Yes, you read that right. Your eyes — and your tastebuds — aren’t wishfully deceiving you. That glass of merlot accompanying your steak or the pinot noir rounding out a long day has a surprising amount of health benefits science is just beginning to uncork.
Yet, we also know not all red wines are made equal. While most varieties and blends contain the same basic makeup, the unique chemical compounds, fermentation processes and even the nutrition of the soil where vines were grown play a part in the health benefits you get with each sip.
We’re putting the age-old question of red wine being good or bad for you to bed. Exactly what types of red wine are best for your health, as well as the ins and outs of why and how, are all answered below.
So Why Is Red Wine Good for You?
There’s more to a glass of red wine than its simple feel-good sips. Besides the earthy richness, palette-popping notes and warm sensations, each glass of red wine carries a complex mix of phytonutrients, or plant chemicals, your body craves to run at its best.
It’s because of some specific phytochemicals types that we can answer just what is it in red wine that is so good for you. A glass of red wine contains the following plant-based, healthy compounds.
Antioxidants are compounds in your body that balance or counteract free radicals. Free radicals are a normal part of life. Your body naturally generates them in response to things like smoke, pollution, exercise and daily immune system functions. Antioxidants help keep these free radicals in check by combating oxidative stress, a condition that occurs when free radicals run rampant and start hurting your body. Oxidative stress can lead to arthritis, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, cataracts and other dangerous health concerns.
Though you produce some antioxidants on your own, it’s important to consume antioxidants regularly through foods like fruits, vegetables, tea, cocoa and whole grains. Some red wines contain antioxidant compounds that may help regulate free radicals in your body.
Wine flavonoids develop from the seeds and skins of the grapes themselves. They are the largest type of antioxidant found in red wines and are the clear MVP behind their range of health benefits.
The healthiest red wines have high amounts of the antioxidant flavonoid resveratrol. You find resveratrol in its largest concentrations in the skin of grapes and berries, which is why a five-ounce glass of red wine delivers many of the boosts it does — plus that delicious taste. Resveratrol can help regulate angiogenesis, a biological process that can become imbalanced. Excessive angiogenesis may play a part in cancer and autoimmune disorders. Too little has been associated with diabetes.
Besides resveratrol, other flavonoids in red wine that pack a health punch include anthocyanins, catechins and quercetin — and no, you won’t be quizzed on these names later.
Polyphenols deserve their own place on the list of why drinking red wine is good for you. As one of the leading flavonoids in the liquid, polyphenols are inflammation-reducing compounds that have been researched in labs and real-world studies alike. They’re an exciting nutritional compound that additionally lends itself to improved artery function, lower cholesterol and reduced chance of platelet clumps. Polyphenols are more concentrated in red wine than other alcoholic drinks. You can also find them in spices like star anise and cloves and in dark chocolate with 70 percent or higher cocoa concentration. So nibble on an extra dark chocolate bar with your next glass of red wine for some real polyphenol power.
The Health Benefits of Red Wine
Terminology aside, why exactly is red wine good for you? What does it do inside the body, and how are its effects good for you in the short and long-term? Research has a lot to reveal when it comes to answering the health benefits of red wine:
- Improves cardiovascular health: Perched at the top of red wine’s health list are its association with the heart and overall cardiovascular benefits. Those struggling with high blood pressure and high “bad” cholesterol in particular benefit from the polyphenols, resveratrol and quercetin compounds in most red wines. These compounds combine to create a team of plaque-buildup fighting agents, reduce bad cholesterol from compounding and encourages “good” cholesterol reserve. The wine flavonoid quercetin, in particular, can lower blood pressure by helping to relax arteries and prevent cell stress.
- Anti-inflammatory agents: Chronic inflammation is the bane of many wide-scale health concerns. From autoimmune diseases and blood clots to arthritis and GI-tract disorders, improper spouts of inflammation can cause serious damage across numerous systems in the body. However, one of red wine’s most abundant chemical compounds is resveratrol, an antioxidant found to contain anti-inflammation properties. It deregulates our body’s natural inflammatory responses down to normal levels and helps immune cells differentiate between healthy and unhealthy cells.
