Is natural wine actually better for you? It depends on who you ask. If you were to ask the guy with a man bun working at a wine shop in Brooklyn or Berkeley, they’d say that it is. Natural wine will give you a less severe hangover and promote better gut health. They would then go on to say that natural wine uses fewer sulfites, has less pesticide residue, and pairs great with a wide array of fake, vegan cheeses.
Natural wine has emerged as one of the hottest trends in booze over the past few years. Ten years ago, you would be hard-pressed to find a bottle of natural wine outside a few specialty stores in big cities. Fast forward to the present day, and you’ll find natural wine shops and bars everywhere, from the Midwest to Texas to the woods of Vermont and everywhere in between.
Once you find something in the Midwest, you know it’s got to be popular.
However, an article from the New York Times asked experts if any science could back up these claims. The answer? Let’s just say they didn’t agree entirely with the man-bun-wearing natural wine aficionado.
The first issue experts raised with the claims made by natural wine proponents is that the term “natural” isn’t clearly defined or regulated. Unlike certified organic wine, which must adhere to a clear set of federal requirements, natural wine is loosely defined by a list of well-intentioned, voluntary production principles.
It’s hard to police the production of natural wine besides just measuring sulfites
Natural wine producers claim to use organically farmed grapes, to skip using yeast, to not modify acidity levels, to not filter the final product, and to add few (or none) sulfites. But therein lies the problem. None of these claims are regulated, so while natural wine may have started as a small movement with good intentions, it is hard to know how strictly producers adhere to these principles as the trend becomes more mainstream.
Unfortunately, there is little to no evidence to support the claims that natural wine can minimize the severity of a hangover or promote better gut health. It seems that natural wine tends to have a lower alcohol by volume (A.B.V.) than conventional wines, so the difference in hangovers could be a result of that.
As for the gut health claim, this is based on the idea that natural wine is not filtered at the end of the fermentation process, allowing it to keep the beneficial bacteria that our gut needs to thrive. Experts also say that this claim is a stretch and that the negative health impacts of alcohol far outweigh the potential benefits of some of the bacteria you’ll get from unfiltered wine.
The key takeaway? I know we all want a reason to think that wine can be good for us, but that just doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to natural wine. The space is too loosely regulated, and the claims about hangovers and gut health aren’t supported by any hard science.
Does that mean natural and conventional wine is the same? Absolutely not. It may very well be the case that the minimally-processed version is better than the alternative; but wine is still wine, and booze is still booze, so drink responsibly.
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