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Chez Thierry, Nassau, Bahamas

9th article

by Thierry Boeuf in The Tribune (May 22, 2001)


Red Wines health benefits no joke



Red wines are now almost prescribed by doctors in the US. No, I am not joking because it is true that, over the past ten years, medical researches have increasingly shown that a bit of red wine is good for the health. It helps fight high blood pressure and other problems that are heart or cholesterol-related.

Doctors started thinking about red wine¹s health implications because someone realised that people in the Mediterranean region, who are used to drinking red wine and eating food accompanied by olive oil, are statistically less susceptible to heart attacks and high blood pressure. The effect of unsaturated lipids - from olive oil to goose fat - has been known for a while, but doctors were still a little puzzled about red wine¹s impact.

It was Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered penicillin, who wrote that his discovery cured human beings but it was wine that made them happy. Now, he would add that it also contributes to good health, because doctors today consider it better to drink a few glasses of wine every day than none.

This causes me to digress to the fact that many famous scientists have involved wine in their work. I particularly like the idea that Louis Pasteur, who discovered microbes and invented vaccination, used yeast and the winemaking process to demonstrate his theory.

Coming back to health, people should consider what they do to their body when drinking a lot of soft drinks that contain plenty sugar, like some who avoid alcohol for ³health² reasons.

To have a drink with friends is also considered by doctors to be much better than taking anti-depressant pills and all manner of funny drugs. This does not mean drinking a whole bottle on your own in a few minutes, but sharing it. I would say that one of the best qualities of wine, in addition to the pleasure it gives you, is the conviviality it always creates.

Wine-lovers are rarely short of words, and the drink has inspired writers throughout the ages. You will find wine mentioned in books from Plato to Hemingway, with some French poets such as Rabelais mentioning it almost all the time. His name has become a French adjective that could be used a lot in the Bahamas, because it refers to someone who likes everything in huge quantities for a good life.

That question of quantity leads me to some advice I always give: It is better to invest double in a better quality product than to drink two bottles of a simpler wine. Concentration in taste and finesse, with wine as with food, help create more pleasure with less quantity, and I have always experienced myself that I drink less when it is better. When you do not taste the aromas or bouquet in a wine, you tend to drink it as fast as water.

However, I will always remember my time in Château Lafite-Rothschild, in Médoc, with great emotion because of the wine we drunk. That wine was so good that, even when I was talking with someone or watching the television, I still had to stop everything as soon as my nose was above my glass. Because of the intensity of pleasure this type of wine gives, I always drink it sip by sip.

Going on about health, I know that these days most products are marketed with the slogan: ³Only made from natural products². And, when it comes to wine, that can apply very well, too. As I wrote in a previous column, wine is made only from fresh fermented grapes and, if a small amount of sulfite is added, it is only to prevent the wine from becoming bad in a matter of months. My grandfather¹s wine, which had no sulfite added, was undrinkable after 10 months, except by my grandfather.

Recently, someone showed me a bottle with crystals in the bottom, which some customer had chosen to return. They thought it could be unhealthy and imagined that someone had added something to this wine. I would have thought the same when I was 16, when some bottles in my father¹s cellar contained the same thing, but I soon learnt that these crystals had no impact on health and no effect on the taste.

The crystals you can see in a bottle of wine are tartrate of potassium, and they come from the natural process of precipitation of the tartaric acid, which is naturally present in wine. It comes directly from the grapes without any transformation during the fermentation process, and helps ensure the acidity of wine, without which it would be very unpleasant.

We use the word ³flat² for wines lacking acidity but, even so, these are still very acidic, which helps them to be easier to protect than any other drink. Usually, the wine ages for a few months or years after fermentation - either in tanks or barrels - and this allows the excess of tartaric acid to precipitate before the bottling.

There is also a faster way to achieve this, which is used when you want to bottle rapidly. It consists of cooling the wine until it reaches a temperature of about four degrees Celsius (around 40 degrees Fahrenheit) for a few weeks. The cold accelerates the process and the wine becomes stable. But if you keep a bottle for a long time, that can sometimes still happen and there is no other damage than visual. That is one of the reasons wines are often served in decanters.

To conclude the health topic, I have to mention something I saw last week on the French channel. They were speaking about the world¹s oldest person a French lady who celebrated her 115th birthday last week. She still drinks wine everyday.