When choosing a red wine, vino that's cheap (cough, boxed wine) is temptingly easy on the wallet, so we had experts weigh on what it means for your health
You're heading over to a friend's house for dinner and you stop first to pick up a bottle of red wine. Will she think you're cheap if you pick one up for under $10? Will she even notice the difference if it's $22? You wouldn't notice, but the last thing you want is for her to take a sip and realize you spent more on your mani than her hostess gift.
Great news: More than likely, the only way she'll know you splurged is if you leave the receipt in the gift bag. At least that's what a recent video from Vox.com has determined. The site had their staffers blindly taste wines from different price points, and they all actually preferred the cheapest wine. The video went on to discuss how even wine connoisseurs often can't tell the difference in price.
So if it tastes just as good no matter how much you're forking over, are you at least getting more of a health bang for your buck? Red wine boasts loads of health benefits—it contains antioxidants like resveratrol and polyphenols, which help fight inflammation; it has been shown to protect against heart disease; and it has been shown to stave off decline in memory as you age. But a fancier merlot is not going to give you a stronger dose of those benefits, says Molly Kimball, R.D. For her, the question of whether expensive wine offers more health benefits is pretty cut and dry. "There's not even a maybe. The price wouldn't matter." (Did you know Scientists Are Making Hangover-Free Wine? We'll take some of that, thanks.)
"A lot of times, what you're paying for isn't how the grapes are grown," she explains. "You're paying for different branding or marketing." But cheaper wines are more likely to be filled with preservatives or other fillers, right? "The majority of wines have added sulphites to help stabilize the formula," Kimball says. "They protect and preserve a bottle of wine. Without the sulphites, bacteria will change the composition of the wine quickly." Since their inclusion in wine gets a warning label—"contains sulphites"—it can make the preservatives seem like a health risk, but Kimball points out that plenty of other foods contain sulphites, like dried fruit. "People never associate raisins with a hangover."
Well, easy enough for a nutritionist to say. Surely a sommelier, who's motivated to sell you a more expensive wine, would see the health benefits differently. "Price doesn't have anything to do with additives," says Jason Wagner, the beverage director at Fung Tu in New York City. "It's just a skill set—it's not as easy to make wine without additives."
In fact, Wagner doesn't even use the terminology "cheap" or "expensive," but rather "low-commodity" versus "high-commodity," which he claims is the only difference between the two categories. "The producer of the grape, the vintage, the availability—they all play a factor" in the price, he explains. Connoisseurs may know that 1982 was a wonderful year for Bordeaux, making those wines more sought after, but in chemistry, that special bottle is no different than what you might find at your supermarket. "Low-commodity wines are made for mass production. You are getting a lot of fillers and additives—but some expensive wines do that as well." (Psst...what's the Calorie Count of All Your Favorite Cocktails?)
Both Kimball and Wagner agree that your hangover can't be blamed on anything but the amount you drank (sigh). If you've been paying a higher price because it important to you that your wines are, say, sustainably farmed, organic, or lacking in certain preservatives, then go ahead and check the labels—you could find a cheaper option that still satisifes your needs, says Wagner. "Most importers have a 'dining principle' behind them. The label will discuss their philosophy." That sweet little story about your grapes being plucked under the Tuscan sun? That should give you an idea as to their farming process, which you can also investigate online. If you're not so much worried about that, then sip up whichever strikes your fancy. You're still getting all the antioxidants, the heart health—and that little flush of relaxation.