What is clean wine? [Spoiler: there are dirty details]

By Dave Schavone

I’m not a very trendy guy. In fact, I’m quite leery of trends in general. In my younger days, I saw far too many good people taken down by JNCO jeans and frosted tips. In the culinary world we survived the foam explosion of the ‘00s only to face every dish being adorned with edible gold foil. And, no, I do not want to sit at a communal table and eat family style with a host of strangers.

The wine world certainly isn’t immune to trends. Recently, there’s been oddly colored wine and red wines aged in bourbon barrels, but by far the most troubling trend in wine IMO has been the advent of “clean wine”. Just typing the phrase makes me grind my teeth.

So, what is “clean wine”?

Clean wine is, supposedly, wine made from natural grapes, without any added sugar, and vegan friendly. Some insist that clean wine should also have no added sulfites, but most producers who claim to make clean wine are using sulfur. This reads like a loose definition of natural wine, so why the need for differentiation?

Why not just call it natural wine?

As far as I can tell, clean wine is an attempt to co-opt the attributes of the clean eating movement. This is a lifestyle that promises improved health by focusing on a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins and fats, all while limiting processed foods, preservatives, excess sugar and salt, and unhealthy fats. The science behind the benefits of this type of diet is pretty clear—it’s a healthier way to live. And therein lies my problem with the term clean wine.

Are there really health benefits to wine consumption?

Over the years, there has been much discussion about the role of wine or alcohol in a healthy diet. Many studies have shown that moderate wine consumption, especially red wine, can have some health benefits, including circulatory health and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s. There are also benefits beyond physical health that are much more difficult to measure. However, the general consensus has remained that the overall health benefits of wine are minimal, and the dangers from overconsumption outweigh the benefits of moderate consumption. For those reasons, it is generally not acceptable for wineries to make health claims about their product. This is as it should be.

When it comes to wine, let’s keep it au naturale

The term clean wine is an attempt to insinuate that wine is healthy without coming out and saying it. This is incredibly disingenuous and goes against our belief that honesty and transparency should be paramount in the marketing of any product, but especially a product as shrouded in mystery as wine. We put together an FAQs section on our website to answer questions about what goes into our wine (and wine in general). Have a question we’ve missed? Reach out and ask.