If you tend to justify your second pour with phrases like “but it’s good for me,” you’re not necessarily wrong. Wine is chock-full of beneficial compounds, like antioxidant-rich polyphenols, flavonoids, and phenolics. “Moderate consumption has been linked with reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and oxidative stress while also improving cognitive performance,” says Beth Warren, R.D., a certified nutritionist and founder of Beth Warren Nutrition in Brooklyn, NY.
From chardonnay to cabernet and all the sweet pinks in between, all shades of wine have perks of their own. However, not all shades are created equal. Evidence supports a sort of color-coded hierarchy. So, where does your favorite fall on the health spectrum? Most recent studies confirm that the darker and drier the wine, the better it is for you. Before you make a pour decision (see what I did there?), read on for the definitive ranking of what to sip this season and beyond.
This may not be easy to swallow for white wine fans, but it contains a lot of sugar. “Be aware of the liquid carbs in chardonnay, which can cause weight gain or adverse effects on blood sugar,” says Kaayla Daniel, PhD, CCN, a board-certified clinical nutritionist and founder of The Naughty Nutritionist in Santa Fe, NM. It also contains far less of the cancer-preventing antioxidants as red wine. Some good news: One study found that drinking white varieties helps keep lung tissue healthy, though the link is unclear.
5. Sauvignon Blanc
“When it comes to liquid carbs, the drier the wine, the better,” explains Dr. Daniel. If you aren’t willing to give up your white, opt for a glass of sauvignon blanc. White wine does have its benefits, including antioxidant-rich phosphorus, potassium, and fluoride, and one study showed that it has the same heart-healthy properties as the red stuff. Research from 2015 suggests that the paler stuff may even help stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s.
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Everyone’s favorite pink drink falls smack in the middle. It has a lower alcohol content than both red and white wine (perhaps explaining why it goes down like water on warm, summer days), and it contains some of the same antioxidants as the darker stuff but with fewer calories. “The polyphenols in rosé can help to lower LDL, or bad cholesterol, and its potassium content can help lower blood pressure,” says Warren.
3. Petite Sirah
“Darker wines have the added benefit of resveratrol, a notable antioxidant that is linked with positive health benefits and shown to be part of a balanced diet,” says Warren. Those that improve with age, such as petite sirah, have higher concentrations. While Dr. Daniel notes the verdict is still out on whether the benefits of resveratrol are a case of correlation or causation—it’s been proven to help maintain strong minds and muscles in aging mice, but the data for humans is inconclusive—the scientific community is generally in agreement that drinking red wine in certainly can’t hurt.
2. Pinot Noir
As you know by now, the darker the wine is the higher it is in antioxidants, which means the better it is for your health. Pinot noir is made from thick skinned red grapes (90 percent of the phytonutrients can be found in the skin) that tend to be grown in cooler climates and said to have more resveratrol than any other type of wine.
1. Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet sauvignon is one of the darkest and driest of the reds. The drier and less sweet the red, the higher its concentration of flavonoids. These antioxidants have been shown to promote healthy cholesterol and stave off heart disease. “Cabernet also has high levels of procyanidins, an antioxidant that’s known to improve cardiovascular and arterial health and has even been associated with promoting longevity,” adds Warren. Yes way, Cabernet!
But before you consider this your permission to indulge, keep in mind that experts agree that the only way to reap any benefit at all is by drinking responsibly. A standard serving of wine is five ounces, and the Department of Health and Human Services advises that women stick to one drink per day (men, on the other hand, should cap things off after two). “Going over the recommended serving per day can be dangerous,” says Warren. Stick to a glass with dinner and supplement it with a cup of water.