The Ultimate Guide to Wine for Health Enthusiasts

September 21, 2017, Author: Boomer Anderson

Throughout history, wine is present as both celebratory beverage and daily drink. Both Caesar and Napoleon used it to fuel troops in battle. Fueling and numbing the senses are sometimes confused by historians. Benjamin Franklin described wine in his famous quote,

In wine, there is wisdom.

In beer, there is freedom.

In water, there is bacteria.

Much of the literature around wine is confusing. Is it healthy or not healthy? Should you have two glasses a day or not? Does organic wine lead to less of a hangover? Is biodynamic a fancy word or what does it mean?

Let’s look at the relative differences between organic, biodynamic and “ordinary” red wines.

Wine: Pesticides and Additives

Unless the wine is organic or biodynamic, the winemaker may use pesticides and herbicides at will. This is bad.

Under Title 27 of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax And Trade Bureau, wine is permitted to have up to 62 different additives. Of course, many wines do not have all of these additives. Some purists sell wine claimed to have no additives. If an ingredients list were required, these wines would only have one ingredient: grapes.

What's in your wine?
What type of wine do you drink? Organic? Biodynamic? Neither?

While using additives is common, it can go awry when toxic additives are used or illegally snuck into the bottle. An overview of common wine additives from Madeleine Pukette (certified Sommelier) and some additional added commentary is below.

  • Sulfites:
    • Effect: Good
    • Primarily used to protect a wine from developing bacteria and oxidation. Highest levels are found in sweet wines and white/rosé wines.
    • Added commentary: 1% of the population has sulfite allergies. If you have this issue, you would know it. Common symptoms are red itchy skin (not same as Asian glow), swelling, cramps, vomiting, and a host of other issues. Dry red wine is low in sulfites compared to other processed foods. Pass on the fries and dried fruit first.
  • Lactic Acid Bacteria:
    • Effect: Good
    • The same acid found in milk softens aggressive, sharp-tasting malic acidity in wine. The process, called Malolactic Fermentation, is used on nearly all red wines and some full-bodied white wines (for example, Chardonnay).
    • Added commentary: this is the buttery flavor you get with a Chardonnay. 
  • Isinglass (fish bladder):
    • Effect: Fine
    • Avoid if you’re a vegetarian
    • Used as a clarifying agent in many white wines, otherwise, white wines would be cloudy. By the way, clarifying additives such as isinglass precipitate out of the wine and are not in the final product.
    • Added commentary: if you are vegetarian, beware. Check out if your wine has fish bladder in it here. Other non-vegetarian additives include egg whites (albumen), milk products, casein, gelatin, and protease. Dairy is a common allergen. 
  • Sugar: (aka Chaptalization)
    • Effect: Questionable
    • In some cool-climate regions (France, Germany, Northeastern USA) sugar is necessary to add to grapes when they don’t have enough natural sweetness for alcoholic fermentation. Some believe chaptalization is cheating, others say that certain grape varieties cannot produce wine without it.
  • Tartaric Acid:
    • Effect: Questionable
    • In some hot-climate regions, tartaric acids are added when grapes become overly ripe and lack natural acidity. Most believe that grapes should be picked at optimal ripeness and acidity balance for quality wine. However, there are many factors that will reduce acidity in wine during winemaking (thus the need for small additions of tartaric acid). Either way, less is more.
    • Added commentary: tartaric acid, in moderation, is helpful in reducing inflammation and improving sensitivity to glucose. In excess, it can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal inflammation.
  • Watering Back:
    • Effect: Questionable
    • Water is added to must when sugar levels in grapes become too high. This suggests that there is an imbalance with the region’s climate or grape choice. Watering back dilutes quality.
  • Flash Pasteurization:
    • Effect: Bad
    • Wines are heated up and cooled down quickly in a heat exchanger, this process kills bacteria, but also can affect aromas.
    • Added commentary: flash pasteurization can kill beneficial microbes.
  • Copper Sulfate:
    • Effect: Bad
    • Some wines develop faults during winemaking and end up smelling like rotten eggs. A teensy bit of copper (only very small portions are allowed because of toxicity) is allowed to counter hydrogen sulfide faults in wine. The chemical reactions caused by copper in wine are the reason why there are a myriad of magical wine “smoothing” devices on the market. Use a clean penny instead, it’s cheaper.
    • Added commentary: The lowest dose of copper sulfate that has been toxic when ingested by humans is 11 mg/kg. “Vineyard sprayers experienced liver disease after 3 to 15 years of exposure to copper sulfate solution in Bordeaux mixture.” Effects are worse in patients with Wilson’s Disease. Wilson’s Disease causes excessive absorption and storage of copper. 

The best winemakers in the world use additives sparingly. Is that an argument to buy better wine? Absolutely. Do you need to buy a 1986 Chateau Margaux? No.

Is your wine safe?
How safe is your wine?

