I’m a big wine guy.
I’ve actually discussed this habit before on podcasts, but nearly seven days a week I finish up my afternoon or early evening workout with a glass of red wine.
Three main reasons, really.
First, I love the taste of wine, but I’m also well aware that alcoholic drinks and the fructose and other sugars therein can make you fat if you consume them in a fed state, so I instead consume my daily glass of wine in a “fasted” state post-workout (vs., say, having a big glass of wine during dinner or after stuffing my face with dinner). In this post-workout situation, the fructose sugars in the wine simply help to replenish my liver glycogen stores (muscles do not contain the enzyme to store fructose as glycogen, but the liver does), and the glucose and sucrose sugars are far less likely to spend significant amounts of time in my blood stream. You can read up more on sugar content of wine here. Finding out how much sugar you’re consuming is hard to tell, since most countries don’t indicate sugar content on the label, but here’s a basic breakdown of wine types and how much sugar they contain:
Dry: 4 grams per liter.
Medium dry: 4-12 grams of sugar per liter – or about 0.5 to 2 grams per glass.
Sweet: More than 45 grams of sugar per liter – or about 6 grams per glass or more.
Second, wine is actually only “heart healthy” if combined with physical activity. In a study called In Vino Veritas (In Wine, Truth), researchers introduced wine into people’s lives and tracked the effects on their bodies. By itself, drinking wine did not significantly affect cholesterol, blood glucose, triglycerides, or levels of inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein. But among those who worked out twice per week and also drank wine, there was significant improvement in health variables after a year of wine consumption, no matter whether it was red or white.
And third, I’ll readily admit that post-workout with an empty stomach, I’m a complete cheap date. That single glass of wine serves to spin a few dials in my brain, chill me out, and serve as a relaxing way to end a day’s hard work.
So yeah, I drink wine and I drink my fair share. But before you rush out to buy that fancy Bordeaux or the cheapo box of Franzia, you should know a few very important things about wine, including some dark and dirty secrets of the wine industry, four ways to ensure the healthy habit of regular wine consumption doesn’t elevate your body fat or destroy your metabolism, and the kind of wine fit and healthy people should be drinking.
Let’s jump right in, shall we?
Why You Should Choose Your Wine Carefully
You may have seen last month's headlines including “California Winemakers Sued Over High Levels of Arsenic in Wines” and “Bad News for Those of You Who, Like Us, Drank Cheap Wine Each and Every Night of Your 20s”.
Basically, a class action lawsuit that was filed in California against some of the country's top winemakers over the high levels of arsenic in wine. The lawsuit claims that some of the most popular wines have “up to four and five times the maximum amount of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows for drinking water.”
The fact is, there are basically no federal requirements to tell you what's really in the wine you’re drinking, and one big reason for this is that the wine lobby is constantly fighting government action to require alcohol companies to label what's in their wine. But in this recent arsenic wine scandal, a Denver laboratory called BeverageGrades started running tests to uncover the calorie counts in bottles of wine.
While the tests were simply setup to investigate calorie count, the actual results of the tests on 1,300 bottles of wine were a bit shocking. Nearly a quarter of the bottles had levels of arsenic higher than the EPA's maximum for drinking water. The lower the price of the wine, the higher the levels of arsenic were. For example, Trader Joe's famous Two-Buck Chuck wine had three times the EPA's limit, and that affordable box of Franzia Blush wine had five times the limit. The lawsuit alleges that the contaminated wines are cheaper because their producers don't implement the proper methods and processes to reduce inorganic arsenic.
Since arsenic is highly toxic even at a parts per billion level, this is pretty disturbing. Some of the wines contained levels of arsenic up to 500% or more than what is what is considered the maximum acceptable safe daily intake limit. Put differently, this means that just a glass or two of an arsenic-contaminated wine a day over time could result in dangerous arsenic toxicity.
