Wine has been part of human life for ages; it has been associated with both benefits and harm depending on the amount consumed. Wine is made from fermented grape juice. Vitis Vinifera, commonly referred to as the European grape, is dominant in wine-making. When a wine-like beverage is made from other fruits, the fruit name, such as blackberry wine, is added to differentiate it from grape wine.
Wine-making has been carried out since ancient times, but the Greeks and Romans are accredited for refining the art of wine-making. They also are responsible for the spread of viticulture to most parts of Europe. The catholic monks can also not be forgotten for carrying out wine-making in the Middle Ages and further refining the art of wine-making.The evolution of wine led to the development of wine of different colors. The most dominant is red wine and white wine.
Production of Red and White Wines
Red and white wines are made by fermentation; red wine is macerated during the fermentation with grape seeds and skin, giving its color. White wine is fermented without grape skin and seeds, and its color ranges from pale or colorless to golden nutty brown or golden hue. Grape seeds and skin gives red wine its color and flavor. It is important to note that white wine can be made from white and red grapes since grape seeds and skin responsible for the red color is removed during fermentation.
History of Red and White Wine
Some evidence shows the origins of wine-making in Caucasian Georgia. However, wine-making predates this evidence so it is unknown where exactly winemaking began. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Babylonians practiced viticulture, a practice that has persisted today. History records that the origin of wine-making in Armenia dates back to 6000BC. Armenian legend says that grapevine cuttings saved from the great floods by Noah were planted in Armenia.
Archaeologists have discovered ancient wine-making tools and cellars in Armenia, which prove wine-making started as early as 6000BC. Red grapes are dominant in Armenia, making it likely that the ancient Armenians consumed red wine. It is also important to note that white wine can be extracted from red grapes, but it is unlikely this technology was applied in ancient times.
Ancient Egyptians made wine from red, white, blue, pink, and green grapes. They also made wine from pomegranates, dates, and palms. Royal families in Ancient Egypt drank wine, and wine was considered a drink of the gods. Wine scenes were engraved on old and new kingdom walls and in jars that included winemakers’ names. However, wine color was not included in these walls or jars.
While red wine was common, there are mentions of white wine, albeit later in the reign of the Egyptian pharaohs. “The oldest textual evidence of white wines in ancient Egypt dates to the third century AD, when the Greek Athenaeus (170 – 230 AD) from Naukratis, Egypt, described in the book ‘Sophists at Dinner’ the wine from Mariut as being: ‘excellent, white, pleasant, fragrant, easily assimilated, thin, not likely to go to the head, and diuretic.’” White wine, however, is believed to have been in production for over 7000 years back in the Iranian and Chinese cultures.
The Ancient Romans loved wine, and during their reign, wine-making flourished. They made red wine with high alcohol content, which they diluted with water when drinking. The Romans preferred wine with high alcohol content since it stayed fresh for longer periods. During the reign of the Roman empire, there were no sulfites to preserve the taste and freshness of the wine and therefore preferred high-alcohol wine for longevity.
Our fondness and attraction to wine is motivated by its excellent taste. Since it was discovered, wine has evolved through centuries, following different trends and creating different legends. For instance, red grapes have been developed throughout centuries and are still dominant in today’s viticulture. White wine has also had its fair share in human culture, especially in modern times. There is no doubt that wine has significantly impacted human life, spreading through generations.
Trends In Red and White Wine Consumption
There is no doubt that red wine and white wine have coexisted for a very long time in human civilization. Ancient records from Egyptian and Greek kingdoms and even the Roman empire indicate the presence of red and white wines. However, their consumption and valuation might not have been the same due to their distinct flavors. These records also indicate that red wine was dominant in production due to its superstition and associated beliefs.
For instance, Ancient Egyptians associated red wine with the blood of Osiris, the god of resurrection. Red wine was a significant part of Greek and Roman celebrations and religion. The Greeks had a god of wine, Dionysus, and offered red wine during sacrifices for harvest and rites of passage. White wines were also produced but were mainly paired with meals. The Romans considered red wine a daily necessity, making it available to all people, including enslaved people, women, and peasants.
The consumption of wine for pleasure and health benefits has been ongoing since human civilization. However, for the majority of this period, there had been a notion that red wine offered better health benefits. There is, however, textual evidence that white wine provided similar and even better medicinal benefits.
Did you know? Simple, light white wine was thought to best conduct the drug’s properties and was, therefore, best suited for medicine.
In one of the earliest wine books attributed to Arnaldus, de Villanova, de Villanova explains that white wine had better medical outcomes than red wine. De Villanova also opposed high tannins in red wines for medicinal properties. Besides, medicinal wines were designated for different purposes that could not be limited to one type of wine. Therefore, both red and white wines were employed for medicinal purposes.
Another significant development in wine consumption was clean drinking water. In ancient times it was difficult to get clean drinking water. Therefore, people consumed wine instead or treated water with wine. While it is unclear which kind of wine was preferred for this purpose, red wine was dominant and could be used in most cases. Wine’s antibacterial properties and longevity proved vital in water purification. However, with the advent of water treatment and purification technology, this use has disappeared in contemporary society.