- Balances blood sugars: The resveratrol compounds common in red wines are shown to prevent insulin resistance and related metabolic disorders, shielding against diabetes or moderating post-meal blood sugar levels. Because of their imbalanced insulin production, adults with Type 2 diabetes are two to four times as likely to develop cardiovascular complications or heart disease. With diet as the leading factor in managing diabetes and blood-sugar levels, moderate consumption of quality red wine could be a welcome mealtime addition for those exploring diet-based diabetes solutions.
- Promotes a stronger microbiome: Your gut microbiome is the collective name given to the microbes — bacteria, fungi, viruses — that live inside your body and function as a type of organ. Studies demonstrate that one glass of red wine each week may increase the diversity of good microbial bacteria in your microbiome. Good microbes are essential, as too many bad ones can create an unhealthy microbiome, leading to weight gain, high cholesterol and a weaker immune system.
- Prevents certain types of cancers: Red wine is brimming with antioxidants, the chemical compounds that tackle cell-damaging free radicals and boost our immune system. In addition to its anti-inflammatory and insulin-regulating powers, the antioxidant resveratrol also bolsters numerous immune functions, from heightening the effects of vitamin D to aiding in the expressions of certain immune-enhancing genes. On top of this, resveratrol works to stop the progression of tumor cell growth and progression, the bedrock of cancer.
- Decreases cognitive impairment: A recommended serving of daily red wine may also carry certain neuroprotective benefits. Neuroprotective activities are shown to maintain long-term mental acuity and sharpness while protecting against diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Studies have shownthat following a balanced Mediterranean diet — with red-wine consumption and lots of fresh fish, veggies, legumes and olive oils — leads to a lowered risk of cognitive decline while aiding in memory retention and focus.
- Maintains healthy weight and fights against obesity: Due to a chemical compound known as piceatannol, red wine has been linked with reducing the ability for fat cells to grow and generate in their early stages. Piceatannol blocks these immature fat cells from binding with your body’s insulin, meaning fat cells can’t communicate properly to signal the start of their growth cycles. What’s more, piceatannol can also shut down certain gene reactions that, when triggered, cause fat formation and storage across your body.
- Promotes positive mental health: A glass of red wine can also play an important part in promoting positive mental health and strong social habits. For example, many people enjoy a glass of wine with friends as a way to soothe social stresses and some anxieties. Studies have found that people who engage in regular social drinking with friends are more likely to have a stronger, more engaged social network within their local community. Most social drinkers who enjoy a glass of wine together also tend to keep the conversation limited to smaller groups, promoting better group conversation. Socialization is an integral part of fighting mental and physical illness.
What Amount of Red Wine Is Good for You?
How much red wine a day is good for you — and does too much reverse all its unique health benefits?
The recommended daily serving of red wine is four to five ounces. For a visual trick, a healthy red wine pour stops when it reaches the widest part of a glass, known as its bell. Likewise, a full bottle of red wine should last a solo drinker five nights to polish off a standard 750-milliliter bottle. Following these simple allotments will effortlessly keep you in that optimal five-ounce serving range.
Men and women have different servings to take into consideration, too. Since men have more of the metabolic enzymes that break down alcohol, a healthy moderate consumption can range from five to ten ounces accompanying a meal. For women, the healthiest wine serving remains four to five ounces.
Balance Is Key
Overall, red wine is best enjoyed when balanced. When consumed in moderation, red wine carries all the cardiovascular, inflammatory, metabolic and brain boosts described above. Yet it’s true — there can be too much of a good thing. Regularly consuming two-to-three servings of wine daily over extended periods of time can lead to a few health problems, from poor sleep to hypertension, liver damage and pancreas complications.
Generally, women and men older than 65 can enjoy one daily serving of alcohol — including wine, beer, or distilled spirits — per day, while men 65 and younger may tolerate up to two as a part of a nutritious and balanced routine. Women who are pregnant or people with a history of alcoholism, liver or pancreas disease or a weak heart should avoid drinking alcohol. Consult your doctor if you’re currently taking any medications or have a specific health condition you’re unsure about.
