Red, white, rose, sparkling: Which wine is the healthiest?

And which gives the worst hangovers

It’s long been a common held belief that ‘everything in moderation’ is probably the best route to a long and healthy life - just ask any of the Supercentenarians, the small group of human beings who have lived past the age of 110.  A few, like Jeanne Calment, who lived to the ripe old age of 122 in France, swore by a diet of olive oil, chocolate and port - two of which are not typically first on the doctor’s list of cure-all tonics.

There’s no disputing the fact that a glass of red wine is high in antioxidants, which can help prevent certain cancers, help maintain a healthy heart and offer benefits to one’s mental health too.  Recent suggestions also point to the fact that white wine may offer similar benefits. However, are there certain wine brands that are healthier than others?

The Audacia winery in the Stellenbosch region of South Africa has firmly staked its claim to just this with its 2013 Merlot release.  It offers a unique production technique whereby traditional sulphite preservatives are substituted for the ingenious use of Rooibos, which, in itself, is high in antioxidants, as well as Honeybush wood to preserve the flavours in the wine.  The winery points out that:

‘The launch of this new category of wine will allow people who are allergic to Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), or other preservatives often used in winemaking, to enjoy a glass of wine without the normal side effects associated with sulphite preservatives.'

Whilst this sounds vaguely far-fetched and marketing driven, the winery does have a valid point. Both Rooibos and Honeybush are low in tannins, which, to those drinkers with a higher degree of sensitivity, is likely to produce a greater hangover the morning after. The same applies to the sulphur dioxide, which is traditionally added to wines as a preservative.

Despite the richness of their antioxidant properties, big bold tannic red wines, like Tempranillo and Petit Verdot are likely to cause you a little more trouble in the morning hangover department. However, one of the major causes of, as Withnail eloquently put it, 'a bastard behind the eyes' is dehydration, so drinking a more refreshing style wine, such as a lighter white or Champers is just as likely to fool your palate into thinking you're not thirsty and everything's ok.  The simple rule is to follow each glass of wine with a glass of water and avoid dehydration altogether. 

Red wine has been proven to contain levels of a natural compound called resveratrol, which is beneficial to improving the spinal bone density of those suffering from Metabolic Syndrome, a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity – and can lead to heart disease and stroke.  A study published by the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture in 1995 indicated that wines produced using the Pinot Noir grape contained the highest levels of resveratrol, but that wines such as Australian Shiraz, Sangiovese from Italy and French Burgundy also contained high levels of the compound. 

There is also the calorific content of a glass of wine to consider, when weighing up its health benefits.  A recent EU directive has called for the ‘hidden’ calorie count of all wines to be disclosed on the label, much to the agitation of the producers.  According to DrinkAware.co.uk, a large glass of red wine can contain, rather surprisingly, as many calories as a Cornetto ice cream, but concedes that the ABV strength of the wine has a huge influence on calorie content, as alcohol contains about seven calories per gram.

When it comes to Rose wine, the sweeter the wine, the higher the calories. A large glass of Rose will on average be around 200 calories, so indulge in more than a couple and you're suddenly into bacon sandwich territory. 

For those who think a glass of Champagne is pretty much guilt free - think again.  Although the drier Brut styles are lower in calories (around 90), sweeter varieties contain far more - almost 160 in some super-sweet cases.  A glass of dessert wine weighs in with a far higher calorie content – sometimes between 250 and 275 calories, which is effectively the same as munching through three chocolate digestive biscuits.

Several producers offer low calorie Champagnes, but for those who are truly that worried about watching their weight, there’s always a glass of sparkling water…

If you fancy exploring the heath benefits of wine further, you’re in luck. Next week is London Wine Week and across the capital, scores of bars are offering drinkers the chance to explore a wide variety of wine styles with masterclasses, tutored tastings, supper clubs, ‘meet the maker’ evenings, as well as its fair share of parties in selected venues.

Wristbands for entry into many of the events from the 18 - 24 May are £10. For more information, visit http://www.londonwineweek.com/

Neil Ridley is the joint author of Distilled, a guide to the finest artisan spirits from Absinthe to Whisky, priced at £14.99

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