One trend that has persisted in contemporary society is the use of red wine for sacramental purposes. The practice arose with the rise of Catholicism. One of the religion’s elements, the eucharist, requires worshippers to break the body of Jesus and drink his wine in reembrace of Jesus’s last supper and sacrifice for human beings.
Catholicism took on producing red wine for this purpose to symbolize Jesus’s blood. Catholic monks were particularly integral in improving wine-making practices in the Middle Ages and spreading into the New World. Today, the practice is still held. Other religions, such as The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, also embrace wine.
Men and women also have their preferences for wine color. Historically, red wine has been preferable to white wine among wine lovers. The trend has remained relatively constant, with a thin line separating men and women. For instance, in the United States, men and women prefer red wine (60%) to white wine (40%) , with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon their favorites.
On the other hand, both men and women prefer Chardonnay. These trends are influenced by motivation and events where they are drunk. For instance, most people prefer pairing red wine with heavily flavored meats with white wines for light meats.
The Benefits of Drinking Red or White Wine
Human beings have been planting grapes and consuming wine since the ancient era. Most have been consuming wine for pleasure and remedial purposes. The ‘French Paradox’ impetus about the benefits of wine consumption drew many scientists into investigating the biological theory behind it. These studies have been made and have been ongoing for over three decades. It has been lauded for being rich in polyphenols that boost people’s health. But how do the red and white wines compare?
Wine contains polyphenols which are responsible for their health benefits. These polyphenols have different structures influencing their antioxidant properties; red wines contain a high level of polyphenols, 1.8 g/L, compared to white wines, 0.2 – 0.3 g/L. Flavonoids are the major polyphenol in red wine, while hydroxycinnamic are dominant in white wine. Drinking red wines offer more health benefits than white wine. Polyphenols contain antioxidant properties that stabilize free radicals in the human body. Free radicals are produced daily due to body actions such as metabolism and exercise and exposure to environmental factors such as polluted air.
Free radicals are highly reactive due to extra electrons and can trigger several undesirable body processes such as autophagy, apoptosis, and ferroptosis. As a result, they lead to body inflammation, endoplasmic stress, cancer, aging, and oxidative stress. These radicals are of different types and thus require different antioxidants to cancel them. The high number of polyphenols in wine connects to these free radicals stabilizing them and protecting the body from inflammatory diseases, among other undesirable health outcomes.
Due to the high number of polyphenols in red wine, it has been lauded for its antioxidation properties, especially in preventing cardiovascular disease. “Red wine consumption has been attributed to decreased circulating levels of pro-atherogenic lipoproteins, deceased coagulation, increased fibrinolysis, inhibition of platelets, and its influence on nitric oxide and antioxidant capacity.” There is, however, skewed research regarding white wine as red wine is extensively researched.
Dangers of Consumption
Despite the plethora of benefits associated with wine, excessive consumption could magnify its intoxicating effects, leading to undesirable outcomes. Excessive consumption of red or white wine could lead to blackouts, trouble walking, fatty liver, drowsiness, increased depression, and increased risk for heart disease, among other undesirable effects. In ancient times, wine was sacred and could be consumed on specific occasions. In other kingdoms, wine was preserved for royal families.
However, its evolution and increased production led to availability and change in consumption trends. Wine became a leisure beverage, and some abused it through excessive consumption. One significant result of uncontrolled consumption in the United States is Prohibition, where wine-making was banned for thirteen years due to its alcohol content. The ban resulted from alcohol being associated with declining morals and societal ills. Irrespective of the wine you consume, care should be taken to avoid excessive consumption, which can lead to adverse outcomes.
Want to read more? Try out these books!
 Stanley G Payne, Spanish Catholicism: An Historical Overview (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984).
 Thomas E Woods, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (Washington, Dc: Regnery History.; New York, 2012).
 D.W. de Lange, “From Red Wine to Polyphenols and Back: A Journey through the History of the French Paradox,” Thrombosis Research 119, no. 4 (January 2007): 403–6, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.thromres.2006.06.001.
 Maria Rosa Guasch-Jané et al., “First Evidence of White Wine in Ancient Egypt from Tutankhamun’s Tomb,” Journal of Archaeological Science 33, no. 8 (August 2006): 1075–80, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2005.11.012.
 Guasch-Jané et al., “First Evidence of White Wine in Ancient Egypt from Tutankhamun’s Tomb,” 1076.
 Alfredo Cordova and Bauer Sumpio, “Polyphenols Are Medicine: Is It Time to Prescribe Red Wine for Our Patients?” International Journal of Angiology 18, no. 03 (September 2009): 111–17, https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0031-1278336.
 Velid Unsal, Mustafa Cicek, and İlhan Sabancilar, “Toxicity of Carbon Tetrachloride, Free Radicals and Role of Antioxidants,” Reviews on Environmental Health 0, no. 0 (September 24, 2020), https://doi.org/10.1515/reveh-2020-0048.