Types of Red Wine That Are Good for You
There are over a few dozen varieties of red wines, ranging from crisp, light-bodied gamays to the robust, fortified sweetness of ports. Your favorite red wine likely falls somewhere in between, though does it land on the list of the healthiest red wines on the market?
We’ve put together a list of what kinds of red wines are good for you and the all-important reasons why. These explanations are backed by research and chemistry, and will make it all the easier for you to grab a bottle — or two, or a case — on your next wine run or order.
Malbec grapes have some of the thickest skins of all wine-grape varieties. This means they’re loaded with resveratrol antioxidants that are the keys to cardiovascular and immune health. And when we say loaded, we mean loaded.
Malbecs contain on average four times the antioxidant content as popular merlots and nearly twice as much as cabernet sauvignons. The reasons for this has as much to do with their grape’s seed cultivation as it does geography. Malbecs are most famously grown in Argentina and Chile, where unique weather interactions between warm Pacific Ocean air and the cold, mountain chills wafting from the Andes combine to create ideal temperature and moisture patterns. This results in a particularly dense soil with less sulfate, affecting both Malbec’s taste and its healthiness.
Malbecs have a smooth, black cherry and blackberry flavor with a silky pour and darker, mocha-like finish. They’re famous for their magenta rims and South American reinvigoration, where the most prized and healthiest Malbecs are sourced.
2. Pinot Noir
Pinot noir is one of the most popular red wines in the world. With common notes of plums, berries and almonds and a flavorful, bright acidity, pinot noirs are also one of the most versatile and easy-to-pair reds. They’re a staple at dinner parties and dates, wine tours and solo pours to cap off a long day, and are cultivated on nearly every wine-producing continent.
The health benefits of pinot noirs are another reason to love the wine variety. Pinot noirs contain a healthy dose of the antioxidants anthocyanins and procyanidins, which are some of the leading bad cholesterol-reducing agents that make room for more HDL, or good cholesterol, absorption. Four ounces of pinot noir delivers roughly 640 micrograms of resveratrol, a number that’s unmatched by most other red wines.
In addition to its massive concentration of resveratrol, pinot noir grapes also begin their fermentation with some of the lowest amounts of natural sugar. This results in a lower calorie count per glass and lower overall sugar levels at the end of its fermenting process, making pinot noir a particularly good choice for those craving red wine but watching their sugar intake.
3. Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon reigns supreme in the United States as a go-to wine. Likewise, it’s the most planted wine grape in the world, with over 800,000 acres dedicated to its name. Now, that planting and purchasing popularity is made even wiser due to the variety’s health benefits.
Cabernet sauvignons are the cousin to a medley of older grape seedlings and were cultivated for durability. They have highly unique aroma compounds, ones that hint toward their select mix of flavonoids. Their particular flavonoid combination brings with it all the same cardiovascular and artery relief other blends do, yet cabernet sauvignons go the extra step in stimulating the production of a protein called the amyloid precursor, a big player in neural cell health.
As if that wasn’t enough, cabernet sauvignon actually contains a chemical that kills certain strains of cavity-causing bacteria. While you still have to watch out for the proverbial teeth staining wine can cause, this chemical ensures the problematic bacteria don’t cause as much damage to tooth enamel.
4. Petite Sirah
Sirahs, or shirazes, blend an interesting mix of fruity sweetness with dark licorice notes and peppery currants. This one-of-a-kind flavor stems from their tightly grown grapes on the vines, bred since their origins for compactness.
Petite sirahs produce a huge amount of natural tannins, even if their name might suggest otherwise. These tannins come loaded with the antioxidants thiol and resveratrol and create the rather dense and hardy taste petite sirahs are known for. Petite sirahs will also deliver the heart-healthy and valuable procyanidin compounds necessary to give red wine its cardiovascular and metabolic effects. Overall, they’re easy to find, cost-effective to buy and a solid high-five for your heart.
This rustic wine grape type is a sister to those turned into cabernets. Made from the same Tannat-variety grapes, Madiran is named after its area of origin in southwest France but has started to see more cultivated in countries like Uruguay and Argentina, where cool mountain temperatures mirror the conditions of its French-Pyrenees home.