Curious if you’re drinking any of these arsenic contaminated beverages? Here's a list of the wines that are included in the lawsuit:
Acronym GR8RW Red Blend 2011
Almaden Heritage White Zinfandel
Almaden Heritage Moscato
Almaden Heritage White Zinfandel
Almaden Heritage Chardonnay
Almaden Mountain Burgundy
Almaden Mountain Rhine
Almaden Mountain Chablis
Arrow Creek Coastal Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
Bandit Pinot Grigio
Bandit Cabernet Sauvignon
Bay Bridge Chardonnay
Beringer White Merlot 2011
Beringer White Zinfandel 2011
Beringer Red Moscato
Beringer Refreshingly Sweet Moscato
Charles Shaw White Zinfandel 2012
Colores del Sol Malbec 2010
Glen Ellen by Concannon's Glen Ellen Reserve Pinot Grigio 2012
Concannon Selected Vineyards Pinot Noir 2011
Glen Ellen by Concannon's Glen Ellen Reserve Merlot 2010
Corbett Canyon Pinot Grigio
Corbett Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon
Cupcake Malbec 2011
Fetzer Moscato 2010
Fetzer Pinot Grigio 2011
Fisheye Pinot Grigio 2012
Flipflop Pinot Grigio 2012
Flipflop Cabernet Sauvignon
Foxhorn White Zinfandel
Franzia Vintner Select White Grenache
Franzia Vintner Select White Zinfandel
Franzia Vintner Select White Merlot
Franzia Vintner Select Burgundy
Hawkstone Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
HRM Rex Goliath's Moscato
Korbel Sweet Rose Sparkling Wine
Korbel Extra Dry Sparkling Wine
Menage a Trois Pinot Grigio 2011
Menage a Trois Moscato 2010
Menage a Trois White Blend 2011
Menage a Trois Chardonnay 2011
Menage a Trois Rose 2011
Menage a Trois Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Menage a Trois California Red Wine 2011
Mogen David Concord
Mogen David Blackberry Wine
Oak Leaf White Zinfandel
Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc 2011
R Collection by Raymond's Chardonnay 2012
Richards Wild Irish Rose Red Wine
Seaglass Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Simply Naked Moscato 2011
Smoking Loon Viognier 2011
Sutter Home Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Sutter Home Gewurztraminer 2011
Sutter Home Pink Moscato
Sutter Home Pinot Grigio 2011
Sutter Home Moscato
Sutter Home Chenin Blanc 2011
Sutter Home Sweet Red 2010
Sutter Home Riesling 2011
Sutter Home White Merlot 2011
Sutter Home Merlot 2011
Sutter Home White Zinfandel 2011
Sutter Home White Zinfandel 2012
Sutter Home Zinfandel 2010
Trapiche Malbec 2012
Tribuno Sweet Vermouth
Vendange White Zinfandel
Wine Cube Moscato
Wine Cube Pink Moscato 2011
Wine Cube Pinot Grigio 2011
Wine Cube Pinot Grigio
Wine Cube Chardonnay 2011
Wine Cube Chardonnay
Wine Cube Red Sangria
Wine Cube Sauvignon Blanc 2011
Wine Cube Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2011
If any of these look familiar as staples in your pantry or cellar, I’d go ahead and gift them to someone you don’t like.
But the problems with wine don’t stop with arsenic.
For example, the article “Why You Shouldn’t Drink Cheap Wine” was written in response to an article on Slate arguing in favor of not being one of those “expensive wine snobs”. Here’s a very interesting anecdote from the Cheap Wine article:
“…I too am disgusted by the salesperson who steers you towards a $30 bottle when a $10 bottle of Cabernet would suffice, and I am still slightly intimidated by the salesperson who suggests three wines that are all in the $20 plus price range when I really just want a glass of wine not an education. But I refuse to fill my store with wines based on price alone.
Wine is an agricultural product and just like carrots, milk, or meat, it costs money to grow grapes, especially if you are interested in growing your grapes organically or even sustainably. To paraphrase Michael Pollan; if you are concerned about the environment, or the workers health, or your own, you should be drinking wine made by winemakers, not corporations.
When you see a $4 bottle of wine at Trader Joe's or Costco, think about it for a minute. Is it really possible to grow grapes, ferment them, bottle them – often in glass bottles with corks – ship them to various parts of the world, and then have them retail for $4? Yes, if you are spraying your vines with chemicals, yes, if you are underpaying your vineyard workers, and yes, if you are unconcerned about the end product and only concerned about your bottom line.
Wine is a luxury item, as much as I hate to remind you of that fact, and as such I think you should be interested in buying the best possible luxury item. We buy organic cotton t-shirts, organic chocolate bars, locally grown apples and meat with a verifiable chain of production, not to mention Heritage Turkeys and glass baby bottles, so why should you buy crap mass produced wine? So, yes you are often shown bottles of wine that are almost $15 when you are shopping at Vine, and yes, I don't blame you if you cannot stomach spending more than $8 per bottle , if I am invited to your house for dinner I will in no way judge you. Instead, I will either bring my own wine to share with you, or abstain from drinking any of yours.”
