in the soil.”
Mystical elements aside, biodynamic wine is a good choice when it comes to your health, because it adheres to the same rules as organic wine. That means that no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides are used during either the growing or production of the wine, and there are no additives like sulfites. Whether you believe in harvesting cosmic forces or not is your call.
How To Remove Sulfites from Wine
As we mentioned, in order to carry the USDA Organic label, a wine can’t contain any added sulfites, but even organic wine brands still have naturally occurring sulfites. For most of us, this small amount of natural sulfites won’t cause an issue. However, people who suffer from asthma or migraines (or those who just want to add an extra layer of purity) might want to know how to remove sulfites from wine.
The tips below can come in handy if you can’t find any organic wine brands and need to drink conventional wine, or if you want to get rid of naturally occurring sulfites in organic wine.
Either way, if you want to know how to remove sulfites from wine, here are the techniques we recommend:
- Decant your wine. Using a wine decanter is a classic and simple way to lower the sulfite levels. When you pour wine from the bottle to the decanter, it becomes aerated and releases compounds including aromatic elements, alcohol, and sulfites. As soon as the wine is put in the decanter, the evaporation process begins, and sulfites evaporate the fastest.
- Use a special filter. One of the simplest and most popular ways to remove sulfites from wine is with a filter. Our favorite is the Ullo Wine Purifier, which is a small net-like gadget that sits on top of your glass and filters the wine as you pour it in. It has the added bonus of aerating the wine, which also lets more flavors come through.
- Try hydrogen peroxide. In terms of options for how to remove sulfites from wine, this is definitely the most DIY approach. Hydrogen peroxide oxidizes sulfites, turning them into hydrogen sulfate, which doesn’t cause any of the problems associated with sulfites. The issue here, however, is that there’s no specified amount to add to your wine, so it’s easy to under- or overdo it — plus it’s pretty easy for the not-exactly-delicious flavor of hydrogen peroxide to come through (not exactly a tasting note we’re looking for!).
Conclusion: Why Organic Wine Brands Matter + The Healthiest Way to Drink
The bottom line is that if you prioritize your health (which we all should!), you shouldn’t just be looking for the best wine — you should be looking for the best organic wine. Here’s a recap of why it matters, and how you can ensure you’re making the healthiest choice next time you pour yourself a glass of vino:
- Conventionally grown wine contains pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, which pollute our groundwater and can cause health issues like hormone disruption, allergies, brain and nervous system toxicity, and cancer.
- To avoid unwanted toxins, choose organic wine brands that carry the USDA Organic label. This ensures they meet a number of health standards, including only using grapes and other ingredients that were grown organically and not adding any preservatives.
- When looking for the best organic wine, you might also see wine that doesn’t have the USDA Organic label but does say “made with organic grapes.” While these wines don’t meet all the standards of organic wine brands, they’re still better than conventional wine.
- Biodynamic wine refers to wine that adheres to the principles of organic farming, but also takes into account the lunar and astrological calendar as well as various mystical and spiritual principles.
- Conventionally produced wine contains added sulfites, which can be associated with respiratory irritation and headaches, and even organic wine has naturally occurring sulfites. We recommend purchasing the Ullo filter for reducing sulfite levels, but you can also check out our other tips above for how to remove sulfites from wine.
While it can still be hard to find organic wine brands in stores and on menus, the tide seems to be turning as more people become health-conscious and aware of the importance of going organic. To help things change more quickly, be sure to ask for organic wine at the wine store, restaurants, and bars — if we let establishments know there’s a demand, there will be more organic wine everywhere.
What’s your favorite organic wine brand? Tell us in the comments below!