Wine is good for you. Or is it?
After 15 years or more of reading about "The French Paradox," I think most wine enthusiasts have become happily blasé about the hypothesis that wine in general - and red wine in particular - can be heart-healthy even among people like the French who, we're inclined to believe, regularly consume a diet of rich sauces made with butter and cream.
Study after study cascades down on us, trumpeting the health benefits of wine's antioxidants, free radicals and resveratrol, oh my!
Research really leaves no doubt at this point that wine consumption and cardiovascular health map to a "J-shaped curve," bottoming out with the best blood-chemistry numbers, on average, for those who consume wine moderately, a 5-ounce drink or two per day. Teetotalers actually don't score quite so well, forming the short shank of the "J" on the left. Those who overdo see their bad cholesterol and health in general plummet as their line on the right-hand side of the "J" soars skyward. So watch it!
But while the connection seems clear, causation remains opaque: We know moderate wine drinkers seem healthy, on average, but none of the major studies have resolved the question, "Why?"
Now, from the land of the French Paradox comes a second look: A study published last month raises an disconcerting possibility: The benefits may not come from the wine at all.
Dr. Boris Hansel, an endocrinologist who specializes in cardiovascular prevention at Hopital de la Pitie-Salpetrière in Paris, is lead author of a report on the study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. According to an article in USA Today, he said the study does "not at all establish" a causal relationship between cardiovascular risk and moderate drinking.
The study, which examined the health status and drinking habits of 149,773 French adults, "links moderate drinking to a lower risk for cardiovascular disease but challenges the notion that moderate drinking gets the credit," reported USA Today.
"Instead, the researchers say, people who drink moderately tend to have a higher social status, exercise more, suffer less depression and enjoy superior health overall compared to heavy drinkers and lifetime abstainers."
Added Britain's Daily Mail: "Although the research shows moderate drinkers are slimmer, less stressed and have a more positive outlook, alcohol, alas, has nothing to do with it. Their rude good health is more likely to be thanks to the fact that moderate drinkers also tend to have a healthier diet, exercise more and have a better work-life balance than both teetotalers and heavy drinkers."
The French researchers subjected almost 150,000 men and women volunteers to a series of tests, the Daily Mail explained. They were also asked about their education, job, how much they exercised and how much they drank. On this basis, the volunteers were categorized as teetotalers, low-level drinkers, moderate drinkers and heavy drinkers.
Mirroring many other studies, the results found members of the low and moderate groups enjoying better overall health than those who never drank or who drank large amounts. Men who drank moderately tended to suffer less stress and depression, were slimmer and had a lower risk of heart problems. Female moderate drinkers were also healthier, had smaller waists and lower blood pressure. For both sexes, moderate drinkers showed higher amounts of "good" cholesterol (HDL).
Doctor Hansel, the lead test author, said most previous studies failed to account for the reality that those who drink sensibly tend to care for their health in other ways. Said the Daily Mail, "this group often had a more educated approach to their health. They may exercise more, eat fruit and vegetables more frequently or take up yoga to cut stress levels."
Hansel added: "These findings suggest that it is not appropriate to promote alcohol consumption as a basis for cardiovascular protection." However, he did concede that "pleasure" is the best justification for moderate drinking.
I'll drink to that! I've never promoted alcohol as a "medicine," preventive or otherwise, and can't comfortably recommend that a person who doesn't like wine take up drinking for its purported health benefits alone.
But if you enjoy wine, isn't it nice to know that drinking it moderately can't hurt and might help?
To your health!
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Today's Tasting Report
Hirsch 2007 Niederösterreich Grüner Veltliner "#1" ($14.99)
Transparent straw color with glints of white. Appealing, benchmark Grüner Veltliner aromas, "lentil" and "split pea" forward, a dry touch of lemon zest back. Mouth-watering acidity on the palate, dry and fresh, tart white fruit, a textured mouthfeel with a moderate, food-friendly 12% alcohol. There's a hint of the "rainwater" minerality of GV, a subtle note just below the surface. An excellent, affordable example of this trademark Austrian wine, with a sturdy metal screw cap to retain freshness. U.S. importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.; a Terry Theise Estate Selection. (May 9, 2010)
FOOD MATCH: Its light, subtle and crisp freshness makes it a natural with subtly flavored chicken or fish dishes ... chicken with in a tarragon cream sauce, for instance, or our choice, a pasta with sardines (!) modified from a New York Times recipe.
VALUE: The "cute animal" label may suggest a budget-level wine, but in fact the middle teens is more than fair for a "benchmark" GV of this quality.
WEB LINK: The Hirsch winery Website is available in German and English. Here's a page featuring its Trinkvergnügen series (labeled "#1" in the U.S.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
Find vendors and compare prices for Hirsch Grüner Veltliner "#1" on Wine-Searcher.com.
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