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The REALConnection Between Wine and Your Health

Vinted on June 2, 2008 binned in best of, wine health


What’s the REAL connection between wine and your health?

Anyone who hasn’t been living the past few years on that crazy Lost island (with the ghosts and tropical polar bears and droll plot lines) has likely heard that wine is purported to have benefits to your overall health.

But the connection between better health and wine is not as straightforward as you might think. In fact, far from being a direct link, the wine/health connection is more like a Homeric journey, full of unexpected twits and turns.

A journey that is detailed in this post, with the Dude here acting as your host, as we visit the science lab, examine the (non-Karmic) laws of cause and effect, stop in Galapagos, and give a nod to Quantum Theory, while also troubleshooting my home wireless network. Also involved, unavoidably, is France (hey, we are talkin’ wine here, after all), and we end unexpectedly at MSNBC (where nobody really goes!).

It will all make sense in a minute or two (okay, maybe 5). So pack your intellectual bags, and let’s get rolling on the road to wine & health…

Ever since the (in)famous 60 Minutes special exploring the French Paradox (told you we couldn’t avoid France), scientific studies have been trying to test if wine consumption is the de facto reason behind why France’s high-fat-diet eating residents don’t keel over in their 30s from heart attacks.

To even begin to answer whether or not wine is or isn’t imparting various health benefits, including seemingly being the elixir of long life for the French, I’ve gotta explain the difference between scientific theory, and medical fact.

In science, it can be difficult to prove things as being indisputably true. In fact, whenever scientists state that something has been solved, you can bet within 10 years it will get turned totally on its ear. Which is partly why we have theories instead. Quite often, a scientific theory is never called fact, especially if it’s complex. Over time, if it stands up to enough quantitative evidence then it is taken to be true, even though to actually prove it might remain improbable. Good examples of this are certain aspects of Quantum Mechanics, as well as Dawin’s island turtle-inspired theory of Evolution – it’s unlikely that we can ever prove this theories unequivocally, but because they so accurately predict events in our universe, and are backed up by overwhelming amounts of scientific evidence, you’d be kind of nuts not to treat them as fact.

In science, it can be difficult to prove things as being indisputably true. In fact, whenever scientists state that something has been solved, you can bet within 10 years it will get turned totally on its ear.

That’s a bit different than medical facts. Medicine is concerned with cause and effect relationships. I.e., identifying positively that you have a certain disease that is causing your symptoms, and treating that disease as effectively as possible.

To illustrate the difference, let’s take a practical example from the House of Dude. Let’s say my wife calls me and tells me that she can’t get to the Internet via our home network. [Editors note: you have my permission to take a break at this point, and get yourself a glass of wine… but I swear to the heavens that this post will eventually teach you something about wine… hang in there, people!]. If when I get home I discover that the wireless router has been turned off, then I’ve got a pretty good case for having proved a cause-effect relationship why Mrs. Dudette didn’t have Internet access. BUT… I can’t then theorize that I every time my wife calls me, her Internet access will be down – that prediction would get me into a lot of trouble!

Okay, but back to wine, what does this all mean for the average wine-drinkin’ Joe or Jane?

Certain compounds found within wine have been proven to have potential health benefits. Of this, there can be little doubt based on the scientific evidence carried out in statistically meaningful studies. The potential list of health-friendly (including cardiovascular and anti-oxidant) wine compounds and their effects on your health is a long one so I won’t reprint it here. [ Check out these handy lists from WinePros.org and BeekmanWine.com for detailed info. on that. ]

Little evidence exists to suggest that wine itself is the de-facto cause of those health benefits. At least, not in the ‘Surgeon General can endorse it’ sense. It may feel obvious to normal folks that if wine has compounds that are good for you, then wine is probably the cause of the positive health benefits seen in wine consumers during scientific studies. But scientifically that conclusion cannot safely be drawn from the findings of existing studies (especially not in the medical field). For now, it’s just a guess – a reasonable one, but a guess nonetheless.

It may feel obvious to normal folks that if wine has compounds that are good for you, then wine is probably the cause of the positive health benefits seen in wine consumers during scientific studies. But scientifically that conclusion cannot safely be drawn from the findings of existing studies.

Plenty of evidence exists to link alcohol abuse to poor health. This one is also supported by a great deal of evidence, so it does not follow at all that if wine is good for you, more wine is better for you. In fact, exactly the opposite is true – alcohol abuse can be deadly to your health.

What’s scary is that fewer and fewer people seem to be getting the message. Check out this (non-scientific) poll from MSNBC for starters – not a perfect example but it shows that more people in that survey are drinking daily than not. Add in the rise in health-care costs from rising alcohol abuse in the States and in the UK, and you have a troubling trend on your hands.


