The benefits of wine for mind and body

Jean Gardiés, of Domaine Gardiés in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France, offers up some barrel samples from his organic winery.

Wine is a magical, mystical elixir, a panacea that can help shape a lifestyle and promote health. When consumed responsibly and in moderation, wine can be empowering in a number of ways. We have all read of the health benefits of drinking red wine, particularly for protecting against heart disease and heart attack. But recent studies point to similar protective benefits from white wine consumption. The skin of red grapes is found to be rich in antioxidants called flavonoids. The pulp of red and white wine grapes contains these flavonoids as well, suggesting a similar benefit between reds and whites.

Other health benefits include reduced risk of certain cancers, stroke, type 2 diabetes and even cataracts. Tannat is a powerful grape rich in antioxidant flavonoids and is indigenous to the southwest of France. Locals regularly consume mountains of foie gras, cheese and other high-fat foods that would normally point to a high rate of heart disease and heart attacks in the population. But researchers have found a lower-than-normal disease rate, known as the French paradox. Regular consumption of Tannat wine seems to counter the effects of the French diet, protecting arteries and hearts.

But wine is so much more than a beverage to promote health and longevity. I enjoy the ritual of wine. At the end of the day, when the bulk of my obligatory work is completed, I will pour myself – and anyone near me – a glass of wine. This is a signal to my brain that I have put in the time, I have put in the effort. I made the day productive and now it’s time to put it away and morph into a different mode of relaxation, recreation, entertainment and fun. I believe having the ability to relax is as beneficial to health as the actual consumption of wine. And if wine is the catalyst to relaxation, so much the better.

It should come as no surprise that wine is a social lubricant. At any party, listen to the laughter and volume level change as the effects of a few glasses of wine are felt. Conversations may become more personal and soul-baring through in vino veritas, or “in wine, truth.” Friendships are forged and explored. After the hustle and bustle of the day, wine at a party can help change hierarchical relationships, softening the boundary between a boss and an employee, for example.

If knowledge is power, then increasing your wine knowledge can lead to powerful wines. Long before I studied wine and became a wine writer, I had a keen interest in wine. Too many people drink wine without really tasting it. I like to swirl it in the glass, take a sip and push it around my mouth with my tongue and inhale it to breathe in and feel the flavors and textures. I like to discuss it briefly and hear what others might be experiencing. And because I have learned the nuances of wine descriptions and enjoy savoring quality wines, friends of mine like to share their trophy vintages. One friend of mine in Vermont will often open multiple, very expensive bottles in his home. If I’m late, he will have poured off a small glass of each bottle for me to experience. At Le Château restaurant in South Salem, the owners would sometimes bring me tastes of older vintages to confirm their soundness before serving any to an MVP table.

Another friend and his wife were in Bordeaux a few years ago. They knocked on the door of a favorite château to compliment the owner on his wines. The owner invited them in and opened some wine, explaining the difference between left bank and right bank Bordeaux. The left, or southern, bank is warmer and Cabernet Sauvignon will ripen readily there. The right, or northern, bank is planted with considerably more Merlot because it will ripen earlier before the frost. He explained to my friend that the left bank wines are more tannic while the right bank wines are fruitier. He then poured a glass for each of them and asked, “Well? Right bank or left bank”? After a proper taste, Berni, my friend, said, “Definitely left bank.” His host said, “Bravo. Viens avec moi. Come with me.” And with that they were escorted into the cellar where they tasted multiple barrel samples and some older vintages. Berni’s knowledge got them the insider tour.

Wine is a great conversation starter. If you see someone you might be interested in with a glass of wine in her hand, an easy opening line might be, “What are you drinking? Do you like it?” And before you know it, you have a new friend.

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