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Feb 20, 2009 04:45 PM

Are Cheaper Wines Less Healthy?

I'm talking Carlos Rossi, Livingston, Inglenook, Charles Shaw, Barefoot....etc........

Granted in this economy, I can't afford to drink Silver Oak!!!!!!! So if on a weeknight, I want a little wine with dinner I may go with a Yellowtail, and I really enjoy the Charles Shaw Shiraz.....

While many wine snobs may balk at the above, it's still wine to me.

My only concern, is there anything in these wines, since they are so inexpensive, that I should be concerned about.....that could be potentially hazardous to my health....and I'm talking light we are not concerned about the liver here...unless???

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  1. as long as the bottle appears to be sealed properly, they're all fit for human consumption. I've bought bottles for parties at 99 cents stores which were just as good as 2 buck chuck. So if a particular brand of wine is palatable to you, go right ahead & chug-a-lug! Don't let anyone (winos or snobs alike) tell you what should taste better. It's your taste buds & your wallet.

    1. Are inexpensive wines INHERENTLY less healthy due to their "cheapness"?


      13 Replies
      1. re: zin1953

        I don't really agree with that. Cheap champagnes made by the Charmat
        method invariably give me headaches, while champagnes made
        with the methode Champenoise leave me in fine spirits even
        after drinking a whole bottle. It doesn't have to be $100 champagne.
        a $20 bottle from Domaine Carneros will do just fine, but anything
        from Andre and sparkling wine makers of its ilk leave me flat on
        my back.

        1. re: bclevy

          I'm not at all sure there's any correlation between a wine that gives you a headache and whether it's "healthy" or not. I can see some correlation between a wine's price and the quality of the fruit and the level of care that go into making it but I'm not aware of anything in the way inexpensive wines are made that would compromise your health.

          1. re: bclevy

            That has nothing to do with the wine PER SE, it has to do with you drinking it. Let me explain . . .

            André, Cook's, and other Charmat process (aka cuve close) sparkling wines have much larger bubbles than do sparkling wines produced via the traditional méthode champenoise. The alcohol gets into your bloodstream faster with ANY sparkler, but the larger the bubbles the faster it gets in . . . and the faster it gets in, the more likely you are to develop a headache.

            Don't misunderstand. I'm not blaming you for drinking the wine, but what I am saying is that a) if you only have one glass, and sip it slowly, you should not get a headache; and b) as I understood the OP, he was asking about things like chemical additives, "rotten" fruit, and the like that made inexpensive wines inherently unhealthy.


            1. re: zin1953

              I've heard told plenty of tales of fairly reasonable consumption (2-3 glasses) of Dom Perignon giving headaches. Weird metabolites and someone's particular system, plus whatever stresses they were under ... what I mean is, it's hardly limited to the cheap stuff. Which is not to negate your point about bubble size, that will absolutely help your BAC to spike, no question. But as you were saying, the difference to your internal organs between Cooks and Dom Perignon is one of blood alcohol level, nothing more.

          2. re: zin1953

            <<Are inexpensive wines INHERENTLY less healthy due to their "cheapness"?

            No. >>

            This is accurate. A cheap wine can be a detriment to "health," or even health-promoting, depending upon the individual wine.

            Cheap wines, especially cheap bubbly made with the charmat process of introducing bubbles, can produce more headaches and wicked hangovers than with champenoise-method bubbly. Charmat-process bubbly is more difficult to digest chemically, resulting in greater dehydration and loss of energy.

            Cheap still wines made from bulk-production methods that produce lots of congeners have much the same effect as cheap charmat bubbly – bad headaches, dehydration and low energy after consumption.

            So you could say that steering clear of cheap bubbly and cheaply produced bulk wine is good for your health, in the same way that steering clear of non-beneficial food ingredients, like trans fat, is good for your health.

            Some wines can be said to be health-giving, or health-promoting, but price has little to do with this effect. The best wines in the world for cardiovascular health happen to be cheap, rustic peasant wines. They contain powerful antioxidants, and together with the ethyl alcohol, provide a benefit the cardiovascular system (1-2 glasses per day). Actually the ethyl alcohol provides the bulk of the cardiovascular benefit. The best known wine for this cardiovascular benefit is that made from the French tannat grape, from the region of Gers in the midi-Pyrennes. The same is true for the wines of Nouro, Sardinia. They're both cheap, rustic, and loaded with the antioxidants and ethyl alcohol that promote cardiovascular health.