The article “The False Promise Of Cheap Wine” expounds on the chemicals, underpaid vineyard workers and lack of sustainability in commercial wine production:
“…there are many other low-end bargain brands, including Gallo’s Barefoot, which at around $7 a bottle has become America’s biggest wine brand. Typically, any wine like this is sourced from industrially farmed, inland vineyards that grow grapes worth just a few hundred dollars per ton, a price that’s barely breakeven for most farmers. It is no surprise that many San Joaquin vineyards have come under corporate control, just as the only way for much of the Midwest’s corn industry to survive has been consolidation under companies like Cargill and ADM.
Whether that sort of farming is sustainable is a matter of debate, although the occasional hint appears about the unintended costs of growing cheap wine grapes, not the least of which is a potentially diminishing San Joaquin water supply. Seeing a similar trend, the Australian government encouraged growers to pull out their crops rather than continue draining water supplies to make cheap wines that, it’s now widely accepted, cost Australia much of its reputation as a producer of fine wine.
At best, the result from vineyards that produce 10 or 15 tons per acre of grapes is neutral wine that requires significant manufacturing (wood chips, Mega Purple and so on) to approximate flavors that wine drinkers claim to like. And that, ultimately, is what the “Drink Cheap Wine” brigade is advocating: industrial wine that is the equivalent of a Big Mac or Velveeta. When you reach for the $1.99 (or $2.99, or $3.99) shelf, that’s what you’re getting.
If the farming can be done sustainably, there is nothing wrong with cheap wine. But ultimately the wine industry has hurt itself by portraying cheap wine as fancier than it is. It has created the illusion that $5 wine is fancy enough that you don’t need to spend a cent more.”
So from extremely toxic levels of arsenic, to an irresponsible lack of sustainability, to underpaid vineyard workers, to drained water supplies, it’s looking like crap, cheap, mass-produced wine is not going to do your body or the environment any favors.
Now I’ll fully admit that this is all recent news to me, and up until this point in my life, all I’ve really paid attention to when drinking wine is whether or not the wine is organic. But even organic wine can have issues not just limited to those listed above, but also headaches from the sulfites in wine, boatloads of sugars, high pH levels that increase the possibility of contamination by unwanted organisms, a less than stellar taste, and the plastic polyethylenes present in the organic boxed wine I’ve been chugging until recently.
So what’s a wino to do?
Below are my four top tactics for ensuring that your wine is actually healthy, including how to reduce sulfites in wine, a method to make just about any wine taste better, why I’m OK with boxed wine, a trick to limit the portion size of wine you drink, and the exact brand of wine I’m now drinking,
Four Ways To Make Your Wine Tastier And Healthier
(Infographic by Cafepoint)
#1. Purify Your Wine To Get Rid of Sulphites
Purifying your wine is especially good idea if you get headaches from the sulphites in wine, and this trick can be a lifesaver if wine consumption results in headaches, migraines, or brain fog for you, especially the day after. If you pay attention to #4 below, you probably won’t need to use the purification method, but nonetheless, it’s a good strategy to have on hand.
Purification is necessary because preservatives have been used in the production of wine for many decades, for three primary purposes:
1. To control undesirable microbial growth;
2. To inhibit browning enzymes;
3. To serve as an anti-oxidant (grape juice behaves like any other fruit in that when it is exposed to air, it begins to deteriorate due to oxidation).
So to preserve the fresh fruity flavor of the grape (and hence the wine), winemakers add preservatives immediately after the grape skin is broken in the making of the wine, and these preservatives are continuously used throughout the winemaking process until the final bottling. The most commonly used preservative is added either as a sulphur salt such as potassium metabisulphate (which releases sulphur dioxide gas) or sulphur dioxide gas itself, which unfortunately is well known as an undesirable pollutant.
Exposure to sulphur dioxide gas is very unpleasant even at quite low concentrations, and typical reactions to exposure to sulphur dioxide are headaches, shortness of breath, sneezing, watery eyes, weezing, sinus congestion and dizziness. Asthmatics are particularly susceptible to sulphur dioxide, and the level of free sulphur dioxide in most wines at bottling is definitely high enough to trigger a reaction.
Unfortunately, the use of preservatives (particularly sulphites) has been a concern for food consumers for many years and many producers have removed them from their products. But it is nearly impossible to produce high quality wine without their use.
