Tag Archives: resveratrol

Madiran wine and unravelling

The production of Madiran wine is spread over three departments of southwestern France: Gers, Hautes Pyrénées and Pyrénées Atlantiques. We visited two chateaux in the region last week. At the first chateau, when I couldn’t face another gory detail of the ‘chatelain’s’ latest surgical procedure, I ended up with my head between my legs to stop myself fainting. I suspect his technique is to regale wine buyers with the minutiae of his latest operation, and when their defences are down (or they’ll do anything to escape), go in for the kill; we had planned to buy 18 bottles of his excellent 2012 and instead ended up with 36!

Our visit to the second chateau was after a very long, hot hike through the vineyards, and I think that we probably arrived looking a bit dishevelled (our sartorial baseline is iffy to begin with). There was an English couple tasting wine, and either they’d been there a while and had forgotten to swill and spit, or they didn’t realise I was English, because the lady rather loudly and randomly commented to her husband that we looked like ‘a rather eccentric French family who didn’t know how to tie their shoe laces’. I thought this was pretty rich coming from someone whose companion was sporting an garish yellow daisy-print sunhat!

Classic Madirans are robust, earthy and quite ‘tanniny’ (wine critics the world over will be blown away by my wine vocab.), which is just how I like my wine (and men) to be. And the very best are aged in oak.

The polyphenols found in red wine in general play a key role in its health benefits by acting as antioxidants. Grape skins have high concentrations of polyphenols and in particular, procyanidin. Studies show that regions of the world with the greatest longevity also correspond to those with the highest procyanidin content in their wines.

The highest procyanidin content of all is to be found in the wines in the Madiran region and, as it happens, they also have the highest concentration of resveratrol, which is a sort of a natural plant antibiotic. Resveratrol is part of the defense mechanism in vines, which fights against fungus and other diseases. In humans, studies have shown it has anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, blood-sugar lowering and other beneficial cardiovascular effects.

As Professor Roger Corder, author of ‘The Wine Diet’ explains: ‘One important advantage of choosing wines with a high procyanidin level is that less needs to be consumed to achieve the optimal health benefit. The best results I’ve had in my laboratory have been from Madiran wines. These have some of the highest procyanidin levels I’ve encountered, as a result of the local grape variety, Tannat, and the traditional long fermentation and maceration. In contrast, mass-produced, branded wines sold in many wine bars and pubs generally have disappointingly low levels of procyanidins.’



The health benefits of wine


When I talk about the health benefits of wine drinking, I’m referring to very moderate consumption (five to seven glasses a week), accompanied by food. I’m afraid that necking the whole bottle on a empty stomach, while it might be fun at the time, does not count as healthy consumption!

There have been numerous studies conducted on the health benefits of wine, especially red wine. Without exception, the findings all suggest that it promotes a longer life, aids digestion, improves mental health, acts as an anti-inflammatory, protects the heart and even protects against certain cancers. Finally, the benefits gained from the pleasure of drinking a glass of good wine gives should not be underrated.

Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, was a big wine advocate, claiming it was something of a panacea. He used it for disinfecting wounds, diluting medication to increase palatability, alleviating pain during childbirth, symptoms of diarrhoea and even lethargy.

The anti-aging properties of wine have been apparent for over a thousand years. Monasteries were convinced that their monks’ long lifespans was due at least partly to their moderate, regular consumption of wine. Their conviction was later confirmed by The Copenhagen Heart Study carried out in 1994/95.

Wine provides valuable vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, but probably its main health benefits are due to its high resveratrol content. Red wine contains more resveratrol than white because it is fermented with the skins (white wine is not). Certain plants produce resveratrol to fight off bacteria and fungi and shield from ultraviolet irradiation.

A recent Spanish study found that wine, particularly red wine, reduces the risk of depression. It showed that people drinking between two and seven glasses of wine per week were less likely to be diagnosed with depression, even after factoring in lifestyle. Another study carried out at the University of Leicester reported that regular, moderate red wine consumption could reduce the rate of bowel tumours by about 50%.

It is accepted that alcohol consumption generally increases the risk of breast cancer. However, a study conducted at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles found that wine intake has the opposite effect. The chemicals in the skins and seeds of red grapes reduce oestrogen levels while raising testosterone  which results in a lower risk of developing breast cancer.

Another study found that moderate red wine intake can reduce the risk of developing dementia. The study which was conducted in 19 countries showed a significantly lower dementia risk amongst regular wine drinkers. It would appear that resveratrol reduces the stickiness of blood platelets, which helps keep the blood vessels open and flexible, which in turn helps maintain a good blood supply to the brain. The study concluded that moderate red wine drinkers had a 23% lower risk of developing dementia.

Red wine shields against severe sunburn, by virtue of its flavonoid content. It also protects the eyesight by controlling the overgrowth of blood vessels in the eye, a problem in both diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration. Drinking wine also boosts levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the body and it would appear that resveratrol improves sensitivity to insulin. Insulin resistance is the most important critical factor contributing to type 2 diabetes risk.

Perhaps most surprisingly, modest wine consumption is good for liver disease. A study showed that it reduced the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by half compared to people who never drank wine.

If you’re interested in finding out more about this ‘superdrink’, there is a very complete and interesting book, written by Frenchman, Michel Montignac called The Miracle of Wine.