Natural Wine Is a Game Changer for the Health Conscious

Organic grapes are a star ingredient
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Wine has now entered into the buzzy discussion on probiotics: the living microorganisms that can improve the flora in one’s gut. Digestive health and good bacteria have been trending in health and wellness circles for a few years. And since wine is a fermented product, it naturally contains probiotics.

Academic research has already proven that polyphenols, or the antioxidants in red wine, have a positive impact on gut microbes. So, in theory, one could try their hand at drinking red wine a few times a week and chart their digestive progress over time. However, there is a form of wine that just might be more apt for improving gut function than regular wine. It’s loosely called natural wine.

There is no standardized process for making natural wine — hence its natural peg. Unlike traditional wine, natural wine is often made from organically grown grapes, which have more antioxidants than commercially grown grapes. It’s also typically free of mass-processing techniques that tend to eliminate many good organic compounds and replace them with lab-created yeast strains. As a result, it’s likely to be packed with naturally occurring yeasts and good bacteria — that means it’s low in sulfites, the salts of sulfurous acid, which are used to stabilize regular wine. Natural wine is usually also free of additives that help aid fermentation. The result is much more distinct from its synthetic cousin, than say, organic milk might be from milk. That’s because fermentation is a deeply individual process.

natural wine
2016 Frey Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp white wine with notes of passion fruit and lemon. $14, at Plum Market Bloomfield, 3675 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Twp.; 248-594-2555, plummarket.com

In fact, no two natural wines — even if they are both from the same grape and even the same brand — will be alike. The microbes that exist in a given bottle vary greatly by the environmental conditions in which they develop. So much so that if you were to leave a bottle of natural wine on your counter, over the course of the afternoon, it may transform into a wine with a completely different flavor profile. In essence, natural wine is a living, breathing product.

That said, since there is no standardization of processing, there is no official certification for natural wines either. What might be deemed natural wine, and how that wine may be produced, is in the hands of individual winemakers. If you’re interested in purchasing a natural wine, look for phrases such as “contains only naturally occurring sulfites” on the label. The term “organic” can be confusing because it doesn’t always mean the wine is natural. It simply means winemakers did not add chemicals during the winemaking process, but after vinification, they may have added clarifiers or even sugars. (When in doubt, you can always reach out to a store staffer for assistance.)

Since these wines are unfiltered, they may be less translucent than traditional wines, or may even contain sediment at the bottom of the bottle. This is often the result of  some combination of yeast cells and leftover grape solids. Consuming sediments is completely harmless.

If you’re considering going natural with your wine selection, there are plenty of retailers around metro Detroit that offer bottles to suit your palette — and perhaps support your digestive tract, too.

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