Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk |

Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Kelly J. Hayes
Aspen Times Weekly

Sometime before the pioneering California winemaker Robert Mondavi passed away last May in his home in Yountville at age 94, he was asked what he attributed his longevity to. He replied that he had benefited from drinking wine every day.

Mondavi, in so many ways, was ahead of his time. He recognized that moderate consumption of wine on a daily basis could have many measurable, positive impacts on our health.

Just this month, in the journal Gastroenterology, a study was published that linked the consumption of seven to 14 glasses of wine per week to a 56 percent drop in the chances of developing Barrett’s Esophagus, a disorder that frequently leads to cancer of the esophagus.

As early as 1992, researchers at Harvard concurred with earlier studies and stated that moderate consumption of wine was one of “eight proven ways to reduce coronary heart disease risk.” Scientists have cited the flavonoids, the antioxidants that are abundant in red-grape skins, as being beneficial in reducing the production of LDL (the bad stuff) cholesterol, boosting HDL (the good stuff) and limiting clotting in blood.

The famed French Paradox studies, done at the University of Bordeaux in France in the 1990s by Dr. Serge Renaud, observed a marked decrease, as much as 30 percent, in the incidence of coronary disease in those who drank red wines and those who didn’t. Further studies have questioned whether the Paradox was accurate in describing the depth of the phenomenon, but numerous studies since then have also pointed to reductions in coronary disease levels and cancer rates amongst wine consumers.

And there is tremendous interest in new studies that show health benefits accruing from ingestion of Resveratrol, a compound also found in red grape skins.

Perhaps most promising, researchers at the University of Western Australia have concluded that “there is a lack of consensus on whether alcohol consumption may in fact be beneficial to erectile function.” Yes, according to their studies of 1,580 stout Aussie men, ages 20-81, who drank alcohol in moderation, the group was 30 percent less likely to report impotence problems. Regardless of age.

Despite all of the above, I am cutting back on my consumption for a while.

This is not a big deal, mind you, just a personal decision to drop into a lower gear for a month or so, lose a few pounds, refresh the palate. A little spring cleaning, if you will.

There are numerous ways one can cut back on wine consumption. Cold turkey works for some. But there are other options. Changing the wines that we drink with regularity from, say, higher-alcohol Zinfandels, which frequently contain more than 15 percent alcohol, can be substituted with wines that have much lower levels. In recent years there has been a marked increase in alcohol levels in wines as producers make “bigger” wines. But there are many producers and varietals that are much lower in alcohol, and sometimes trying new wines can be a revelation.

Then there is the obvious: Buy a half-bottle for a meal instead of a 750ml bottle. There are terrific wines available these days in the smaller size and if you are the type that drinks the last glass of a big bottle just because it’s there, then a half-bottle may be all you need to complement your dinner.

And nobody says that tasting can’t be an alternative to drinking when it comes to wines. I fully intend to sip and spit when the situation arises.

None of this is to suggest that anyone stop drinking wine. To the contrary. How one drinks, and even how much one drinks, is a personal decision provided no one but the drinker is detrimentally affected. For me, a break is a good thing. Period.

In most things wine I rely on the words of the late Robert Mondavi, especially these from his “Mission Project” of the 1980s:

“If wine were a prescription, we would prescribe two glasses with each meal because: it enhances food, it reduces stress, it encourages friendship and it kindles romance. In moderation, it helps digestion, it protects the heart, it promotes good health and it improves our disposition. However, if abused, it is unsafe, potentially dangerous and decidedly uncivilized.”

Hear, hear.

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