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Good Gut: Red Wine and the Microbiome

It may well be a case of ‘preaching to the choir’, but Professor Tim Spector’s findings over the past few years that red wine is good for the gut microbiome has recently been amplified on the Wine Blast podcast - hosted by MWs Susie Barrie and Peter Richards Related articles have been published in The Telegraph, The Metro and the Daily Mail. Spector is a professor of genetic epidemiology at Kings College London and bestselling author of several books on food science and human health. Espousing the health of the gut microbiome – that potpourri of bacteria, viruses, and microscopic fungi that lives in your large intestines and affects virtually every aspect of human functioning – is a very prominent feature in his work. As to the benefits of red wine on gut microbes, he asserts that:

  • Polyphenol compounds (widely labelled ‘anti-oxidants’) that are present in grape skins are a useful source of energy for the gut microbiome

  • Because red wine is made with phenolics extracted from the grape skins (thus the colour and tannins) – unlike white wine, beer or hard liquor – it is the alcoholic beverage with the most plentiful source of these compounds

  • People who drink red wine have been found to have a greater diversity of the active tiny critters in their guts

  • Red wine is better in this regard than plain grape juice because the fermentation process increases the complexity of the polyphenols

  • Different grape varieties have different strains of polyphenols, so drinking a wide range of red wine can be beneficial to promote a well diversified mix of microbes.

As Spector says in the Wine Blast podcast:

“My advice for wine lovers is keep loving wine and still drink wine, but at the back of your mind think, could I be trying different varieties that might actually be healthier for me and that I might enjoy?
Diversity is also important - if you take the analogy from foods, having a range of different grape varieties in your diet means that you are going to be helping different gut microbes inside you and you will increase your gut health.
So don't just stick with the same wine. Get out there. Try the hundreds or thousands of different grape varieties that we generally don't enjoy.”

Enough said, in this Cork Dork’s opinion. And hurrah to that. So there’s no need to just focus on that inky Zin, Madiran or Tannat that may have so much polyphenols they can be picked at with a fork. Enjoy the full range – from brooding, tannic behemoths all the way to silky, seductive pinot noir. After all, wellbeing in the 21st century is all about diversity – nutritionally, spiritually, and socially. A good life is a balanced one.

Of course - and to provide the necessary disclaimer - intake for health reasons should be in moderation - limited to 1-2 glasses a day. Any more, and alcohol’s toxic properties work against the microbial benefits of red wine. And while de-alcoholled wine might one day be an ultimate health drink, until the taste improves, sober tipple isn’t a terribly appealing solution.

Our upcoming red wine masterclass later this month will showcase six red wine varieties, each with distinct taste profiles and undoubtedly differing polyphenol servings. Of course, we are not billing it as an event focused on a health elixir - it’s squarely about enjoyment and exploring preferences. However, the cheers may not only be from other participants in the room. A few trillion microbes in your gut might also find reason to feel in good spirits.


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