Copyright 2001 Thomson Brook Estate, Donnybrook. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy.

Benefits of wine to human health?

The term 'French paradox' refers to the observation that while both the French and Americans have a diet high in saturated fats, smoke cigarettes and exercise little-which are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease-the French have a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease than that of the Americans; 36% compared with 75%. The difference in risk has been attributed to the consumption of alcohol, and in particular, red wine. The French consume 60 L per capita of wine per year, while the Americans only consume 7.7 L per year. Australians, who consume 18.1 L per capita of wine per year, have a risk of cardiovascular disease in between that of the French and the Americans.

Recent research suggests that the regular and moderate consumption of wine, and in particular red wine, may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 50%. Furthermore, your overall lifespan may also be significantly increased. Moderate consumption for healthy individuals is considered as approximately three to four standard drinks of alcohol per day for men and one to two for women, where a standard drink is 10 g of alcohol or approximately 100 mL of wine. The consumption of wine above this moderate amount may, conversely, increase your risk of cardiovascular and other diseases, and hence decrease your overall lifespan.

The regular and moderate consumption of wine promotes both short-term and long-term cardioprotective effects. For example, regular consumption prolongs and maintains these short-term cardioprotective effects on blood clotting and on the plasma concentration of cholesterol.

Recent research also suggests that the cardioprotective effects of wine are imparted by the alcohol component (approximately 75% of the effects) and by the wine-specific phenolic compounds and their polyphenolic forms (approximately 25% of the effects). Polyphenolic compounds, such as anthocyanins and tannin, give wine its characteristic colour and flavour, and red wine has a 200-fold greater concentration of polyphenolic compounds than does white wine.

The institute does not advocate or encourage current abstainers and consumers to drink to achieve a health benefit. Consumers should only drink wine for enjoyment.

Does the type of wine I drink make any difference?

All wines, red and white, irrespective of variety, vintage or year, and geographical indication or region, have the potential to confer 'health' benefits', when consumed in moderation, that is, approximately two to three standard drinks per day. From accumulating research results it has been proposed that approximately 75% of the cardioprotective effects of wine are due to its ethanol component, and only 25% of the effects are due to its phenolic component. The ethanol and phenolic components have complementary actions on the cardiovascular system. It has been suggested by overseas researchers that one variety of wine or wines from one region, may contain more phenolic compounds than other varieties and other regions. This research has only been undertaken with a small number of samples, and the results have not been repeated by other overseas researchers, many of whom actually observed the opposite results. There are complex reasons for these opposing results:

These grape-growing and winemaking variables have different effects on each grape variety, and are different between years and regions. Therefore, no one variety, year or region will consistently contain the most phenolic compounds, and hence be the 'most healthful'. In addition, there are at least 10 different types of phenolic compounds in wine, all of which may have different actions on the cardiovascular system. These actions are dependent on the amount of that compound in the wine, and the biochemistry of the human body at the time of consumption. Therefore, the wine that you should drink to get the most 'health benefits' is the wine that you like most, provided that you drink it in moderation.

Back to top


Wine Additives (and processing aids)

Why is it necessary to produce wine with additives? Why isn't wine 'additive free'?

Additives are generally added during winemaking to modify or negate the influence of environmental and harvesting factors, which can adversely affect the quality of the grapes and the resultant wine, and to negate any adverse winemaking factors. For example, additives are used to:

Winemakers, however, can only use a limited set of specific additives that have been approved by the Australia and New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) and by committees of the United Nation's joint World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Codex Alimentarius Commission. The amount and quality of the additive that can be used may also be specified. Certain wines are certified and classified as 'organic'. This means that an even more limited set of specific additives has been used during winemaking and the amount used is also limited. For example, the amount of sulfur dioxide, an antimicrobial and an antioxidant agent, which can be added to 'organic' wines is approximately 50% less than that which can be added to 'non-organic' wines. Organic wines, however, should be consumed sooner than traditionally produced wine (for example, within 12 months of bottling and purchase), because the quality of the wine will diminish with age as these wines are more likely to become oxidised and consequently have a less desirable aroma and flavour.

Back to top


Wine Preservatives

Why is it necessary to add 'preservatives' to wine?

The word 'preservative' refers to protecting the wine from microbial contamination or spoilage by unwanted bacteria, moulds and yeast. These unwanted bacteria, moulds and yeast either naturally occur on the grapes and hence are also present in the juice, or enter the juice from harvesting or winemaking equipment that has not been adequately cleaned or sanitised. Microbial spoilage will make the wine smell and taste unpleasant. Another word for preservative is, therefore, antimicrobial agent. Two antimicrobial agents are currently permitted to be added during winemaking in Australia-sulfur dioxide and sorbic acid-where only a restricted amount of each antimicrobial agent is permitted to be added. In Australia, the EU, New Zealand and USA, there is a legal requirement that the label of a bottle of wine must be labelled as:

if antimicrobial agents have been added during winemaking. For additional information on the labelling of additives and preservatives, please refer to the [Australian] Food Standards Code and the Draft Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code at website: www.anzfa.gov.au

Can you buy 'preservative-free' wine?

There are NO wines on the market labelled 'preservative free'. This is because all wines contain naturally a small amount (10-50 mg/L) of the antimicrobial agent, sulfur dioxide, as it is produced by yeast during the fermentation stage of winemaking. There are, however, wines on the market labelled 'organically grown', which contain a reduced amount of antimicrobial agents. For example, organic winemakers add approximately 50% less sulfur dioxide during winemaking. There are also wines on the market labelled 'no preservatives added'. This means that no antimicrobial agents have been added during winemaking. Your local bottle or liquor shop should stock a selection of these wines.

Back to top


Health Issues