            But most cheap wines don't have an abundance of these healthy antioxidants. Just a few. And some expensive wines have them as well. Cabernet Sauvignon is third on the list of wines that provide a cardiovascular benefit.

            And you could probably say that all wine, or all alcohol, is probably bad for the brain, its constituent organs, and their functioning.

            So, if there are any bubbly probably isn’t good for you, like most cheaply produced wine. A few cheap peasant wines provide a pronounced cardiovascular benefit, but some expensive wines provide the same benefit.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              ML -

              Can you be more specific about which "bulk-production methods" produce more cogeners, and what it is about the Charmat process in particular that would contribute to their production, and lastly what compounds in Charmat bubbly are difficult to digest.


              1. re: Sam B

                A quick answer for the moment. The large CO2 bubbles in Charmat-process (zin1953 talks about these above) affect the body greatly, and result, ultimately, in substantial dehydration and loss of energy via the KREBS cycle.

                Bulk production methods (fast, hot fermentations; rough handling of grapes, powerful pumps moving wine, to name a few) produce harsher alcohols (ethanol, methanol, etc.) and congeners (by-products of fermentation and almost-universallly recognized hangover inducers).

                Lots more on the internet, and you can read more here:

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  Don't mean to nag, but this all sounds a little Wiki to me. Outside of a study that confirmed that CO2 does speed the absorption of alcohol into the human bloodstream, all I have been able to find is anecdotal stuff like Dr. Vino - wondering if there is any science backing this idea up.

                  I worry less about processing, and more about additives, which are used across all price points.

                  1. re: Sam B

                    Well, gee, how much did you read? The link is merely intro info. Did you read about alcohol and its effect on the KREBS cycle, or the effect of the ingestion of CO2 on the body? Lots of scientific info on this, easy to glean. It does take time to do the digging and reading, though. I could dig into my textbooks and files of scientific articles and quote from chapter and verse, but you can do the digging just as easily.

                    While you may pronounce the Dr. Vino link as "anecdotal," the research is from a long interesting article in The New Yorker on hangovers. You can read it in its entirety on the website. If the article doesn't contain enough scientific detail for you, surely more reading will disabuse you of the notion that the info is on the level of "Wiki" legitimacy.

                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      Excellent info ML, probably need to clarify that the Krebs cycle has nothing to do with Maynard G. ; >P

                      1. re: PolarBear

                        Dang! Just when I thought that I had that part figured out. Oh well, maybe ML can give me the abstract over a bottle of "better" wine.


                      2. re: maria lorraine

                        I read both articles in their entirety, and found nothing in either that supports the idea that cheaper wines have more cogeners(both identify red wine and brown spirits as the worst culprits). And lacking any references, or citation of scientific studies, I would indeed pronounce them anecdotal.

                        I have done multiple web searches to try to get some specifics, looked in a couple winemaking reference books, WSET study guides, etc, and short of the study I mentioned regarding the impact of CO2 on BAL, have found nothing regarding production processes in the cellar in relation to the production of cogeners.

                        So if you have some scientific data, I be most thankful if you'd share it

                        1. re: Sam B

                          I'll give an overview of why congeners are found more often in cheap wines and spirits, and let you pursue more vinicultural and scientific writings that go more into the chemical reactions responsible. I'd give you the citations myself but I'm jammin' on projects. And what I'm saying isn't at all new -- it's well-established info.

                          Congeners in wine are mainly alcohols other than ethyl alcohol -- methanol, amyl alcohol, butyl alcohol -- and also substances like acetone. Congeners are essentially toxins and impurities, and what makes them form during fermentation is high heat. Other things can create wine congeners but heat during fermentation is the main source.

                          Cheap fermentations are fast and hot. Fast because time in a ferm tank is money, and a bulk wine producer wants to convert grape juice into wine as quickly as possible. Efficiency is king, and super-efficient yeasts are employed to make sure the grape juice spends no longer in the tank than necessary to turn it into wine.

                          All that speed creates heat. Fermentations are naturally exothermic reactions, meaning, they release heat, but with larger ferm tanks, the amount of heat released grows exponentially. Moreover, cooling an enormous ferm tank several stories tall costs lots of energy (money). All to say, bulk wine fermentation tanks create the perfect conditions for producing congeners.

