Friday, April 25, 2014

Wine and Antioxidants - Why Wine in Moderation is Good for You

This post was contributed by Jenni Gunter.

Due to a wealth of recent studies, the scientific community is increasingly reaching the conclusion that drinking wine (in moderation, of course) could be very good for your health. If you consider the odd glass of vino to be a guilty and unhealthy indulgence – then read on. You are about to be pleasantly surprised…

Free Radicals and Antioxidants

You have probably heard of ‘free radicals’. Since their discovery, these unstable oxidized molecules have been subjected to intense scrutiny by the world of health and nutritional science, with the invariable conclusion that free radicals are responsible not only for much age-related bodily wear and tear, but also for the kind of cell mutation and degradation which causes many of the most devastating diseases. In the last few years, research has shown that the body can use ‘antioxidants’ to combat the action of free radicals – leading to the growth of a lucrative industry in antioxidants. Vitamin companies like Healthy America sell “Universal antioxidants” to “provide support for a…wide range of bodily systems”, and companies like Vitamix promote their product by advertising its potential to create “Antioxidant rich smoothie[s]”. However, one of the richest sources of antioxidants comes in the form of wine.

Resveratrol and the Heart

A 2007 study discovered that red wine is rich in antioxidants and, when consumed in moderation, is beneficial to overall health. “Red wine provides general oxidative protection” the researchers concluded, “…via the increase in antioxidant status”. One of the most powerful antioxidants found within red wine is a polyphenol called resveratrol. Resveratrol comes from the skins of red grapes and appears to be rather fantastic for the cardiovascular system. The Linus Pauling Institute speaks of “significant reductions in cardiovascular disease risk” for red wine drinkers as a direct result of resveratrol’s multiplicity of heart-healthy actions. This has led to red wine becoming the tipple of choice for those who wish to look after their hearts. However, a University of Barcelona study found that white wines are not deficient in this area either. White wines can help to reduce low-grade cardiovascular inflammation and raise levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol- both of which are vital in the maintenance of a healthy heart. Dr Curtis Ellison of Boston University noted that the study showed the ways in which “both red and white wine help prevent heart disease”.

Champagne for Dementia

Champagne is proving to have exciting antioxidant properties as well. It is believed that two red grape varieties which abound in Champagne – pinot noir and pinot meunier – deliver a wealth of antioxidant phenols into the beverage. These in turn give Champagne some phenomenal impacts upon the brain. A study conducted by the UK’s University of Reading found that a glass of Champagne a day could even help to stave off dementia. The study focused upon the action of antioxidant phenolic compounds within Champagne. According to the University, “these compounds work by modulating signals in the hippocampus and cortex, which control memory and learning”, going on to add that regular moderate consumption of champagne could not only stimulate these signals, but work to prevent neural degradation – concluding that “Champagne may…help prevent the cognitive losses that occur during typical and atypical brain ageing".

Be Responsible

The benefits of drinking wine in moderation are many. However, the keyword is ‘moderation’. Doctor David J. Hanson, a proponent of the health benefits of alcohol, is very clear upon the topic. While he speaks enthusiastically about the health advantages gained through responsible consumption of alcohol, he goes on to state that “Drinking any of these alcoholic beverages heavily or abusively is associated with poor health and reduced longevity”. The consequences of overdoing it can be devastating. As point out, “Alcoholism is a deadly disease, taking the lives of 37,500 Americans due to alcoholic liver disease and other alcohol-related causes”. So be extremely careful when imbibing routinely. Make sure to do so in moderation – no more than one or two units per day – and desist the moment you feel that you may be becoming dependent upon your evening tipple.

Indulge Your Health

For those who are able to drink responsibly, the health benefits of wine are too good to ignore. No longer need you feel that a glass of wine of an evening is a ‘guilty indulgence’. In fact, the evidence points overwhelmingly to the contrary. Weighing up the evidence, the Doctor’s Health Press published a recent article stating that “moderate drinkers are living longer than those who abstain”, and a wealth of studies into the topic have found similar results. So keep tasting, enjoying, and learning about wine – it could be the best thing you ever do for your health!

This article contains general information about wine and medical research.  It should not be treated as medical advice.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Wine Infographic: Chilean Wine Cheat Sheet

The next edition in the Cheat Sheet series - Chilean Wine!  See the full collection here

To see the Cheat Sheet in full size…
…in Internet Explorer, right click on it and select “open in new tab.”
…in Chrome, right click on it and select “open link in new tab.”
…in Firefox, right click on it and select “view image.”   

Thursday, April 10, 2014

2 Affordable Italian Reds from the Whole Foods Twitter Tasting

If you've missed the Twitter Tastings organized by Whole Foods Market, you're missing some fun. People from all over taste the same wine and tweet their thoughts. This time around, I was particularly interested in the 2 Italian reds they featured:  Monrosso Chianti (2010) and Verrazzano Rosso, a red blend also from Tuscany (2012).

Cue the Chianti Cheat Sheet:

These 2 Italian wines, Monrosso Chianti and Verrazzano Rosso, come from the same region - Tuscany. Chiantis rank at the highest level of Italy's wine classification system, DOCG.  The Verrazzano Rosso is ranked lower, at the IGT level.  A lower ranking can be both a blessing and a curse, because even though it's ranked technically as lower quality, there are fewer regulations at the IGT level.  DOCGs are strictly regulated in terms of grape variety, alcohol content, aging, etc.  Whereas, the IGT-level winemaker has more freedom to experiment.  For instance, the Monrosso Chianti has to use at least 85% Sangiovese grape juice. The Verrazzano website tells me that their red blend mixes Sangiovese with Merlot (but doesn't give the percentages).

