What is a healthy wine?
Describing any wine as healthy must come with a few big caveats; alcoholic drinks always need to be enjoyed responsibly and the beneficial effects of wines are based on the assumption that you adhere to this mantra.
It is generally agreed that healthy wines are organic wines. In order to meet organic standards, a wine must be produced without the use of any artificial agents, whether in the form of pesticides applied at the vineyard or additives included further down the line.
Choosing organic wines is not just good for the environment, but also improves the taste and lessens the likelihood of a hangover. Fewer sulphites are found in the organic wines UK oenophiles can buy, which means having a headache the morning after a glass or two could be a thing of the past.
The reason for this apparent miracle is that without the presence of problematic chemicals, your body will face fewer barriers to breaking down the alcohol within the wine. In all it is a cleaner, greener and more sustainable experience.
The improved purity of these wines will give the natural flavours of the grapes and the soils in which they were grown a chance to shine through. In turn this makes wine and food matching more important than ever. The following 8 wine and food pairings should set you up for a summer of experimentation.
1. Organic Chardonnay & Salmon
Chardonnay tends to be at the rounder, creamier end of the white wine spectrum, so it is often seen as a good option for pairing with hearty fish dishes like salmon, rather than with white-fleshed fish. Of course if you are having a butter-drenched fillet of cod then this pairing could work particularly well, even if it might not be as healthy in the long run.
To make an especially healthy meal, avoid frying the salmon and instead bake it in foil parcels, to ensure that the moisture is sealed in as it cooks. A classic inclusion of new potatoes and green beans will set off this dish a treat.
There are various producers of organic Chardonnay out there, including Bonterra and Yalumba. You will need to be prepared to pay a little more for the privilege of enjoying these healthy wines, because of the additional challenges involved in their production. However, it will be well worth it once you see what a difference there is in terms of taste.
2. Organic Malbec & Filet Mignon
It sounds indulgent, but the leanness of a fillet mignon and the fruity playfulness of an organic Malbec will work wonderfully in combination with one another. When you want to push the boat out and still stay fairly healthy, this is the way to go.
The best part of a perfectly cooked filet mignon is that it can be plonked on a plate with only a couple of other adornments to make a dish to remember. Purple sprouting broccoli is a worthy partner for this protein-rich cut of beef.
The best organic Malbecs around hail from Argentina, with the biodynamic farming methods behind varieties from Altos Las Hormigas proving to result in some particularly impressive results. Indeed the entire Mendoza region from which this and a number of other acclaimed producers operate is fast becoming a hotbed of intriguing, forward thinking winemaking.
3. Organic Sauvignon Blanc & Salad Nicoise
Known for its dryness and its crisp finish, Sauvignon Blanc is a brilliant baseline wine for many different meals. If you are looking for healthy wine and food pairings, it makes sense as an accompaniment for a variety of salads. Of course some salads are a little bland, so steering your menu towards a Nicoise is always advisable.
This salad can have a number of ingredients according to your own tastes but if you want to get the most out of it, make sure you include new potatoes, gem lettuce, a slender slice of tuna loin, green beans and lots of lemon juice.
Sauvignon Blanc does double duty in this context, working with the fish, veg and leaves to refresh your palate while also being complimented by the zing of the lemon juice and any dressing you choose to include. Organic varieties from Stellar, Angove and Giesen are amongst the more affordable and accessible choices.
4. Organic Chianti & Puttanesca Pasta
Healthy food is often simple food, steering clear from excessive ingredients, artificial additives and any of the pomp and circumstance you might find in certain high end restaurants. For that reason, the unfussy nature of an old school puttanesca dish from the cookbooks of a thousand Italian households is able to be both belly-filling and unabashedly good for you. Matching it with an organic Chianti, like the variety produced by Poggiotondo, will give you a rich, ruby-red hit to go along with it.
You can jazz up a puttanesca pasta in all sorts of ways, but the most important inclusion is chilli. Using fresh chilli is not frowned upon, but dried chilli flakes will do the trick and make preparations much quicker. Make sure to include a tin of chopped tomatoes, garlic, capers, black olives and basil leaves to garnish. Anchovies are traditionally used, but cut them out if you are worried about your salt intake.
5. Organic Pinot Noir & Grilled Mushroom Burgers
Moving to a plant-based diet will be much easier if you are still able to get plenty of meaty flavours after the transition. This typically means incorporating mushrooms as much as possible, since the earthy tang of these fungi can act as a fine stand-in for steak, mince or almost any other red meat.
Grilling mushrooms, or even whacking them on the BBQ in the summer, will give you an ideal burger substitute which is healthier and better for the planet. You can pair an organic pinot noir, like the edition produced by Natura, with any number of mushroom dishes. Remember that mushrooms shrink when cooked, while the heartier versions can take longer than you might think to reach a point of readiness on the grill.
6. Organic Red Garnacha & Thai Green Curry
This Spanish grape variety is unusual amongst reds in offering a slight spiciness, accompanied by a hint of aniseed on the nose which means that it can make for some surprisingly effective pairings with lighter curries.
Thai green curry is a healthy-conscious alternative to some of the Indian dishes that might normally grace tables in the UK. It can be made with poultry, fish or even just vegetables, the latter of which gives you the best opportunity to cut down on calories and amp up the nutritional benefits. Use low fat coconut milk in order to retain the creaminess of the dish without impacting your waistline.
The Raimat Boira Organic Garnacha Catalunya should be one of the best wine and food pairings in this instance. It is not only robust, fragrant and almost herbal in its taste, but also packs in the roundness of red fruits and even a little floral hint to put out any fires that the curry may have started on your tongue.
7. Organic Champagne & Beetroot Bruschetta
Champagne is usually seen as indulgent, but with organic examples from the likes of Robert Barbichon, Andre Beaufort and Vincent Couche available, there is a low-sulphite option for those who want a bit of bubbly.
It is even possible to pair a glass of champagne with a dish that is healthy, seasonal and fairly filling, depending on the portion size you pick. If you are cooking fresh beetroot from scratch, which is always the best option from a taste perspective, you will be able to blanche them in boiling water in as little as five minutes. If you prefer a softer texture, boil them for around half an hour and the skin will fall away with ease.
Toast a couple of slices of crusty bread, rub with a clove of garlic, at a drizzle of olive oil, top with the chopped beetroot, a little red onion and a few crushed basil leaves. A slice of goats’ cheese to top it off will be our little secret.
8. Organic Merlot & Jambalaya
The marriage of merlot and red meat is well established and indeed any dish which has big flavours and punchy sauces will work in tandem with this wine variety. Terra Viva produces an especially mouth-watering organic merlot which you might want to match with Jambalaya.
The healthiness of this Cajun dish comes in part from its use of brown rice, with which you can combine skinless chicken, celery, green pepper, chopped tomatoes and seasoning, along with plenty of prawns for that authentic jambalaya finish. This can be as spicy or mild as you like, although giving it a bit of a kick is always worthwhile.
Working out the right wine and food pairings if you are trying to eat more healthily might seem like a bit of a nightmare. Luckily you can make a few smart decisions, like opting for organic wines and avoiding high calorie ingredients, to simplify this whole process.
The concept of healthy wines is not a misnomer, with organic production techniques making a real difference. The more organic wines UK residents buy, the more the market will accommodate this trend and the more varieties will be available without any nasty chemicals involved in their creation. Vote with your wallet and you can make organic wines more relevant, whether you are a fan of lighter salads, leaner meat dishes, curries, BBQs, Italian classics or any of the other examples covered here.