What Are Wine Toxins? Meet Ochratoxin A

In a study published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology, more than 50% of red wine tested contained ochratoxin A. Ochratoxin A (OTA) is a mycotoxin and known carcinogen. Ochratoxin A is primarily found in wines from the Mediterranean (Italy, Greece, etc.). In studies, there is minimal difference in the amount of Ochratoxin A present in non-organic and organic wines. An excerpt from the study is below:

With regard to wine, surveys on the presence of OTA have been conducted worldwide. The proportion of wines in which OTA is detected is very high (above 50%) in some countries (especially in the Mediterranean basin) although only a few wines contained concentrations exceeding the MAL laid down by the EU (2.0 ng/ml). A gradient of concentration is usually recognized; OTA levels decrease in the order red, rosé, and white wine but also with increasing latitude of the producing countries. OTA presence in wines is due to the black aspergilli, mainly A. carbonarius, which can grow on grapes in the vineyards and produce the toxin. At grape crushing, the juice can be contaminated with the toxin which is carried over into wine, where it persists due to its stability.

Wine Toxins? The Arsenic Controversy

You heard of the 2015 arsenic controversy. For reference, I included the list of wines involved below. Do you have some of these lying around? Donate it to the ex-girlfriend you don’t like. Most of these brands are something you would drink at a college party. If you are in a wine store and shopping for yourself, avoid at all costs.

ACRONYM GR8RW Red Blend 2011

ALMADEN Heritage White Zinfandel, Heritage Moscato, Heritage White Zinfandel, Heritage Chardonnay, Mountain Burgundy, Mountain Rhine, Mountain Chablis

ARROW CREEK Coastal Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

BANDIT Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon

BAY BRIDGE Chardonnay

BERINGER White Merlot 2011, White Zinfandel 2011, Red Moscato, Refreshingly Sweet Moscato

CHARLES SHAW White Zinfandel 2012


GLEN ELLEN BY CONCANNON Glen Ellen Reserve Pinot Grigio 2012, Glen Ellen Reserve Merlot 2010

CONCANNON Selected Vineyards Pinot Noir 2011

COOK’S Spumante

CORBETT CANYON Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon

CUPCAKE Malbec 2011

FETZER Moscato 2010, Pinot Grigio 2011

FISHEYE Pinot Grigio 2012

FLIPFLOP Pinot Grigio 2012, Moscato, Cabernet Sauvignon

FOXHORN White Zinfandel

FRANZIA Vintner Select White Grenache, Vintner Select White Zinfandel, Vintner Select White Merlot, Vintner Select Burgundy

HAWKSTONE Cabernet Sauvignon 2011


KORBEL Sweet Rose Sparkling Wine, Extra Dry Sparkling Wine

MENAGE A TROIS Pinot Grigio 2011, Moscato 2010, White Blend 2011, Chardonnay 2011, Rose 2011, Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, California Red Wine 2011

MOGEN DAVID Concord, Blackberry Wine

OAK LEAF White Zinfandel

POMELO Sauvignon Blanc 2011



SEAGLASS Sauvignon Blanc 2012

SIMPLY NAKED Moscato 2011

SMOKING LOON Viognier 2011

SUTTER HOME Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Gewurztraminer 2011, Pink Moscato, Pinot Grigio 2011, Moscato, Chenin Blanc 2011, Sweet Red 2010, Riesling 2011, White Merlot 2011, Merlot 2011, White Zinfandel 2011 & 2012, Zinfandel 2010

TRAPICHE Malbec 2012

TRIBUNO Sweet Vermouth

VENDANGE Merlot, White Zinfandel

WHITE CUBE Moscato, Pink Moscato 2011, Pinot Grigio 2011, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay 2011, Chardonnay, Red Sangria, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2011

What is Organic Wine?

The definition of organic varies from country to country. For the purposes of this, I’ll look at the United States and the European Union only.

United States

The USDA requires the growing of grapes and the wine making process be certified as organic. Grapes must be grown without pesticides and in a manner which is sustainable for the soil. No synthetic pesticides or herbicides. Other agriculture additions, like yeast, must be certified as organic.

Wines labeled with the USDA Organic emblem contain naturally occurring sulfites. This equates to less than 10 ppm of sulfites.

Wines labeled “Made with Organic Grapes” may contain several additives. Added sulfites are allowed but only up to 100 ppm. All non-agriculture additives must not add up to more than 5% of the total wine volume. The additives must be on the list of National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.

European Union

In 2012, the United States and the European Union reached an agreement on organic standards for every product but wine. The differences are over sulfites.European wine producers wanted sulfites allowed to ensure the wine aged well. Under the USDA Organic standards, naturally occurring sulfites are allowed up to 10 ppm.

