Karien O'Kennedy - 19 Sep 2016

A group of researchers from Italy demonstrated with their study that more expensive red wine is healthier for you. They made this assumption by measuring the anti-oxidant capacity (which is good for you) and the biogenic amine content (which is bad for you) of 60 different Italian wines in three price categories. These categories were less than 4 €, between 4 and 7 € and above 7 €. The most expensive wines had the highest levels of anti-oxidants such as phenolic compounds and resveratrol. It also had the lowest histamine concentrations, the most damaging biogenic amine.

Biogenic amines are nitrogen containing organic compounds that occur naturally in grapes and wine. The most well-known one is histamine that plays a much bigger role in hangover headaches than sulphur dioxide, commonly believed to be the culprit. In people that are actually sensitive to histamine the reaction can actually be much worse than a headache and it is therefore advisable to control histamine levels in wine.

Biogenic amine concentrations in wine can be increased during alcoholic and malolactic fermentations by yeasts and bacteria that have substrate specific decarboxylase enzymes. Various studies, including local Winetech funded studies, have demonstrated that the increase of biogenic amine concentrations during MLF is dependent on the specific bacteria conducting the MLF. One of the criteria on which commercial MLF starter cultures are selected is the absence of amino acid decarboxylase enzymatic activity. In studies where MLF with commercial starter cultures were compared with spontaneous MLF, indicated that the use of commercial starter cultures can significantly limit biogenic amine production.

The reason why the more expensive wines in this Italian study presented with lower histamine levels could partially be because commercial starter cultures were used in their production, a practice which is often seen as not cost-effective for “cheaper” wine.

So, in case you were looking for a reason to buy that bottle of Chateau Expensive, just tell yourself that it can potentially lower your chance for a heart attack and a hangover “the morning after.”

The opinions expressed in this blog is that of the author and not Stellenbosch University. The author is not a medical expert and medical claims in the last paragraph should therefore be viewed tongue in the cheek. 

Biogenic amine profiles and anti-oxidant properties of Italian red wines from different price categories (2016).

Managing your wine fermentation to reduce the risk of biogenic amine formation (2012).

Biogenic amines in wine: Understanding the headache (2008).

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