Maybe the French Paradox has less to do with what the French eat and drink, and more with how they approach life in general. One of the code ideas of Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat is that French culture teaches how to respect food and wine, leading ultimately to true enjoyment of it with all of your senses (and away from abuse). While we’re probably never going to unequivocally prove that one, there just might be enough evidence to treat it as true…

Cheers!

(images: hwcoc.org, novusvinum.com, wordinfo.info, msnbc.msn.com)

3 Things Your Dog Can Teach You About Wine Appreciation

Vinted on May 30, 2008 binned in best of, learning wine, wine appreciation, wine tasting, wine tips

I’m a dog guy.

While I don’t hate cats, I don’t love cats, either. Mostly, I get along best with the cats that think they’re dogs anyway. Since this post is going to be about my schooling of wine appreciation literally going to the dogs, my apologies in advance to those who are cat lovers. I’ve never been taught anything about wine appreciation from a cat (more on learning wine stuff from domesticated house pets in a minute) – though they have taught me the art of totally ignoring people.

Since Mrs. Dudette has most of the newborn baby dudette feeding responsibilities, Dude here has been given primary Dog Duty at the House of Dude. I’m the one who now has to feed and walk my wife’s Weimaraner, Samson (see pic above). (Actually, to be fair, after 7+ years together old Sammy is just as much my dog now as he is hers).

Sammy has been a great sport throughout the whole adjusting-to-the-baby thing, and he is very, very sweet with the baby. Having to walk the dog more often than I used to has made me take more notice of Sam’s behaviors – such as licking the baby, sniffing around, licking himself, sniffing the baby, licking himself, and licking himself (did I mention licking himself?).

By observing Sam, I’ve actually learned a bit about wine appreciation. And no, it doesn’t involve drinking so much that you want to sniff someone’s butt, unless that’s your thing (licking yourself is also optional). Though it does apparently involve startling segues from dog licking to wine tasting… maybe I should have thought about that one a bit more…

Anyway, straight from the home office in suburban eastern-PA, here are 3 Things that Your Dog Can Teach You About Wine Appreciation

  1. Short, concentrated sniffs work best. Dogs have some of the best senses of smell around – and Weimaraners have one of the best noses in the doggie business. When my dog smells something, he doesn’t take a long, drawn-out, overly-dramatic sniiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiffffff. He takes a burst of short, concentrated sniffs. Sniff… sniff-sniff… sniff-sniff-sniff-sniiiiiifff.

    Turns out there is a lot of merit in that approach if you really want to smell something thoroughly – and in the case of wine, smelling is where you will get about 80% of your enjoyment and appreciation. Shorter sniffs help to focus your olfactory senses, and may also help to keep your sense of smell from fatiguing too quickly. The sharper your sense of smell, the more you can pinpoint what aspects you like (or don’t like) about the wine that your tasting.

    In the case of wine, smelling is where you will get about 80% of your enjoyment and appreciation for your glass of vino.

  2. Focus, focus, focus. Ever try to move a dog from a spot when he is smelling it during a walk? If not, I encourage you to do this as a test of your own upper limits of frustration. My dog will frequently stop in his tracks, plant his nose into a smell, and lock all four powerful legs so tightly that it would take a tow truck, steel cables, and an act of Congress to move him from whatever he is sniffing at that moment.

    When a dog is really smelling something, nothing can break his concentration. At that point, there is no walk, there is no leash, there is no master – there is only the smell. If you want to experience everything that a wine has to offer, you’d do well to imitate the concentration that the average dog gives to any random oder in which s/he gets interested. With that kind of focus, you’d be on your way to wine-tasting pro status in no time.

  3. Don’t rush it. Once my dog stops smelling something and decides to start eating it, he is an shining example of what not to do when enjoying a wine (or any food or drink, for that matter). My dog will inhale food that he really likes. He will eat it so quickly, you would think there was a pack of angry, hungry velociraptors waiting 7 inches away from him ready to steal his morsels should he take more than 14 nanoseconds to eat them. The tastier the treat, the less he chews (or breathes) before swallowing.

    Which is exactly what you don’t want to do when enjoying a wine. Take your time. Savor it. That glass isn’t going anywhere, man. Relaaaax. See, isn’t that nice? Sniff. Swirl. Focus. And enjoy.

    Now, go walk that dog!


Cheers!

(images: 1WineDude.com, nytimes.com, galacticpudding, javelinaleapwinery.com)

5 Common Wine Drinking Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)

Vinted on May 9, 2008 binned in best of, wine appreciation, wine buying, wine tasting, wine tips


Whoops.

