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Why not choose wine?

"If God forbade drinking, would He have made wine so good?"
--Cardinal Richelieu

The latest medical findings at the University of Illinois at Chicago conclude that wine, by killing a bodily bacterium named Chlamidia pneumoniae, helps to prevent serious lung infections. Thus another chapter unfolds unabated in the litany of clinical trials that find wine a healthy substance. We know from Biblical times that wine was considered a good thing. "For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red."- Psalms 75:8. Not only was it hygienically superior to water, but, in an age before dietary supplements, it provided key vitamins, minerals and calories to the diet. A quick primer of scientific data from the last 10 years includes:

  • Wine prevents ulcers by killing the bacterium Helico bacterpylori.
  • Wine contains antioxidants and a chemical known as resveratrol that help suppress some cancers.
  • Wine prevents strokes by breaking up blood clots and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol.
  • Wine has a calming influence promoting relaxation and stress reduction.
  • Wine drinkers are healthier than those who drink none (or too much).
  • Wine in moderation is associated with a 20 to 40 percent reduction in heart disease.
  • Wine consumption reduces the risk of kidney stone formation, non-insulin-dependent diabetes, osteoporosis and gallstones.

    One telling statistic is that federal guidelines on alcohol consumption, once thumbed down vociferously, are now positive. "Current evidence suggests that moderate drinking is associated with a lower risk for coronary heart disease in some individuals," states U.S. health policy. Beginning with The Society of Medical Friends of Wine, founded by Dr. Leon D. Adams in 1939, doctors now routinely recommend a glass of wine to their patients for many of the above reasons.

    But what if you don't like wine? There are pills being sold today containing resveratrol, a key compound found in wine that aids in health maintenance. But what of the other hundreds of chemicals and elements contained in wine, not to mention alcohol, which in itself has been proven to be beneficial in moderate amounts? Resveratrol tabs are better than nothing, but cultivating a taste for wine is far better.

    From early childhood we are influenced by the drinking habits of our parents. If soft drinks are the measure of our experience, then two strikes may already be against us. Not only are colas and root beers highly guzzleable, but their very pronounced flavors and high sweetness levels attune our taste buds to these components as the flavors of choice. It's no wonder that the far more subtle taste and lower sweetness of wine is often met with a cool response in uninitiated adults. Ideally, where wine is a part of family life, children are introduced to the flavor of wine at a very early age, even if only by the addition of a few drops into their glass of water. I recall drinking "pink" as a boy, where my parents would pour a bit of wine into my water tumbler. The same joke crossed the table each evening, and never seemed to lose its glee. It was the reaction after the wine was poured. "Oh, too much" one parent would scream, while I would immediately parrot this outburst. It was never really too much, but it made for a happy atmosphere and environment.

    Just because I was exposed to wine, doesn't mean that I shunned colas and soft drinks as I grew. The memory of chocolate cokes, birch beer, and all manner of vile lemony sodas is very clear in my memory. But the seed of wine at the table, including the taste, was firmly planted. I never actually liked the flavors of wine as a child, but it was an important ritual of belonging as I grew up.

    For those who would like to apply for membership in wine enjoyment, the following recommendations may help in the transition:

    1. Choose wines that have some sweetness in their flavors, especially on the aftertaste. Some examples are American, Australian or German Riesling. With few exceptions, these wines have a bit of sweetness and fruitiness that makes for easy appreciation. Native wines made from muscadine grapes (or its family member, scuppernong) could also be good "training" wines. A sparkling Riesling from Germany, sparkling Vouvray from France or Prosecco from Italy could be good starting points, as well. Remember that all these wines, with their residual sugar, should last two or three days and still be delicious, therefore the cost is not prohibitive. Also, since wine tends to dehydrate the body, a glass of water alongside your wine is a good idea, and provides extra liquid and refreshment.

    2. In red wines, many people find Beaujolais to be a perfect icebreaker. It's not really sweet, but its fruitiness and grapiness make it easy to enjoy. Many local reds also provide actual residual sugar that could make for a good starter. Rockford Red from Rag Apple Lassie Winery comes to mind, but there are many others. Ask a good wine merchant.

