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My Week of Healthy Wine Drinking

Seeking healthy wine options, F&W's Ray Isle looks for organic lingo on wine labels, considers the benefits of resveratrol, counts calories and ponders the phenomenon of the red wine headache.

Healthy Wine Drinking: Monday

I decided to start my week of healthy wine drinking by tasting some new bottles made by organically minded producers. Why? Well, in a 2008 analysis of 40 table wines from various European Union countries, every one made with conventionally farmed grapes contained pesticide residues, including known carcinogens. So I chose a few wines by looking on the label—often the back label—for the phrase "made with organically farmed grapes."

5 Great Organically Farmed Wines

2009 Spring Seed Wine Co. Scarlet Runner Shiraz ($18)
Wines made from organic grapes aren't necessarily labeled with an organic seal, but Spring Seed's are. Photo courtesy of Spring Seed Wine Co.

2010 Emiliana Natura Sauvignon Blanc ($11) A zesty Chilean white from a winery with roughly 2,700 acres of organic vineyards.

2009 CalNaturale Chardonnay ($13) This fresh white comes in a light paperboard Tetra Pak, helping reduce the wine's carbon footprint.

2009 Spring Seed Wine Co. Scarlet Runner Shiraz ($18) Australia's McLaren Vale is the source of this berry-rich Shiraz (left).

2008 Tablas Creek Vineyard Côtes de Tablas ($25) A blend of Rhône varieties, this luscious red has a velvety texture and spicy fruit.

2008 Querciabella Chianti Classico ($30) Querciabella's vineyards in Tuscany have been organic since 1988.

Healthy Wine Drinking: Tuesday

Resveratrol, a compound found in red wines, prolongs cell life, thus (in theory) extending your life; it's a powerful antioxidant, and thus (in theory) helps prevent cancer. Scientists are fairly certain that the amount of resveratrol in a single glass of wine doesn't help much. But just in case, I drank some Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon: Pinot from cool climates is particularly high in resveratrol. For good measure, I also ate a WineTime bar (winetimebar.com). Made with chocolate, dates and almonds, it has more resveratrol than 50 glasses of wine and is surprisingly tasty.

5 Top Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs

2008 Lemelson Vineyards Six Vineyards ($20) Fruit from throughout the valley is blended to make this balanced red.

2009 Argyle Willamette Valley ($25) Classic Willamette Valley flavors—black cherry, a touch of earth—define this Pinot.

2008 Stoller JV Estate ($25) This crisp red comes from the newest vines at Stoller: JV stands for jeunes vignes, or "young vines."

2008 Elk Cove Vineyards Willamette Valley ($29) This fresh, aromatic wine is a good introduction to Elk Cove's impressive Pinot Noirs.

2007 Scott Paul La Paulée ($30) Owners Martha and Scott Wright craft this layered cuvée from their best vineyard blocks each year.

Healthy Wine Drinking: Wednesday

Navarro Vineyards grape juice.
Navarro Vineyards grape juice. Photo courtesy of Navarro Vineyards.

I don't drink wine every single day—even a wine editor needs a break now and then—but I never get tired of the flavor of wine grapes. So today I had some non-fermented grape juice from the Navarro Vineyards Grape Juice Sampler ($59 for six bottles). Navarro makes its nonalcoholic Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir juices with the same grapes it uses for its wines. They're excellent, plus you can have them at breakfast and not feel like you ought to be checking into rehab.

Healthy Wine Drinking: Thursday

2009 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre ($19)
It's still unclear why red wine can cause headaches. The only real solution is to drink white. Photo courtesy of Pascal Jolivet.

The plan was grilling steak and sharing a bottle of red with my wife; the problem was that red wine gives her headaches. Research has shown that sulfites aren't the culprit. If they were, then white wines—which often have more sulfites—would trigger headaches too, and so would many canned vegetables. My wife thought tannins could be the problem, but the tannins in tea and chocolate don't bother her. Recent studies suggest compounds like tyramine (a naturally occurring substance in red wine) might be responsible—but how you figure out the tyramine levels in your glass of Cabernet, I don't know. So I poured a glass of 2007 Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon ($55) for me and a glass of lively 2009 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre ($19) (left) for her, and we were both happy.

Healthy Wine Drinking: Friday

I don't often worry about calories, but this week of wine drinking got me thinking. Alcohol determines wine's caloric content; the five-ounce glass of 2007 Martinelli Giuseppe & Luisa Zinfandel ($50) I planned to drink had, at 17.4 percent alcohol, 140 calories. But a glass of the crisp, 11.5-percent-alcohol 2008 Selbach-Oster Riesling Kabinett Trocken ($19) in my fridge had just 92. I chose the Riesling—but even the Zinfandel was modest, calorie-wise, compared to many of the junk foods Americans love to eat.

Plus: More Healthy Wine and Food Tips

Published March 2011
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