Is Organic Wine Really Better for You (and Your Hangovers)?
Whenever my birthday rolls around, I inevitably end up with a card telling me I’ve aged like a fine wine. While flattering, it’s also a sign that I’ve moved on from my buoyant 20s and rolled into my 30s. And though I’d love to think I’m aging (somewhat) gracefully, the truth is that I am starting to feel old(er)—especially when it comes to hangovers.
So when I read that organic wines decrease day-after vino woes—and have additional health benefits to boot—I nearly cried. Full-bodied reds are my vice, and though I could drink them like water in my 20s, my 30s have proved a different—and much more painful—story. Is organic wine the fountain of youth I’ve been looking for?!
Organic Wine 101
As more people flock to organic foods, it’s no surprise that there’s plenty of interest—and controversy—surrounding organic wines. But similar to food, what makes wine “organic” and the benefits of it, can be a bit muddled.
The Cliff’s Notes version is that organic wine is made from ingredients that are grown without herbicides, pesticides, or any other synthetic or artificial chemicals. Though many presume this applies solely to the grapes, it means everything in the bottle—which can include numerous added ingredients, like preservatives, yeasts, dyes, added sugar, and animal byproducts.
Say whaaat? If this comes as a surprise, it’s probably because unlike most foods and drinks, wine is governed by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, as opposed to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA), and isn’t required to list ingredients on the bottle. Not concerning at all...
The good news is that truly organic wines have to be approved by the USDA, just like fruits and vegetables. And certification for 100-percent organic isn’t exactly easy breezy. For the stamp of approval:
- Grapes must be grown without synthetic fertilizers and in a manner that protects the environment and preserves the soil.
- Agricultural ingredients that go into the wine, like yeast, have to be certified organic.
- Non-agricultural ingredients must be on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances and can’t exceed 5 percent of the total product.
- Sulfites, which are commonly added to wines to preserve the flavor profile or stop the fermentation process, can’t be added.
Not too shabby. But that’s just 100-percent organic. Other certifications include “organic” and “made with organic grapes,” which each have different standards. And to make things even more complicated, there are other categories, like “biodynamic” and “natural” wines, which also have their own meaning, and, you guessed it, standards and guidelines. Oh, and that’s just in the U.S.—other countries, like Australia (another popular producer of organic wines), have their own certifications and guidelines. Is sobriety sounding good yet?
Drunk on Love: The Rumors
It’s true that hangover-free mornings after wine-fueled nights are what originally caught my attention, but those aren't the only reason people are opting for organic.
Some claim that the lack of pesticides makes the grapes, and therefore the wine, actually taste better. Others insist that the nutritional value is higher, and therefore the health benefits are greater. And then there are those who argue that organic is better for the environment and, in turn, better for you. (“It’s a circle of liiiife!”)
Then there are the mold- and sulfite-averse, who believe that organic vino varieties diminish the risk for allergic reactions, like hives, headaches, and difficulty breathing. But no claims are quite as alluring, or as talked about, as the one about being hangover-free, an argument that is largely based on those sneaky sulfites.
Interesting? Certainly. Factual? TBD...
Sober Up: The Science
My palate and I are pleased to report that organic wine has many redeeming qualities.
According to a study of 74,000 bottles of wine—where was I when they were looking for testers?—organic wines do, in fact, taste better. And though I’m no sommelier, I would agree. From what I’ve sipped—and I’ve sipped—organic wines tend to have more robust (what experts call “lively”) flavors. Why? It's speculated that the lack of pesticides allows the soil to flourish, which enhances the flavor of the grapes. Would ya look at that?
But unfortunately, better taste doesn’t necessarily mean better nutrition (if that were the case, I’d be eating ice cream all day, erryday).
While it’s true that some organic foods are better for you, there’s little research to suggest that organic wine, in particular, provides more nutrition than non-organic. That said, the potential harms of pesticides—more research is needed, but some studies point to possible developmental delays and some links to cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and ADHD—are enough to convince me that organic wine could be a better choice. Especially considering that grapes are number five on the Environmental Working Group’s 2018 Dirty Dozen list, with the latest findings stating that a whopping 96 percent of conventional grapes test positive for pesticide residues.
As for those hangovers… if hangover-free alcohol seems too good to be true, that’s because it is.
One the one hand, organic wines do have lower amounts of sulfites—organic wine can only contain up to 10 parts per million (ppm); conventionally processed wine can have up to 350 ppm—which, if you’re allergic to sulfites, could mean smoother sipping for sure. But that would mean you’re part of the 1 percent—which, in this case, is the tiny percentage of the U.S. population that actually suffers from true sensitivity to sulfites.
On the other hand, the evidence does not support that sulfites cause hangovers in the first place—so stop salting the sulfur! If you want to point the finger, look at the histamines and tannins. Or, you know, the booze.
Which brings me to my next point: the booze! Though organic wines can be lighter in nature and lower in alcohol, at the end of the day, alcohol is alcohol, and overconsumption will result in a hangover (unless you have some superpowers that you must tell us about).
Much to my chagrin, I tested this theory, and though the results were mixed, I’ll never forget the morning I woke up after having a few glasses of organic Australian chardonnay and could barely open my eyes because of the piercing pain shooting through my forehead. Perhaps I’m secretly Harry Potter, perhaps it’s because I'm 30, or perhaps it’s because… alcohol.
Organic wine isn’t going to shield you from hangovers or provide noteworthy nutritional benefits, but it does taste pretty darn good and does mean you’re ingesting fewer chemicals, which I think is a plus. What it really comes down to is personal taste—yes, taste in terms of flavor, but also general preferences like price point and environmental considerations. My advice: Conduct your own experiment, because a.) it’s an excuse to drink wine, and b.) you can decide for yourself what vino suits you.