Most people aren’t aware that the same types of concerns regarding the processed food industry, such as the use of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), added sugar and other additives, also apply to the wine industry. The Wine Cool Direct website states that “Unlike the food industry, wine producers aren’t required by any governing body or law to list the actual ingredients that make it inside the bottle on the outside.” This means that unbeknownst to consumers, ingredients commonly found in wine can include: preservatives, sulfur dioxide, calcium carbonate, oak chips, added flavors to enhance taste, non-vegan materials, and extra water to increase volume. Below are 11 potential problems associated with standard/commercial (non-organic) wines:
1. Grapes Are Not Organically Grown
Standard wine can contain residual pesticides from grapes sprayed with various types of chemicals. Organic farms that produce grapes for wine on the other hand must meet organic farming standards, meaning the grapes cannot be sprayed with chemical pesticides, insecticides or herbicides that can wind up in the wine. Organic/some natural wines are produced with environment-friendly methods that lead to improved soil quality and better nutritional content. Healthy soil and dirt that contains more beneficial organisms has more protection against mold and other harmful microbes, plus it leads to wines having more unique, complex and interesting tastes.
2. Higher in Sulfites
Sulfites found in wine are used as stabilizers to preserve wine and prevent spoiling. The term sulfites describes a number of sulfur compounds, especially sulfur dioxide (SO2), that are produced during fermentation and help to reduce bacteria and other microbes. Because they prolong the shelf-life of foods and drinks, sulfites are found in many, many processed foods, such as dried fruit, crackers, beer, juice, potato chips, processed meats, jams/jellies and coconut flakes. In fact, many types of processed foods typically contain 10 times more sulfites than most wine does! Do all wines contain sulfites? Yes, because grapes naturally have sulfites within their skins (so do other plants like onions and garlic) and because sulfites are a natural by-product of fermentation. All wine naturally contains some sulfites, whether it’s organic or not. In other words, there’s no such things as 100 percent sulfite-free wine. That being said, some wines contain much more sulfites than others, due to having added sulfites. Manufacturers will add extra sulfites in order to make sure their wine lasts longer. Wines that are labeled “sulfite-free” are those that have very low levels of sulfites, 10 mg/L or less. Why is low-sulfite wine better, and has research shown that sulfites are actually bad for you? Contrary to what most people think, sulfites are not responsible for hangover symptoms, such as headaches or nausea. Some studies have found that people experience the same types of headaches after drinking sulfite-free wines. What actually may be contributing most to hangovers is both alcohol and histamine responses. A natural chemical found in wine called tyramine has been linked to changes in blood pressure that may also contribute to headaches. This doesn’t mean that sulfites are not problematic in any way, just that they are poorly understood. What are added sulfites made out of and what are the side effects associated with consuming these sulfites?
- The legal limit of sulfites is 300 ppm (parts per million). Most conventional wines will have sulfite levels between about 50 and 100 mg/L.
- Sulfites that are added to wine can be made from sulfur dioxide (SO2), potassium bisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite or sodium sulfite.
- White wine tends to have higher sulfites because red wine is preserved partially by natural tannins.
- Some people who have “sulfite sensitivity” may experience strong reactions to consuming foods or drinks with sulfites, similar to having an allergic reaction. Symptoms can include trouble breathing and wheezing (asthma symptoms), tingling, swelling, nausea, vomiting, headaches, itchiness or a rash.
- Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to sulfites are rare, however many people who don’t have a confirmed sulfite allergy still claim that sulfites causes them to feel unwell (much like having a gluten intolerance vs. a true gluten allergy/Celiac disease).
3. Not Made With Local, Wild/Natural Yeast
Non-organic wines, and even many organic wines, are made with added yeasts that are used to improve fermentation. Yeast creates wine by converting sugars naturally found in the grapes into alcohol. When a wine isn’t organic, the yeast that is used may contain GMO ingredients. More than 99 percent of wines on the market are made with commercial yeast, even many organic wines. Only very limited, natural wines are made with wild yeast that is indigenous to where the grapes are grown.
4. May Contain Added Sugar
Grapes of course contain some natural sugars, but some winemakers choose to add additional sugar to improve the wine’s taste. This adds additional calories and can contribute to other problems can consumed in higher amounts, such as increasing inflammation.
