“More wine!” bellows Clemenza, the loyal capo at the wedding reception of Don Corleone’s daughter, Connie, and with those two syllables the status of the glorious grape fermented juice is embodied. “Wine represents to me sharing and good times and a celebration of life!” Dan Aykroyd once said, before adding: “It is always around happy occasions with family and friends and centred around joy. What better item to be involved in than something that represents all these wonderful things?” What better item indeed.
There’s always an occasion fit for wine. Whether you’re having pizza with a friend on a Tuesday night. You’ve had a horrendous day at work and need a dose of the red sauce to salvage the evening. Or you’re celebrating your anniversary and it’s time to break out the 1978 Romanée Conti you’ve been saving … well, if you’re lucky enough.
Wine is a substance unlike any other. One that can convey history or say thank you. Paired with expertise, it can enhance your dining experience by acting as a palate boosting condiment. Through aromatic notes and enticing flavours, it expresses the Earth’s geology, transporting its drinker to lush, sun-drenched vineyards. It is used sacramentally in religious celebration. It can be a valuable asset for the shrewd investor, a lifetime passion for an enthused sommelier or an ultimate gesture of hospitality. For whatever purpose it is assigned, wine extends far beyond a mere beverage, evolving into an essential lifestyle elixir.
It’s good for the heart
According to Tedd Goldfinger (“No, Mr Bond, I expect you to drink!”), Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine for the University of Arizona School of Medicine and author of The Wine Lover’s Healthy Weight Loss Plan, red wine helps prevent clots and damage to blood vessels, which have both been linked to heart disease.
Resveratrol (we’ll be hearing a lot more about this amazing force of nature), an antioxidant that occurs naturally in the skin of grapes that are used to make red wine, is thought to reduce LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol. Furthermore, a study from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid found that high-fibre Tempranillo grapes, such as those used to make Rioja increase the levels of HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol. As a general rule of thumb, the darker the wine – a cabernet sauvignon for example – the higher the antioxidant content and the greater the cardiovascular benefit.
It’s good for the brain
Scientists at the University of Copenhagen claim that people who suffer from Alzheimer’s are significantly less likely to die if they drink a single glass of wine each day than teetotallers.
This is on top of a study from Alzheimer’s & Dementia which reports that a single glass of plonk on a daily basis can also help keep your brain healthy for as many as seven and a half extra years. It should be noted though that the benefit is lost if drinkers exceed the one glass daily limit. We’ll be hearing a lot about this particular benchmark, which I will refer to as ‘the one glass golden rule’.
As well as the cardio benefits of resveratrol, Philippe Marambaud, Ph.D., senior scientist at New York’s Litwin-Zucker Research Center for the Study of Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders, claims it may also be key to keeping your memory sharp by improving blood flow to the brain which prevents the development of harmful plaque.
It’s good for your weight
Here’s another reason to pop the cork on a bottle of wine, it could help preserve your waistline. The alcohol found in wine encourages your body to burn extra calories for as long as 90 minutes after you finish your glass.
Our friend, resveratrol, again takes centre stage in the healthful compounds of vino by also keeping the kilos off of your love handles. Research in the Journal of Biological Chemistry suggests piceatannol, the chemical compound our bodies convert from resveratrol, dramatically slows the growth of existing fat cells and stops the formation of new ones, enabling your body to burn fat much faster.
Again, when relying on wine for health benefits, opposed to, say, late night political barnstorming sessions, the one glass golden rule is king. One glass is more beneficial than none but less beneficial than two, or three, or … you get the idea.
It’s good for your body
A glass of red wine a day is also very kind to your stomach.
A study conducted by The American Journal of Gastroenterology found that it reduces the risk of infection by Helicobacter pylori bacteria, a major cause of gastritis, ulcers, and stomach cancers. While a study by scientists at the University of Missouri discovered that the anti-microbial properties in Cabernet, Zinfandel and Merlot are particularly effective at guarding against food poisoning caused by bacteria’s such as E. coli, salmonella, and listeria.
That’s not all, according to the National Institutes of Health, antioxidants in red wine tannins also help reduce gallstones, strokes, and even the common cold. Heck, red wine even has a beneficial and softening effect on your skin. There are a growing number of spas around the world tapping into this by developing their vinotherapy menu, a red wine facial scrub or a tub choc full of vino for you to bathe and wallow in.
It’s good for protection against cancer
When researchers in Australia compared women with ovarian cancer to cancer-free women, they found that the ‘one glass golden rule’ reduced the risk of the disease by as much as 50 percent.
Meanwhile, a recent University of Michigan study found that the high anticancer properties prevalent in red wine such as antioxidants or phytoestrogens helped kill ovarian cancer cells in a test tube.
“In red wine, there’s something that’s blocking the cancer-causing effect of alcohol”, said Robert Sclafani of the University of Colorado Cancer Center. An article published in the journal Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology shows that “something” as being, you guessed it, the ever-reliable resveratrol.
