What are wine's health benefits?

I remember when I learned that my favorite fake sugar, saccharin, rendered rats cancerous after they ate the equivalent of 20 percent of their weight per day for months. Twenty percent of my weight in anything would kill me, too, probably of boredom first, so I felt sorry for the caged creatures. These days, researchers claim popping the pink packets at normal levels is fine, but who knows when that will reverse again. So it's with a healthy dose of skepticism that I consume any health news about wine. Drink one glass of red everyday, and your heart can match pace with that of Michael Phelps! Sounds like those late-night fat-just-melts-away infomercials, but studies continue to hype wine's miracles. And it tastes better than broccoli and fish oil capsules, so sign me up. Here's the latest wine-for-the-health-of-it news.

Life in a Pill

On a recent stroll through Sam's Club while loading up on my paper-product habit, I spied, among the thousand-count mega vitamins and antacids, a pantry-sized bottle of resveratrol, the ingredient in red wine that purportedly extends lifespan. Despite the slew of snake oils that claim to enhance longevity, this pill has research to back it up. Kind of. Super-huge doses of resveratrol have extended rodent life so far, although pharmaceutical companies are feverishly trying to develop a more effective (and profitable, I imagine) pill that mimics resveratrol's dramatic affect on small furry creatures. Ironically enough, they aren't squeezing millions of grapes to commercially produce the life-extending agent; many companies use a Japanese weed historically used in Chinese herbal medicine. Another ancient Chinese secret? Could be — many centenarians come from Asia.

Coming Soon to a Mouthwash Near You

My dentist practically swoons when he inspects my freakishly healthy teeth. Call it genetics, but it might be my wine habit. The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry published a report touting the tooth-decay-fighting effects of polyphenols found in fermented seeds and the skins of grapes, mostly red. These chemicals, which can be extracted from winemaking waste, fight the bacteria most often blamed for sending you to the dental chair.

Drink to Your Health

"Modest" wine consumption is defined as one glass of wine per day. I can't remember the last time I was able to limit myself to only one, though I'll probably die of stress long before death by cirrhosis. But a study published in June in Hepatology reported that individuals who drink up to one glass per day, as compared to teetotalers, showed their risk of liver disease was cut in half. In contrast, people who modestly drink beer or liquor had over four times the odds of having non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, an illness that affects over 40 million adults.

But according to University of Florida researcher Susan Percival, while red wine supposedly aids in the prevention of coronary heart disease and some cancers, no one has studied whether its alcohol content might offset any benefits. One bottle shared between two people (about 2.5 glasses each) seems to be the average American habit, which some researchers might consider unhealthy, causing an early alcoholic death by cancerous heart attack. Whatever. Wait a few years until scientists decide that, like eggs, the grape is good for you again. For now, I'll support their research with another glass of wine this evening.

Recommended Wines

Snoqualmie 2007 Chardonnay Columbia Valley (Washington) Recession Buster! Soft on the palate, with a perfumed, tropical aroma. Tastes like peaches slathered in slightly sweet, vanilla-infused cream. Refreshing citrus finish. Well made for the price. SW, HS, S. $11. 4 stars

Rodney Strong 2006 Knotty Vines Zinfandel Sonoma (California) Smooth and elegant, with blackberry and black-cherry vanilla cola. A dash of black pepper adds some spice. HS, S. $20. 3 stars

Sweet (SW), Hypersensitive (HS), Sensitive (S), and Tolerant (T). Find out your tasting profile at budometer.com.

For more science:
Grape Expectations: The Resveratrol Story
Grapes of Gnash: Red wine grapes may help prevent cavities

Disappointing Wine of the Week

Ehlers 2006 Sauvignon Blanc Napa, $25 Forward-thinking, charity-driven (100 percent of proceeds benefit cardiovascular research) and environmentally conscious, everyone should applaud Ehlers. This sauvignon blanc wine has uniqueness — flowery scent, lemon-lime and grapefruit on the tongue — but it's just not worth $25. At least not in this dismal economy.

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