But how do they taste??

Monrosso Chianti 2010 -- Aromas/flavors of cherry, cranberry, and vanilla, with some earthy qualities. Medium, rounded tannins.  Medium-plus acidity, 13.5% alcohol.  Surprisingly smooth and easy to drink for a Chianti.  Chiantis are known for pairing well with food, but this wine could easily be drunk on its own.  It could go with anything from roasted chicken with herbs, to mushroom risotto, to spaghetti and meatballs.  It's totally all-purpose.  It even paired well with an apple-berry crumble that I made, based on this recipe (I used cranberries).

Verrazzano Rosso 2012 -- Earthier, spicier, richer than the Monrosso.  Aromas/flavors of red and black fruits, cocoa, and spice.  Higher in tannin than the Monrosso, but a bit lower in acid.  13.5% alcohol. Heavier, but could still be drunk on its own or paired with food.  This really opened up nicely after it had a chance to breathe in the glass for about 15 minutes.  I'd pair this one with something a little richer and heavier - pot roast, roasted lamb, or something with tomatoes and herbs.

I liked both of these wines.  The best part:  they are less than $15 at Whole Foods.  They are a great value at that price, and versatile enough to go with whatever weeknight meal you're cooking.  Give them a try!

Whole Foods Twitter Tasting Tonight!

Whole Foods has organized another Twitter tasting of Italian wines this evening from 7-8 pm.  Head to Whole Foods and taste these 4 featured wines, which are all under $16.  Then join the conversation about them on Twitter using #WFMwine.

  • Caposaldo Pinot Grigio
  • Monrosso Chianti 
  • Verrazzano Rosso 
  • Presto Prosecco

I'll be tasting the reds with some of my favorite wine drinkers, and tweeting my thoughts from @ClearLakeWine.

Here are Whole Foods' notes on the wines I'll be tasting:

Monrosso Chianti – Lavender and cranberry aromas blend in this soft, rich ruby red wine. Gentle tannins, abundant fruit, and a well-balanced finish characterize this textbook Chianti.
Suggested Pairings: Parmigiano Reggiano, grilled salmon, roasted lamb chops, pasta carbonara, pizza, and Puttanesca Pasta

Verrazzano Rosso – This red has complex aromas of fresh fruits and violets followed by Tuscan herbs, black currant and pomegranate flavors that move to a smooth finish.
Suggested Pairings: Pecorino Toscano, osso buco, gnocchi, hummus, rosemary flatbread, and Sun-Dried Tomato and Salami Couscous Salad

Join us tonight!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Burgundy, Bottle Aging, and Tertiary Aromas

I’ve pointed out before that many of us keep our wine for too long, and that most wines don’t improve after the first few years in the bottle.  Of course, there are exceptions to that rule, and one of them is Burgundy. This week I attended a tasting, hosted by the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB), of older vintages of Burgundy from 1996 to 2006.  These wines were amazingly fresh and fruity for their age.  Some of them were still improving and could last another several years (or 10). 

Let’s briefly review what happens when wine ages:
  1. The molecules of acid and alcohol bind together in new and exciting ways, creating additional, more complex flavor and aroma compounds. (more on that here)
  2. Tannins soften and mellow (and eventually begin to precipitate out of the wine, creating sediment).
  3. Fruit aromas change from fresh to dried, and eventually fade, while the non-fruit aromas (like earthiness or minerality) become more prominent.
In tasting notes, you sometimes see wine aromas described as primary, secondary, or tertiary.  This has to do with #3 above.  Primary aromas come from the fruit itself.  Secondary aromas come from the winemaking process (oak aging, malolactic fermentation, aging on the lees, etc.).  Tertiary aromas come from bottle aging.  In older wines, the primary aromas move to the back seat, and the secondary and tertiary aromas start driving.  For instance, a young Burgundy that is primarily fruity with a hint of earth and sweet spice could potentially age into an amazing Burgundy like the one I tasted a few weeks ago that smelled like incense – seriously, it smelled just like church on Easter.  The fruit character was still there, but muted, and the sweet spice aromas had evolved into an intoxicating incense bouquet.  (This kind of transformation won’t happen every time – just with the best wines under the right conditions – and it will depend on what the original aromas were.)

Back to Burgundy...  Both red and white Burgundies are capable of aging well, as long as they are stored properly (in a cool, dark place, not too dry, and not bumped around too much).  Burgundy's wine regions – also called appellations, AOCs, or AOPs – are divided into a hierarchy.  Grand cru is the top, then premiere, then village, then regional.  Here's a handy list of all the appellations from the BIVB website, which indicates which level in the hierarchy each appellation holds.  For long-term aging (10+ years), focus on appellations at the village level or above.  The Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune sub-regions are particularly known for good quality and ageability.  These can be expensive, so if you have less money to spend, a cheaper bottle can still age, just maybe not as long.  Burgundy is one of the increasingly rare regions where the wines are built to age.

I plan to create my own cheat sheet for Burgundy at some point, but for now, check out the one from Wine Folly below.  All those appellation names are what you will look for on the bottles!  (click to enlarge)

You may also want to read:
A little chemistry explains a lot
Is your wine over the hill?
French Wine Cheat Sheet
Chardonnay Cheat Sheet
Pinot Noir Cheat Sheet