In the European Union, organic red wines must contain organic grapes and be raised in organic soil (no herbicides or pesticides allowed). It can contain up to 100mg of sulfites in a bottle. White wine can contain up to 150mg per bottle. Under EU law, all permitted ingredients in wine must be organic. Permitted ingredients in European Union organic wine include:

  • Concentrated must
  • Concentrated rectified must
  • Sucrose
  • Yeast
  • Edible gelatine
  • Plant proteins from wheat or peas
  • Isinglass
  • Egg white (albumin)
  • Tannins
  • Acacia gum

The Benefits of Organic Wine

  • Grapes raised without pesticide or herbicides
  • Limit, or eliminate sulfites
  • Reduced number of additives
  • Increase in resveratrol of 32% or more

What is Biodynamic Wine?

Biodynamic farming started in the 1920s. It is based on a series of lectures by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. It is an anti-chemical agriculture movement which is older than organic farming.

Biodynamic farming delves into the weird by Western standards. A biodynamic farmer looks at the farm as a living system and in the context of lunar and cosmic patterns. The farmer seeks to create a balanced and sustainable farm ecosystem. Manure, herbs, and minerals and manual plowing are used to restore the soil and increase the nutrition of the food produced from the soil. One common feature in biodynamic farming is a cow horn. In the autumn, a cow horn is packed with manure and buried. In Spring, the cow horn is dug up. The manure produces a tea which is sprayed on plants to encourage healthy soil composition.

In the United States, biodynamic has no legal definition. Biodynamic vineyards are similar to organic vineyards as they do not use herbicides or pesticides in the grape growing process. Biodynamic winemakers take it a step further. Biodynamic wines do not have yeast additions or acid adjustments. This is different from a wine labeled, “made from biodynamic grapes.” The latter means the grapes were grown biodynamically but gives the winemaker more freedom in the winemaking process.

Benefits of Biodynamic Wine

  • You get all the benefits of organic wine (if the wine is biodynamic, it is organic)
  • The environment the wine is grown in is sustainable
  • Farming procedures are less invasive than organic or traditional farming
Next Level Wines from Dry Farm
Dry Farm – Next Level Wiens

Next Level Wine Drinking: Dry Farm Wines

Sometimes, wine can influence your performance. Nothing is worse than the decreased performance from a toxic substance. Time to hack your wine for better health. What if we told you a company already does this? Would you be happy? Sure.

Enter Dry Farm Wines.

If you do not have a science lab in your basement, it can be difficult to test for mycotoxins, sugars, and other poisons which may wreak havoc on a superhuman. Dry Farm Wines does all of this for you. Each wine Dry Farm Wines sells is:

  • Sugar Free
  • Gluten Free
  • Organic or Biodynamic
  • Wild Native Yeast
  • Low Sulfites
  • No Additives
  • Mycotoxin/Mold-Free

Disclosure: we only promote products which we believe in or use. On occasion, Decoding Superhuman receives compensation from products or services we use. Dry Farm Wines tests and promotes only the least toxic wines, which is something we can support.

Do you want to better yourself or enjoy learning about performance? Get started by boosting your memory today.

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Alcohol, Tobacco Products, and Firearms. Code of Federal Regulations – Title 27. Updated September 2007. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax And Trade Bureau.

A Pesticide Information Project of Cooperative Extension Offices of Cornell University, Michigan State University, Oregon State University, and the University of California at Davis Copper Sulfate. May 1994. Extension Toxicology Network.

Biodynamic Association. What is Biodynamics? 2016.

Chalker-Scott, Linda. The Science Behind Biodynamic Preparations: A Literature Review. December 2013. Hort Technology.

EUR-Lex. Commission Regulation (EC) No 606/2009. July 2009.

IFOAM EU Group. EU rules for organic wine production. July 2013.

Ipatenco, Sara. Are Sulfites Good for Your Health? June 2015.

Labrinea EP, Natskoulis PI, Spiropoulos AE, Magan N, Tassou CC. A survey of ochratoxin A occurence in Greek wines. 2011. Food Additives & Contaminants: Part B: Vol 10, No 1

More than Organic. Wine Additives. Accessed 2017.

Puckette, Madeleine. Wine Additives Explained. June 2016. Wine Folly.

Pukette, Madeleine. The Difference Between Organic vs Non-Organic Wine. May 2014. Wine Folly.

Pukette, Madeleine. What You Need To Know About Wine Additives. September 2012. Wine Folly.

Rufino Mateo, Ángel Medina, Eva M. Mateo, Fernando Mateo, Misericordia Jiménez. An overview of ochratoxin A in beer and wine. October 2007. International Journal of Food Microbiology

Schutz Y. Role of substrate utilization and thermogenesis on body-weight control with particular reference to alcohol. November 2000. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society.

Shelmet JJ, Reichard GA, Skutches CL, Hoeldtke RD, Owen OE, Boden G. Ethanol causes acute inhibition of carbohydrate, fat, and protein oxidation and insulin resistance. April 1988. Journal of Clinical Investigation.

USDA Foreign Agriculture Service. US-EU Organic Equivalency Agreement. February 2012. USDA.

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