    The hope is that drinking wine, even if it extends your meal by only five or 10 minutes, allows for more relaxation, better digestion and a better mood to ensue. This has been the secret ingredient of wine for thousands of years. Since wine is usually sipped rather than gulped, it slows down mealtime just enough to help health in so many ways. Sharing the flavors of a wine can add to conversation, and perhaps make one appreciate the flavors of the food just a bit more.

    In a perfect world, one would eventually graduate to a less sweet wine, because the dryer wine refreshes more and allows the food to be the centerpiece surrounded by this natural beverage. Don't forget that "room temperature" means different things to different people. If you like your wine on the cool side, join the club. Wine was never meant to be a hot beverage. Lacking a cool running stream by your door, or a cellar, chill your wines a bit in the refrigerator so they are about 60 degrees for reds and 50 for whites. Or colder! There are no hard and fast rules.

    A "glass" of wine is defined as four to five ounces. Most guidelines recommend from one to three glasses of wine a day as healthful. Naturally, one's body weight may affect how quickly the alcohol is processed and absorbed. Three glasses seems to be the limit, as more than this can begin to put wine usage in the negative column, putting a strain on the liver, kidneys and the digestive system in its utilization. Good sense plays a role. If you begin to feel lightheaded, then stop drinking. Wine with food is the best way to get optimal pleasure and help the body process its ingredients.

    For dieters, a glass of wine is about 60 to 80 calories, and for Atkins aficionados, a glass of wine contains from 0.8 to 2 grams of carbohydrates: certainly no reason to eliminate this joyful stuff from your lifestyle. More importantly, wine does not raise blood sugar--it actually lowers it.

    Finally, the thought of a new wine to be tried at this evening's meal can lead to pleasant anticipation throughout your day and an extra pleasure sensation once the bottle has been opened. Looking forward to wine is a marvelous mind and body stimulant. In the words of Ben Franklin:

    "The discovery of a wine is of greater moment than the discovery of a constellation. The universe is too full of stars."

    Tasting Syrah
    I recently blind tasted 25 examples of the full flavored red wine made from the syrah (shiraz in Australia) grape.

    Here are the best:

    2000 Bishop's Peak, Central Coast $14
    All around pleasant. Overt and commercially styled. Your money's worth in an in your face, chunky red. Grade: C

    2002 Hanwood Estate, South Eastern Australia $12
    Charming, easy to like bouquet. Spicy, but not overblown. A claret style--medium bodied, ripe, stylish, slightly tart.

    Best ever from Hanwood. C+

    2000 R.H. Phillips, EXP, Dunnigan Hills $14
    Perfumed fruit, complexity that creeps up on you. Shows finesse, lithe mouth feel, long aftertaste. A touch of tomato. Somewhat French and Cote-Rotieish in style. From lowly Yolo County, California. B-

    2001 Cline, California $10
    Rollicking blended nose. A spicy, jammy, open-knit bouquet. A bit tart and astringent to drink. Better in two years, but will tackle smoky ribs right now. Good value. B-

    2000 Gibson's, Barossa Vale $40
    Big, wide, somewhat flabby nose that shows tons of earthy, fecund fruit. A contest-styled red. A blowsy wine that's accessible and powerful.

    Very good in a big boned, unsubtle way. B (Grade A, I would think, for Robert Parker fans)

    2002 Cline, Los Carneros $20
    Black, saturated color with ever so sweet fruit and freshness. Flowery, graceful and elegant. Special. A tightly wound-up flavor profile promises great things. Don't drink before 2007. B+

    2000 Tapestry, McClaren Vale $19
    Dark, "roasted," deeply fragrant. Seeming from the bowels of the land. Impressive, complex, but may be funky to some.

    A good example of Australian "terroir" with a slightly short mouth finish. Not for the novice. Intriguing and tannic! Cellar 2-3 years. A-

    2001 Penfolds, Bin 28, "Kalimna" $24
    Reticent, but its pure, balanced, gorgeous bouquet slowly draws you into its web. Agile and vibrant flavors. Delicious now--will improve for 2-3 years.

    Always terrific. A-

    Best of Tasting

    2000 Abundance Vineyards, Paso Robles, French Camp Vineyard $21.50
    Aromatic, refined, heady and fabulous. Delicious burst of springtime flavors. Beautiful balance and pleasure. A thoroughbred. Ready now. A

    Arturo Ciompi's WineBeat column appears every second Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at:


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