Port Wine Health Benefits: Can it Be Good for You?

four glasses of different varieties of port wine on a barrel

Who doesn’t love a port wine? It’s one of those typically British traditions, usually served by grandmothers with a nice Cherry Bakewell.  And as I’ve recently been leaning into my old lady era (let’s face it we all knew I’d be getting there early), I thought I’d investigate port wine and its surprising health benefits. So get your doilies out, pull up a wingback chair, and let’s have a look at why, in moderation, Port wine might actually be good for you.

Port wine, from Portugal (in case that wasn’t clear), offers more than just a rich flavour experience. It was considered a great treat in the 19th century; a softer and sweeter alternative to Brandy.  After dinner, gentlemen would enjoy its rich taste while talking about Man Things like hunting, upstart colonies, and Johnny Foreigner getting above himself on the Peninsula. What they perhaps didn’t know, was that Port wine potentially benefits cardiovascular health through antioxidants that improve blood flow. 

The Production Process

Foot treading grapes in multicoloured buckets to make port wine

First of all, Port undergoes a fermentation process that is distinctive among wines. The grapes are still traditionally foot-trodden in granite lagares (shallow fermentation tanks) to crush them and extract colour, tannins, and flavours from the skins. While some producers use mechanical treading these days, Premium Port Houses do still use foot-crushing to get the best out of their grapes.

Fermentation is halted before it’s done by adding spirit (usually brandy) to the fermenting grape must. This “fortification” part is important. It raises the alcohol content and preserves residual sugars, resulting in a sweet fortified wine. Stick it in aged oak barrels with different ageing processes and durations and you get various types of port wine; A few years for Ruby Port to decades for Vintage Port.

stacked oak barrels of Port wine

Alcohol and Sugar Content

Obviously, that means that Port has a higher alcohol content and more sugar than other wines. This gives it a richer more luxurious flavour, making it a great dessert wine. But there’s a reason it’s drunk in smaller servings. You don’t want to get gouty. or diabetic.

The amount of residual sugar varies. Ruby Port can have around 100-120 grams per litre, while Tawny Port typically has around 80-100 grams per litre. However, as long as you enjoy Port wine in moderation you’re good. And it may benefit your overall health. 

The Health Benefits of Port Wine

So why is it good for you? Well, let me start by qualifying that it’s good for you compared with the average alcoholic drink. Not like, compared to broccoli or something. Eat your veg and all that.

Also, as I’m sure you know by now, I’m not a doctor. But you also know not to take medical advice from a random blogger off the interwebs. Nobody’s writing prescriptions for port wine anymore as far as I know.

Also, excessive alcohol consumption is good for no one.

Ok, that’s the disclaimer.

Now, let’s talk about the good stuff. Port wine isn’t just your average alcoholic beverage; Wine enthusiasts believe that a moderate consumption of Port wine offers anti-inflammatory benefits, and positive effects on heart health, and cognitive functions. 

man's hands holding black grapes

Port Wine, Good Cholesterol and Heart Health Benefits

The grape skins used in Port are rich in polyphenolic compounds like resveratrol and quercetin, which have antioxidant properties. These antioxidants may help reduce inflammation and improve blood vessels’ function. Resveratrol is also thought to improve heart health by reducing “bad” LDL cholesterol, preventing blood clots, and protecting against artery damage.

Now, although there is research to suggest some potential health benefits of moderate port wine consumption, don’t go overboard. Excessive alcohol intake can have negative effects on the cardiovascular system and increase high blood pressure too.

Possibly Supports Longevity, Brain Function and Mental Health

The idea that a glass of wine may extend your life is one of those things people have been wishing for for years. We’re ever hopeful of something that doesn’t wear you out, taste ‘healthy’ or require any effort to keep you in peak condition. Actually, a lot of this comes from Jeanne Calment.

Remember what I said about little old ladies and Port?

Well, Jeanne apparently lived to the ripe old age of 122. She credited Port wine, chocolate, olive oil and giving up smoking for her longevity. Whether or not any of that is true remains to be seen, but it makes for an interesting read with a glass of Port. 

Resveratrol at the very least does have anti-inflammatory properties which offer protection against autoimmune diseases. However, studies have also confirmed that red wine could be more useful for brain health and cognitive function.

At any rate, it plays a role in the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, cognitive decline, depression, and different types of cancer. So there’s that.

view from a hillside vineyard overlooking a river

Bone Health and Nutrients

The potential health benefits of port wine extend to supporting good bone health. The presence of polyphenols and other compounds, derived from grape skin, could help improve bone density and overall skeletal well-being.

Port wine is also a good source of certain minerals like potassium and iron in readily available forms. It also contains small amounts of B vitamins like thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), and cobalamin (B12). However, overdoing it can also disturb the uptake of calcium, magnesium, selenium, and zinc. Light to moderate consumption, though, has been linked to reduced risk of bone mass loss and fractures.

review published in Nutrition Reviews in 2008 provided data on the silicon content in various food groups, including beverages. The study found that alcoholic beverages like beers, wines, and port/sherries have relatively high levels of silicon. A 2018 study also analyzed the silicon content in different Port wine samples and found an average concentration of 1.67 ± 0.21 mg/L.

Also if you’re postmenopausal, moderate alcohol consumption, including port wine, apparently offers health benefits in the form of improved bone mineral density.  

So, in moderation (I’ll keep saying it), the silicon, manganese, calcium, antioxidants, and moderate alcohol content in port wine can potentially contribute to stronger bones. and reduce the risk of conditions like osteoporosis.

So if anyone asks, you’re strengthening your bones.

wine pouring into a glass with someone slicing food in the background

Skin Health and More About the Wonders of Resveratrol

As an antioxidant, resveratrol neutralizes free radicals that cause oxidative stress. So while alcohol might age you, in theory, the antioxidants in Port wine protect against premature ageing of the skin.

Its anti-inflammatory properties can help soothe inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema, inhibiting the production of inflammatory compounds. You’ll also need a good skincare regimen and a healthy diet as well, but a little extra help never hurts.

​Finally

So, if you needed another reason to indulge in a glass of Port wine, it turns out that it can actually offer some surprising health benefits. From heart health to antioxidant properties, Port can play a part in supporting your overall well-being. However, no matter how tempting it may be, it’s best enjoyed in moderation. If you’re a wine lover, you’ll know that quality always trumps quantity when it comes to fortified wines. They’re worth savouring. Now, who’s ready to raise a glass to good health?

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