Everyone makes mistakes. In the case of the Dude here, mistake frequency is pretty much daily. Thankfully, almost every mistake is an opportunity to learn.

Fortunately for you, the Dude here has made plenty of mistakes when it comes to drinking and appreciating wine. That means that you don’t have to make all of those same mistakes, my friend! You can thank me later (preferably with a bottle or two of `82 Mouton…).

Anyway – following are Top 5 of the most common mistakes in wine drinking and wine appreciation that I’ve come across (or made myself) during my life dabbling in the wine biz. Hopefully these help you to avoid the same…

  1. The Over-pour. Far and away, the most common mistake that I’ve seen is over-pouring wine into your wine glass. Believe it or not, being skimpy in this case is not being wimpy – pouring the right amount of wine is what you need to do to allow you to really enjoy the wine in your glass.

    Filling that glass to the brim is being generous only in the extra amount of calories that you’re consuming. It’s a killer for wine enjoyment because a) it prevents the wine’s aromas from being concentrated towards your nose (where they belong), b) it prevents you from swirling the wine in your glass (which releases those wonderful aromas and flavors in the first place) and c) it makes you much more likely to spill your wine (and you probably paid good money for it!).

    At this point you’re probably thinking, “Wait a second Dude – waiters do the Over-pour all the time in restaurants. What am I supposed to do about that?” Simple: ask for a second (empty) wine glass. Now you have two glasses of wine that you can fill properly (which basically means filling to the bowl shape of the glass and not beyond). You’re welcome!

    “Filling that glass to the brim is being generous only in the extra amount of calories that you’re consuming.”

  2. Serving wine at the wrong temperature. Wine that is too cold will taste dull, with subdued fruit characteristics. Wine that is served too hot will taste astringent and will highlight the alcohol above the other flavors in the wine.

    In a word – Yuck.

    Now, you don’t need to be too anal about this one, but to get the most out of your wine, you do need to get the wine temperature in the right ballpark – and the right ballpark is different depending on they type of wine you’re trying to enjoy. Sweet whites and sparklers usually stand up to the coldest temperatures; hefty reds like Zinfandel and Port can withstand the highest temps. For more specific information, check out this handy chart of wine serving temps from recipetips.com.

  3. End-Bin shopping. What does “End-Bin shopping” mean? It means shopping only at those flashy, special displays at the end of the aisles in wine stores. Why is this a mistake? Because the end bins are sometimes where good wines go to die.

    If you already know the wine and think it’s a good buy, then you may have found a good deal in that end-bin. While it’s certainly possible to catch a great bargain, I’ve also seen on many, many occasions wines that are woefully past their prime stuck into the end-bin at steep “discounts”. Don’t totally ignore those end-bins – but it’s a big mistake to make those the only stops on your foray through the wine store.

    “…the end bins are sometimes where good wines go to die…”

  4. Ignoring the sauce. There are few hard-and-fast rules when it comes to wine and food matching. I only really offer people two rules: 1) Match the “weight”/body of the food with the weight/body of the wine (lighter wines with lighter fare, heftier wines with heartier fare) and b) Don’t ignore the sauce!

    A thick, flavorful sauce can turn a lighter dish into a heavy monster of a meal. So, if you’re pairing a lighter wine with that heavier sauce, you might not ever get to really taste that wine, as it will get totally overpowered. Epicureans take note!

  5. Not doing any homework. You by no means need to have fancy-schmansy wine certifications to appreciate wine. But a little knowledge about wine styles and wines from different areas of the world can arm you with a very important weapon when it comes to wine enjoyment: Context.

    What do I mean by context? I mean knowing what some of those wines typically taste like, and what foods are typically enjoyed with them. This allows you to avoid a whole heap of mistakes when it comes to wine appreciation, because it means you’re more likely to taste the wine in its proper context. Someone can tell you that they hate Italian wines – and if that person tried those wines with super-spicy Thai food instead of Italian cuisine, they’re probably not giving that poor Italian wine a fighting chance to be liked!

    Grab yourself a book and get in some wine learning. Take a wine class, practice your tasting, or host a wine tasting party. The important thing is to keep an open mind about wine, and be willing to learn – in terms of helping you avoid the most common wine drinking foibles, those two things will never let you down.

Cheers!

(images: chichesterdesign.co.uk, comparestoreprices.co.uk, oleswanson.com)

How to Take On a German Wine Label and Survive (WBW #45)

In this ultra-exciting edition of Tales of the Purple Monkey, Dude and Plumboo face off against a German Wine Label, as part of Wine Blogging Wednesday #45 (this month hosted over at the venerable Winecast.net).

