Wine Talk: Le'haim

Over 400 studies worldwide concluded that most healthy people who drink wine regularly and moderately live longer than those who don’t.

Wine glasses toast 311 (photo credit: MCT)
Wine glasses toast 311
(photo credit: MCT)
Wine was considered one of the earliest forms of medication. The Greek physician Hippocrates recommended wine as being part of a healthy diet. The Talmud noted wine “is the foremost of medicines. Whenever wine is lacking, medicines become necessary.”
It was considered a healthier alternative to water, even until the 18th century. Water was dangerous because it carried disease. This may explain why the consumption of wine was so much greater in biblical times than today.
In the early 20th century the temperance movement became very strong citing alcohol as the root of all evil. This very strong movement backed with religious fervor, resulted in the period of Prohibition in the United States. Even today, the anti-alcohol lobby is strong, but wine has proved time and again that it should not be tarred with the same brush as alcohol and spirits.
A turning point was the so called French Paradox. The Bordeaux scientist Prof. Serge Renaud presented his research findings to America’s peak-time program 60 Minutes in 1991. It was a program that changed the wine world. Renaud proved that the French had fewer examples of heart disease than other countries, despite eating all the wrong things, like cheese, butter, eggs and other fatty, high-cholesterol foods. However, their high wine consumption was said to offset this.
This paradox was attributed to a phenolic compound called resveratrol, found in the skins of wine grapes. As red wines are made with the skins, the result was a tremendous boost in red wine sales around the world.
It certainly was not the only factor, but in the early 1990s 75% of the Israeli wine consumption was white wines. Within a few years Israel had reverted to becoming a red wine market. Today 70% of the consumption here is of red wines.
After this, further research indicated other benefits of moderate wine consumption. It was found that wine has antioxidant properties that inhibit cancerous changes in cells. It is said wine drinkers have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia. Over 400 studies worldwide concluded that most healthy people who drink wine regularly and moderately live longer than those who don’t.
Never mind the physical properties of wine, it also can affect calmness of the mind. Wine is a natural tranquilizer, which reduces anxiety, stimulates appetite and aids digestion. It is also socially acceptable. One sips wine with a meal. It is not drunk in shots like vodka, or gulped like beer.
Allergy to sulfites
There are people that complain of allergies to sulfites, a necessary preservative used in winemaking. No wines are entirely sulfite free, not even organic ones. However, to put everything in perspective, even dried apricots have more sulfites in them than a glass of wine. Less than 0.01% of the population suffer allergies from sulfites.
However, if you do suffer, note that white wines usually are higher in sulfites than red wines, and inexpensive wines sometimes have a higher sulfite content than more expensive wines.
Some people experience headaches after drinking wine. Though they usually claim this is because of the sulfites, it is unlikely to be the reason. Tannins and phenolic flavonoids are more likely to be the culprit. In this case, sufferers should drink white wine, which seems to cause less bother.
With the best will in the world, we sometimes suffer with a hangover (particularly after Purim). The answer is to drink water during your meal when you drink wine. This will stop you becoming dehydrated… and drunk. Failing that, when you get home drink a few full cups of water before going to bed. This is a better anecdote than the so called “hair of the dog” next morning!
Anyway, drinking in moderation is recommended and anyone should make decisions not based on my generalizations here, but on sound medical advice.
Organic wine
Winemaking is a more natural process than the production of other forms of alcohol. A wine does not have to be organic or the grapes organically grown in order to be healthy. However there are those that seek out the word “organic” on a label.
As yet, there is only one truly organic winery in Israel. That is the Bashan Winery, situated in the southern Golan Heights. Its wines are both kosher and organic. The grapes are grown in accordance with the principles of organic farming and with to a defined use of preservatives during the winemaking process.
Where quality is the primary aim, it is more practical for a winery to sustain an organically grown vineyard. For example, the Golan Heights Winery produces a single-vineyard Yarden Merlot and Chardonnay from its Odem Vineyard, which is certified as organic. So even though the resulting wines are not organic, the fruit is grown organically. Saslove is another winery with an organic vineyard.
Though not organic, wines made by both Carmel and Tishbi have been certified in the past as being suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery. He regularly writes about wine in both international and Israeli publications.