                          Yeast -- even super-efficient yeasts -- can stress for several reasons. High sugar is one reason, high alcohol is another. Cheap grapes often have high sugar and little physiological ripeness or flavor (think Modesto fruit). When all that sugar is initially combined with the yeast, it overwhelms them. The yeast rapidly create heat and alcohol, but instead of merely ethyl alcohol, the yeast also produce toxic alcohols/congeners. The yeast also become overwhelmed near the end of fermentation when a high level of alcohol is already present in the fermenting liquid. Then, the yeast cannot reproduce and are starved for food. Again, toxic alcohols are formed.

                          Suppose you want to avoid congeners. Cool the ferm way down, ferment in smaller vessels, and use a less-efficient, non-"industrial-strength" yeast. Those long, slow, cool fermentations that are behind so many beautiful wines? They can be measured in dollars.

                          Cheap spirits also have more congeners, those these can be more of the impurities type than the toxic alcohol type. As RicRios says, spirits made from the entire distillation process have more impurities and congeners than those made from using only the middle of the distillation process. (The heads and tails are discarded, and, actually, most of the congeners are in the heads.) Spirits made from only the middle distillation are more expensive because of the amount of product that is discarded. Spirits that are distilled several times have fewer congeners because more impurities get discarded in successive distillations. That's why clear spirits have fewer congeners that amber or brown spirits. And again, distilling several times is more expensive than distilling once. So, cheap spirits, just like cheap wines, have more congeners.

                          For your research, Sam, I think Google Scholar and Google Books might be very helpful. Search terms might be
                          congeners fermentation temperature heat
                          congeners methanol ethanol
                          congeners fermentation yeast stress

                          Books: Studies of congeners in alcoholic beverages.
                          by Leon A Greenberg; Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies.

                          You might also check the UC-Davis database, and any sci-chem database to which you have access. Good luck.


            2. Slightly off topic, but ... answer to the same question replacing "wines" with "distilled beverages" is a definite YES. So called "head" and "tail" of the distillation process being notoriously loaded with bad stuff, and correspondingly used for low quality releases of the (basically) same beverage as the cleaner mid portion.
              Beware of cheap grappa!

              1. if the producer does not skip sanitary procedures and does not cheat on the process; I would say no.

                After that, is the wine a "good" wine ? it's a question of taste.

                1. Price has nothing to do with health - but mass produced wines (as the inexpensive wines you mention are) are probably more prone to having additives, higher residual sugar, and higher levels of sulfites than small batch hand-crafted wines.

                  It should be noted that Silver Oak, with 50,000 case production, is most likely made in an industrial context and is really no different from the cheap wines you're referring to, at least from a production standpoint.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: olivethegreat

                    I don't agree with your last comment, olive.

                    There is a huge difference between Silver Oak's fruit, its handling and transportation, the methods used to transform it into wine (especially speed of fermentation and temperature), transfer to barrels and aging; and the fruit and winemaking methods used by a refinery-like wine facility such as Gallo in Modesto.

                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      My point is that Silver Oak is hardly small production, boutique winery. While they may use expensive oak barrels, it is a mass-produced item that shares much in common with other large production wines.

                      This is not a value judgement - the Chateaus of Bordeaux produce wines in massive quantities. But certain techniques have to be undertaken to handle such quantity. This is a response to the original poster who was assuming just because Silver Oak was expensive it was inherently either better or healthier than less expensive wine.

                      And I would venture to guess that Silver Oak has a fair amount of RS but that's another story.

                      1. re: olivethegreat

                        Agree that Silver Oak is not a boutique winery utilizing hand-crafted production methods. Silver Oak is a medium-sized winery and they use normal production methods for a winery their size. It is not a large, industrial, refinery-sized winery using harsh, efficient methods (already mentioned) to produce wine, and that is to what I am referring. There are huge quantitative and qualitative differences between the production methods used by a medium-sized winery and an industrial-sized winery.

                        Also agree that just because Silver Oak is expensive it is not inherently better or healthier than less expensive wine. It may be slightly, inherently healthier because it is Cabernet (mentioned earlier), but not because it's expensive.

                        And regarding the price of the wine, paulispumonti...Silver Oak is one of the most egregriously overpriced wines out there, so even if you could afford it, there are much, much better wines for the money.

                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          Thanks Maria. Appreciate the distinction between medium-sized vs. industrial sized...point taken! And much agree with your latter statement about Silver Oak being egregiously overpriced.

                          Incidentally, I also think Yellowtail is overpriced for what it is -- and think that Paulispumonti could find lots of interesting under $10 alternatives to the wines he mentions that would be better on a whole number of levels (health benefits aside). I'm thinking of wines like Perrin Reserve CdR, or Vina Borgia from Spain. Both $7 or so a bottle.