AND LIVE TO TELL THE TALE!

WARNING: This post contains German words. Proceed with EXTREME CAUTION!!

To give you an appreciation of just how dangerous this mission was, we offer an excerpt regarding hunting the German Wine Label (GWL) from noted South African wildlife specialist Clive Walker’s Signs of the Wild:

“One should always approach a GWL with great caution. They have poor eyesight and hearing, but have a keenly developed sense of smell. GWLs are normally nervous and will not hesitate to attack if they are disturbed, especially when young. When threatened, they will prominently display their Amtliche Prüfungsnummer, and Winzergenossenschaft, if present. GWLs are dangerous if wounded or when continuously pursued, hunted, or annoyed. An experienced wine geek may be able to drive off a GWL with appropriate knowledge of Germany’s 13 Anbaugebiet, and while easily hunted it presents an extremely difficult target when charging head-on. Should you encounter a GWL, remain utterly still – under no circumstances run. One’s inherent desire is to flee, but this carries with it the certainty of a permanent end to your days of fine German wine appreciating. There is no doubting the sheer terror that can run through one’s veins when going up against a GWL. It can turn your blood ice-cold – which, in a pinch, you may be able to use to chill a white German wine to the appropriate serving temperature…”

Or something like that, anyway.


“The only real way to disarm a German wine label, and thus open yourself up to some seriously kickin’ German wine experiences, is with a little bit of helpful knowledge.”


Hyperbole aside, the labels on German wine bottles can be one of the most intimidating encounters for any budding wine shopper. Which is one of the main contributing factors to the tough times that German wines have in the American market; the other is that they are primarily made from grapes that are not household names to most American consumers. Which is a shame, because German wines can TOTALLY ROCK.

The GWL will try to intimidate and frighten you with its cacophony of German words and wine regulations. The only real way to disarm a German wine label, and thus open yourself up to some seriously kickin’ German wine experiences, is with a little bit of helpful knowledge…

The fist and most important point to remember is this: ignore the craziness and focus on the areas where the GWL is most vulnerable:

  • Who - the Producer, which is usually easy to find and often displayed prominently on the GWL.

  • When - the Vintage year, very easy to ID.
  • What - the Grape & Ripeness level. Germany makes wine from several tasty varietals, but by far its most noble grape is the aromatic, long-lived and refreshingly-acidic Riesling (the focus of today’s adventure). Germany is cold. Because it’s cold, it’s not always easy to get grapes to ripen to acceptable wine-worthy levels; therefore, Germany has developed a series of quality tiers that roughly correspond to the ripeness of the grapes.

    This is where things get a bit tricky. You can see from the adjacent pyramid (courtesy of GermanWineEstates.com) that it’s not easy territory to navigate. The thing to remember is that the higher the ripeness level, the more likely it is that the wine is sweeter. This runs a pretty large gamut, from the tasteful and usually dry Kabinett to the ultra-rich Trockenbeerenauslese, which practically needs to be enjoyed with a spoon (or poured over waffles).

  • Where - the Region. Again, potentially tricky territory (ha-ha) here. If you stick with the major quality wine-growing regions (of which there are only 13) and avoid trying to sort out the sub-regions and individual vineyards (of which there are a boatload, some of which confusingly have the exact same names at different geographic levels), then you can navigate a GWL without too much pain.

    Germany’s 13 major winemaking regions have wines with identifiable personalities and styles. For example, Riesling from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer is steely and lighter-bodied, while wines made from the same grape in the Rheingau are known for their spiciness and heavier richness.


“With a little practice, you can fell the beast that is the GWL and be on your way to enjoying some of the finest wine made on the planet.”


An example of this in action can be seen in the following action photo of Plumboo with his felled prey, a 2003 Dr. Fischer Riesling Auslese from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region:


Not too painful, right? With a little practice, you can fell the beast that is the GWL and be on your way to enjoying some of the finest wine made on the planet. Hey, if a plush monkey with a squeak-toy for a head can do it, so can you.

Now, how does a wine like this taste, anyway? Here’s the review that Plumboo and I came up with after our sampling of the Dr. Fischer:

Aromas of flowers, citrus, and wet rock, presented in an elegant way (maybe even a tad understated). A palate that is well put-together, integrating a light body with citrus fruit and a healthy amount of sweetness. If there’s one element of the wine that’s not yet in sync with the others, it’s the bracing acidity – but give it 2 or 3 more years in the bottle, and it should come together quite nicely.

Now, sally forth and get thyself some German goodness. And don’t let those GWLs scare you!

Cheers!

(images: gapingvoid.com, germanwineestates.com, livinghistoryfarm.org)

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