With heavier notes of dark chocolate, cranberries and allspice, Madiran red wines contain soaring amounts of the antioxidant procyanidins. Procyanidins are critical in the healthy blood-vessel functions and heart-disease preventing qualities of red wine. Madiran also has a slightly longer-than-average fermentation process, which is where its high-procyanidin levels are partially attributed to. And as one of the older cultivated varieties on the market, adding Madirans to your collection can do as much for your reputation as a wine connoisseur as it does for your health.
This red-wine variety with Italian origins remains an overlooked regional delicacy, with a smaller bottle circulation and awareness even among wine aficionados. If its health benefits were more widely known, perhaps you’d see Barbera across more dinner-table spreads.
Because Barbera grape blends tend to have a high, almost pucker-worthy acidity if untreated, they work best aged in oak barrels to soften and round out its bright notes. This aging is also the reason why Barbera wines make the list as one of the healthiest red wines around. Research has shown cooler ripening and fermentation methods, like those utilized with this grape type in northern Italian regions, increases resveratrol grape concentrations. What’s more, the elevation levels where Barbera grapes thrive have also been shown to produce higher and more concentrated resveratrol amounts than even the same grapes grown at lower elevations.
The soil in heavy Barbera-producing regions further lends itself to the wine’s unique, healthy composition. Highly calcareous soil has been shown to encourage higher resveratrol concentrations in both grapes and accent berries used to blend many Barbera wines.
In fact, a five-ounce recommended pour of Barbera wines grown in these soils and fermented in cooled conditions can contain upwards of 500 micrograms of resveratrol. This is a staggering amount rivaled only by pinot noirs and some malbecs.
Stick With Dry Red Wines Over Sweet Reds
As a rule of thumb when considering what kind of red wine is good for you, dry blends over sweet varieties are the safer, heart-healthy pick.
That’s because red wines with dryer notes and flavor profiles carry much higher levels of flavonoids, polyphenols and other compounds necessary for cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory health properties. It’s also these flavonoids and antioxidants that promote the body’s absorption of good HDL cholesterol while kicking bad LDL cholesterol to the curb.
Red wine varieties with that desired dry profile run the gamut of cabernet sauvignons, cabernet francs, malbecs and merlots. On the other hand, notoriously sweet red wines like zinfandels, maderias and any commercial “red blend” will almost always contain lower flavonoid concentrations — though they’re still delicious, with a definite time and place at the dinner table!
On the most end of the sweet scale sits ports and anything labeled a dessert wine. Ports, with their liquor additions and fortifications, alter the entire chemical composition of the wine, as well as many of its metabolic processes. And dessert wines are, well, for dessert. They’re fundamentally sugar-forward, with a fermentation process meant to minimize acidity and bring about the highest notes of fruit and sweeteners.
Where to Find Healthy Red Wines
You don’t need a massive budget or a private sommelier to hunt down the best red wines for you. When it comes to shopping for the healthiest red wines, all it takes is a little research and a lot of curiosity — and taste-testing — to find what works best for you.
- Don’t be afraid to be adventurous: Step outside of recognized names and brands. There’s a reason for the dozens of red-grape varieties available on the market and the vineyards that tend to them, plus hundreds of years of history to back it all up. You don’t have to trade habit for health when it comes to red wines.
- Choose smaller wine brands and companies: Smaller vineyards often don’t have mass production facilities or practices, and some specialize in making sure their wines have all those complex and beneficial polyphenols, flavonoids and antioxidants.
- Ask an expert: You’ll have no trouble finding a wine expert at your local spirits store, someone who takes pride and interest in knowing the ins-and-outs of their products. Likewise, use opportunities at restaurants, wineries or even area tourist shops to inquire about the red wines on the menu or display. It’s likely they’re there for a reason.
We at Marketview Liquor don’t see wine and spirits as a business — we see it as a passion. We’re proud of the extensive line of red wines we offer, both in-house and online, from local and national bottles to top-point reds sourced from award-winning international vineyards. See Marketview’s red wine selection for yourself today, or wine chat with one of our experts for insider knowledge, tips and deals.