Enter purification. A few years ago when I was competing in a triathlon in Thailand, one of my Australian friends introduced me to Pure Wine, which is available mostly in Australia, but something you could get shipped anywhere. After you add five drops of Pure Wine to a glass of wine, the level is sulphites is dramatically reduced, but the wine stays nice and fresh for up to 24 hours after opening. Pure Wine basically produces a blast of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) that eliminates the active wine preservative of sulphur dioxide gas, without sacrificing the taste and quality of the wine.
And by the way, I do indeed realize that there are sulphites in other things too, such as broccoli, prunes and other vegetables, but as this article from Lifehacker points out, it's really a combination of the sulphites, the sugar, and another addition called “amines” in wine that make sulphites in wine such a particularly big problem for many folks compared to sulphites in vegetables.
#2. Beat the Sh*t Out Of Your Wine To Improve The Flavor
Let’s say you use some of the tips in this article to get healthy wine, but you just want more freaking flavor. Then read on. Full credit for this trick goes to Tim Ferriss, who introduced this method in the article “Age Your Wine 5 Years In 20 Seconds”. Tim learned it from Nathan Myhrvold, former CTO of Microsoft, French chef, and creator of the iconic cooking encyclopedia, Modernist Cuisine.
You may be familiar with decanting wine, and beating your wine is essentially based on a similar concept, specifically the idea that exposing your wine to more air than the wine gets exposed to in the bottle with improve the flavor of the wine. But decanting can take hours and hours.
Pour 1–2 glasses of the wine into a large mixing bowl, a wine glass, or a carafe. Leave plenty of room at the top. The first time you do this, take a sip so you can see what the wine tastes like before. Then, lower an immersion blender or a latte frother into the bowl and blend the wine for 20-30 seconds. Tip the bowl, glass or carafe or move the blender in circles to enhance the foaming effect.
This aeration exposes more of a liquid surface area to air, and increases the number of flavorful molecules that reach your palate and your smell receptors. If you do this correctly, your wine should now have a nice heady froth on it, just like Guinness beer. The froth will disappear in about 1-2 minutes.
If you have kids, they’ll love this trick. These days, I actually have my twin boys pour and froth my wine for me. Yet another useful reason to keep children around.
#3: Use A Small Glass
I have to admit that the video below, which comes from my article “5 Powerful Calorie Control Tricks To Help You Eat Less Food” makes me feel a little old. When I watch it, I realize that I’ve been podcasting, producing videos and writing articles for nearly eight years, and the video is certainly dated. Notice the cool, green-screen background effect. But it’s still chock full of good advice.
In the video, I show you how the size of the bowl, plate, or spoon that you use can significantly influence how much food and how many calories you consume. In the study “Ice cream illusions bowls, spoons, and self-served portion sizes”, 85 nutrition experts who were attending an ice cream social were randomly given either a smaller (17 oz) or a larger (34 oz) bowl and either a smaller (2 oz) or larger (3 oz) ice cream scoop. After serving themselves, they completed a brief survey as their ice cream was weighed.
Even when nutrition experts were given a larger bowl, they served themselves 31% more without being aware of it. In addition, their servings increased by over 14% when they were given a larger serving spoon.
In another study from University of Pennsylvania, psychologists conducted an experiment in an upscale apartment building in which they left out a bowl of the chocolate candies with a small scoop.The next day they refilled the bowl with M&M’s, but used a much larger scoop – and when the scoop size was increased, people took 66 percent more M&M’s!
And then there’s the infamous bottomless bowl of soup study. In this study, using special self-refilling soup bowls, researchers examined whether visual cues related to portion size can influence intake volume without altering either estimated intake or satiation. Participants who were unknowingly eating from magical, self-refilling bowls ate way more soup than those eating from normal soup bowls. However, despite consuming 73% more, they did not believe they had consumed more, nor did they perceive themselves as more sated than those eating from normal bowls. The takeaway message is of course to use smaller plates, bowls and utensils, even if somebody laughs at you for eating your soup with a teaspoon.
As a matter of fact, my wife often gives me a hard time when I grab a small plate for dinner and awkwardly try to place just the right amount of food on my tiny plate. Of course, for the same reason, I typically grab a very, very large bowl for vegetables and salad, and – you guessed it – a reasonably sized glass for my wine (although for special few-and-far-between occasions I will still employ my fancy, fish-bowl size wine glass).
#4: Drink Biohacked Wine
This is something I’ve never written about before, but is a very recent development in my wine chugging career: biohacked wine.
There are actually steps that a winemaker can take to make wine “fit”.
The first wine biohack is elevation.