5. Typically Higher In Alcohol
[bctt tweet=”Even though winemakers are not forced into listing their ingredients on wine labels, the Italian government does” username=”TheFinestItali1″]require wine labels to list the alcohol content. However, the content that is listed isn’t always very accurate; the real content of the wine can be up to 1.5 percent greater than the amount stated on the label. Most conventional wines are are between 14 percent to 17 percent alcohol by volume. Depending on the specific production methods, some natural/dry wines will be substantially lower in alcohol, about 9.5–11 percent. This might not seem like much of a difference, but it can definitely feel like one. Drinking wine that has a lower alcohol content can lead to less hangover symptoms, which means that you might choose to occasionally enjoy an extra glass without experiencing the same side effects associated with higher-alcohol wines.
6. Not Biodynamically Produced
Biodynamic farming is a “prescriptive form of advanced, organic farming.” It is farming “done by prescription” because it follows a very specific method. Biodynamic farming was developed in 1925 by a German-Austrian scientist who created a system that involves spraying the vines with a quartz mixture or a certain type of cow manure that promotes healthier crops. The grapes are harvested according to lunar cycles of the moon. Overall, biodnyamic farming is a better alternative than industrial farming, but for reasons you’ll learn more about below, this method doesn’t mean the wine is necessarily very “clean.”
Many conventional wine makers are focused on large-scale production for one primary reason: it leads to more profits. When wine is not produced in a traditional way, there is a higher chance that the soil will become depleted, nutritional content of the grapes will decrease, lots of irrigation will be needed that wastes resources and water, and the grapes may be harvested when the vines are too young. Machine-harvested wines are often lower quality than hand-harvested wines. When a machine harvests grapes, the skins can be damaged, bruised and broken. This causes early oxidation that affects the taste and quality. Because machine-harvesting might lead to poorer tasting wine, more additives may be added to help improve the wine. Machine-harvested wine is also industrially, commercially produced wine that is made with additives.
8. May Contain Additives, Including Food Dyes and Mouth-Feel Agents
Ever notice that some red wines cause your teeth and gums to turn purple? This is because some wines contain added dyes. Many people associate darker colored wines with having more health benefits, but this is not necessarily true. Natural/organic wines rarely contain any dyes or other synthetic additives to improve color and “mouth feel” (such as the sensation of creaminess or how long the taste lingers). Conventional wines may also contain other additives that are used to clarify or filter wine, enhance the aroma, boost sweetness, reduce acidity and further aid in fermentation.
9. May Contain Mycotoxins and Mold
Mycotoxins, which are toxic compounds produced by fungi and molds such as mushrooms and yeast, are found in certain foods including coffee beans, some cereal grains, peanuts and yes, wine. Mold can sometimes grow on grape vines and make its way into wine. Mycotoxins and other molds are more prevalent in products made in humid areas found more commonly in red wines. Consuming products containing mycotoxins can lead to reactions associated with allergies or respiratory inflammation. In Europe, wine producers must check for mycotoxins and mold, according to Washington State University, as of May of 2006, the European Union (EU) Committee set a new maximum level of one type of mycotoxin called Ochratoxin A (OTA), and now all wine either produced in or imported to the EU must be below the threshold to be sold legally.
10. May Contain Animal-Byproducts (Non-Vegan Wines)
Get ready for this one: some wines contain several animal-derived materials, including fish bladders, egg whites, bentonite clay, mammal proteins and plastics. These can be used to “fine” and filter wine, or to help improve the texture, clarity and mouth-feel. Commercial wines are almost always fined and filtered to remove elements that can interfere with texture. Purchasing wine that is labelled as vegan ensures these byproducts are not included. Natural wines are not fined or filtered, so they have a different texture, taste and quality, plus no animal byproducts.
11. Often Made Using the Chemical Velcorin
Velcorin (the trade name for dimethyldicarbonate, or DMDC) is a highly toxic chemical that works as a bacterial control agent. In winemaking, this chemical is added during the fermentation process to treat the most common type of bacterial contaminant that is found in large-scale wine cellars. When wine is contaminated, it doesn’t taste or smell right, so winemakers try hard to remove the bacteria. In commercial wine production, velcorin is almost always used, sometimes even when the wine is organically made since it is a legally used chemical (although guidelines for using it are very strict, and it must be applied while wearing a hazmat suit!). Velcorin not used in natural winemaking, in which the wine remains additive-free through the fermentation process. When humans are exposed to high amounts of velcorin, it has been found to cause symptoms including trouble breathing, coughing, burning, ulceration, skin rashes, permanent eye damage and many others Credit: Dr Axe.