Other findings include scientists at the University of Crete claiming that red wine slows the growth of breast and prostate cancer cells, French scientists finding evidence that resveratrol wards of growth of liver cancer cells and researchers at the University of Virginia claiming that resveratrol staves off nascent cancer cells altogether.
It’s good for your bones
A study conducted by scientists from the University of East Anglia and Kings College London found that moderate amounts of red wine boosts bone density in the spine and hips. The same results were not found in abstainers or consumers of other alcoholic drinks.
A review team from the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research went one better suggesting that ‘one glass a day’ worked as well as drugs at maintaining bone strength such as bisphosphonates, which combats thinning bones.
It’s good for preventing diabetes
A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine evidences that diabetics who follow the ‘one glass golden rule’ benefit from improvements in blood sugar control compliments of resveratrol.
A research paper published in the journal, Nutrition, found that study participants had lower blood glucose levels and systolic blood pressure. It is believed that resveratrol may stimulate insulin secretion or activate a protein that helps regulate glucose and insulin sensitivity.
It’s good for food
Red wine makes food taste better. You can pair it with a range of dishes to elevate the dining experience and really go to town with treating your palate. The combinations are endless. A full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon will bring out the richness of a hearty coq au vin. Wash down sizzling barbecue ribs with a bottle of Gamay. Enjoy a succulent grilled Argentinian fillet steak complimented by a glass of Malbec or highlight seasonal celebrations such as a Christmas turkey roast with a smooth Merlot.
What happens if you throw a house party and there are several half-empty bottles lying around (it happens, apparently)? Then red wine can be a key ingredient to your homemade dishes.
Whether you’re cooking up a Mediterranean inspired Sangria chicken, a classic Spanish tapas such as chorizo and potato stew or garlic and chilli prawns, your leftover red wine will happily find its way into the pot to spice it up and give it some kick.
Something as simple as a basic tomato sauce or as complex as a classic seafood moules marinières can be enhanced with a splash of the fruity intensity that a red wine delivers, so hey, experiment, go crazy. Your taste buds will love you for it.
It’s good for your nose
Okay, so I’m cheating here a little. Wine isn’t necessarily “good” for your nose in a strictly health-related sense of the word, but it plays a crucial role for the seasoned wine aficionado because much of what we think is taste, actually comes from our schnozzle. Try enjoying the taste of a good meal or a fine wine the next time you have a bad cold if you don’t believe me.
To really appreciate the experience of wine tasting, you need to understand the five S’s – See. Swirl. Smell. Sip. Savour. The first one is obvious, if you see wine, make sure you grab it before anyone else does. Swirling the wine lets the oxygen in so all those fabulous aromas can breathe before you stuff your hooter in and get a good intoxicating whiff. This will spark into life the olfactory bulb that sits behind your nose and sends signals to your brain giving clues of what’s to come when you taste it.
This swirling and scent exploration ritual actually helps you to train your brain, making you more excited about what you’re about to unleash on your taste buds. If you bury your nose into your glass and it smells like dirty old socks, then you probably won’t want to take your interest any further, but if you detect notes of sweet fruit, a delicate floral quality or exotic spices, then sip … and savour.
It’s good for your mood
“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance”. Who am I to argue with Benjamin Franklin?
Of course, if oenophiles are being honest with themselves, they don’t indulge in vino for stronger bones or improved memory – many would argue the opposite with regards to the latter – the real reason wine lovers indulge their passion is for the overwhelming sense of goodwill it brings.
A Spanish report showed that consumers who drank a glass of wine each day were less prone to depression than teetotallers – a glass of wine a day keeps the blues at bay.
What’s more, you’ll never get bored of wine because of its endless options. There are hundreds of grape varieties around the world from Australia, France, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Argentina and more. Each one boasts scores of micro-regions with vintners busy crafting an abundance of signature styles. As the old adage goes, variety is the spice of life. Well, look no further. You could drink a different bottle every day for the rest of your life and still barely touch upon the range available.
In the end, I love wine for the simple reason that it’s merely a beverage, yet it delivers so much. Enjoyed with close friends on memorable evenings, with loved ones during joyous celebrations, or with good food and always with an appreciation of the care and passion of the artisan winemaker who crafted it. Or, how about I close out this piece as I started, with a film reference. This monologue coming from the character, Maya, a wine enthusiast from the Alexander Payne film Sideways:
“I like to think about the life of wine. How it’s a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it’s an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I’d opened it on any other day because a bottle of wine is actually alive. And it’s constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks, like your ’61. And then it begins its steady, inevitable decline … and it tastes so good!”
I’d like to reiterate that many of the benefits outlined in this article revolve around responsible and moderate drinking, for more information or guidance on alcohol intake, please visit https://www.drinkaware.co.uk.