When grapes are grown at a high elevation, specifically at 2000 feet or higher elevation, the grapes get a deeper exposure to the sun, while still at cooler temperatures, which helps elevate the resveratrol and polyphenols in the grapes.
The second wine biohack is extended fermentation.
To further concentrate these antioxidants, a winemaker can do an extended fermentation of 10-15 days, versus the standard 1-2 days fermentation that most wine companies use. With this one-two combo of high elevation and long fermentation, a wine can be concentrated to have up to 10x higher levels of resveratrol and polyphenols.
The third wine biohack is to appropriately adjust the pH of the wine.
The acid-alkaline balance, or pH of the wine, dictates the taste, texture, body and color of the wine. If the pH isn't balanced, the taste of the wine can be just a bit skunky, but rather than adjusting pH, many wine companies simply add sugar to sweeten and balance out an improper pH. We make sure our pH levels are at optimal levels. For example, the optimum pH for a Cabernet (red) is 3.4. The optimal pH for a Chardonnay (white) is 3.2. If this pH can be achieved during the winemaking process, the end result is a great tasting wine that doesn’t need additional sugar added. A winemaker can do this via a process called malolactic, secondary fermentation, which not only lowers pH, but also helps keep bugs out of the wine. Lower pH levels in wine also reduce the possibility of contamination by unwanted organisms, and give the wine greater stability to retain flavor and color.
Next comes filtration.
A proper filtration process can significantly reduce the sulfites in wine, especially if the starting grape is a pesticide-free grape. Most wines have sulfites that range at around 50 parts per million (ppm). But if a wine is cold stabilized and chilled to drop out impurities prior to filtration, then filtered with extremely tight filters like diatomaceous earth and micron pads, sulfites can be cut significantly, down to as low as 35ppm. With lower sugar and lower sulfites, the risk of blood sugar swings and headaches goes way down when this kind of filtration process is used.
The final biohack is to reduce both calorie and carbohydrate levels without lowering alcohol content.
A typical cabernet ranges from 130-170 calories per 5oz glass, and a typical chardonnay ranges from 130-200 calories. But by avoiding the addition of residual sugars to the completed wine, then using a Brix scale, which is a special scale for measuring the amount of sugar in a solution at a given temperature, the sugar content of the wine can be significantly decreased. For example, a cabernet without added residual sugars is just 95 calories and 12.55g of carbohydrates, and a chardonnay just 90 calories and 5.9g of carbohydrates.
In summary, by using grapes raised at elevation, lowering sulfite levels, using optimum pH levels, using a malolactic, secondary fermentation along with tighter filtration, and avoiding the addition of any residual sugars, the end result is a clean, tasty wine with lower sugar, lower sulfites, lower impurities, superior taste, and just as much alcohol.
That’s the exact wine that I’m now drinking and endorsing. It’s called “FitVineWine”, and it satisfies all of the criteria above, from pesticide-free grapes grown at a high altitude, to superior filtration, to a secondary fermentation, to lower residual sugars.
The good folks over at FitVineWine sent me one bottle of Cabernet and one bottle of Chardonnay to try, and both absolutely explode with flavor (even without the latte frothing trick).
The Cabernet is described as:
Classic Cabernet nose of cassis, lavender, black licorice and a hint of new oak. Rich but soft tannins wrap around flavors of cedar, boysenberry and coffee, chocolate with a hint of leather. Beautifully balanced in a light style.
And the Chardonnay:
Aromas of pears and lemon custard, citrus swirls and a hint of vanilla. A full bodied dry wine with a long crisp finish. Pairs well with fruit and cheese, seafood and pasta in creamy sauces or roast chicken with a little jerk seasoning.
Better yet, my wife has been able to drink FitVine with none of her normal post-wine headaches, I dig the fact that I can get just as much alcohol with far fewer sugars, and you can click here to get a bottle of red or a bottle of white at FitVineWine.com with 10% discount code BEN10 (assuming you're 21 years of age or older).
So that’s it!
Since it was only a week ago that I told you how to use weed to get healthy, I figured why not dive right in and get you all equipped to throw some wine into the mix, too! I hope you enjoyed this article, and I also hope that you’ll think twice before pouring a typical cheapo bottle of non-organic wine into a giant glass.
If you want more, then you’ll be pleased to know that when it comes to alcohol, hangovers and striking the ideal balance between healthy living and booze consumption, I’ve covered this topic before in other articles including:
What kind of wine do you drink? Would you try FitVineWine? Do you have other tricks that you use to make your wine healthier or tastier? If you have questions, comments or feedback about wine, then leave your thoughts below!