A Finer Thing

Needless to say, for those of us who enjoy it, wine is one of the finer things in life. We know that the right wine is the perfect complement to a meal; it tends to enhance the taste of our food and effects a degree of physical and mental relaxation we know to be a good thing.

What could be better than a platter of steaming spaghetti, marinara sauce and a couple glasses of Chianti, or a serving of hot saginaki, pepperocinis and a glass of Retsina?

How about a couple pounds of steaming Beaufort shrimp and a half liter of a well chilled Chablis, or a slab of warm sharp Cheddar cheese, black olives and a glass of Merlot or Port?

Sure, there are endless combinations of foods and wines and consuming our favorites among them is something we all enjoy and look forward to time and again. But there are also benefits beyond pure enjoyment that have now become widely recognized by the medical community and we are encouraged, for a change, to consider them. Let’s take a look at the following chart.

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN WINE CONSUMPTION AND THE CARDVIOVASCULAR DISEASE MORTALITY RATE IN MEN AGED 55 TO 64
Country Mortality Rate per 1000 Men Wine Consumed Logarithmic Scale of 10
France 2.0 2.00
Italy 3.0 1.90
Switzerland 3.0 1.50
Austria 4.5 1.40
Germany 4.5 1.20
Belgium 5.0 0.90
Sweden 5.0 0.80
Denmark 5.6 0.70
Netherlands 5.9 0.65
Norway 6.3 0.45
Ireland 6.6 0.55
EnglandWales 7.0 0.50
Canada 7.8 0.65
New Zealand 8.8 0.70
Australia 9.0 0.85
Scotland 9.0 0.50
United States 9.2 0.70
Finland 10.3 0.60

[Adapted from a graph depicted in Schwitters, B. with Masquelier, J. OPC in Practice: The Hidden Story of Proanthocyanidins, Nature’s Most Powerful and Patented Antioxidant. (Rome, Italy: Alfa Omega Editrice, 1995), p. 74.]

Remarkable, yes?

Let me quote further from an article written by a Morton Walker, D.P.M. entitled The Nutritional Therapeutics of Masquelier’s Oligomeric ProanthoCyanidins (OPCs):

A main pleasure of traveling in France is one’s ready access to quite deliciously prepared foods, a large part of which derive from dark-meated poultry, breaded cutlets, sliced steaks, marbelized roasts, chewable chops, fleshy sausages, and other such domestically grown animal fat and protein. Most of these servings swim in the chefs’ concoctions of taste-tempting rich sauces, oceans of butter, whisked creams, rendered fats, and thick gravies. Being exposed to this kind of artery-clogging dining, any American tourist returning from Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Marseille, Nancy, or Bordeaux will likely discuss a particular French epicurean phenomenon. It deals with that country’s cultivation of refined tastes and how the population eats and drinks. The French devote themselves to a fastidious gratification of appetite by consuming their exceedingly high fat and sugar diet. Cooking with fats and adding refined carbohydrates makes their edibles so very palatable and savory but definitely unhealthy.

And France is noted for an overly inflated population of avid cigarette smokers. For a touring foreigner like me, unused to the blanketing layers of smoke sitting like polluted soup in a Parisienne cafe’, dining out is not too pleasant an experience. I remember well in October 1994 when during one of our writing assignments abroad, my wife and I drove over the border from Baden-Baden, Germany to the tiny town of Bischwiller, France. We had been recommended to do so in order to consume a certain kind of French pizza offering special cheese garnished with quantities of thin-sliced onions and the whole pie baked in a brick oven. The food was good but the massive amounts of cigarette smoke permeating the enclosed surroundings of that country cafe’ became intolerable. Almost every patron was smoking. Merely from the need to breath, we left the restaurant without finishing even a third of our pizza pies.

For the majority of French men and women, their truly destructive lifestyles should give rise to vast amounts of arteriosclerosis, heart attacks, and associated cardiovascular diseases. But it does not! French citizens have fewer cardiovascular problems than most other people of the industrialized West. Even amidst their dining on too much high fat food and inhaling excessive cigarette smoke, medical communities worldwide have labeled France’s heart-healthy phenomenon the “French Paradox.”

Except in the northwestern corner of the country, vineyards are found everywhere in France. No people have developed cultivation of the vine with greater art or skill than have the French. There are a great many species of vines and grapes. The main product, of course, is wine, but grapes for consumption as fresh fruits are important also: about 250,000 tons of grapes are sold annually in the French food markets. As a whole, vineyards in France cover more than 4,000,000 acres and winegrowers number about 2,000,000; the vine is thus a crop for small holdings, every farmer cultivating at least a few acres. But it is a very intensively cultivated crop and one well protected by the French government which maintains high prices for even the poorest kinds of wine.

Practically everyone in France drinks wine made from grapes-toddlers to the elderly. Growing up with such grape abundance, this massive wine consumption is part of nearly every French person’s culture. The influence of wine producers and distributors is such that in the French elections the grape vine has been called “political crop number one.” And the most influential legislators are spokespersons for the three main areas of vineyards producing the highest quality of wines: Champagne, Burgundy, and Bordeaux. A fourth, much larger area is influential too; however, it produces French wine that’s mostly inferior in quality but voluminous in quantity. This grape-growing area is the Mediterranean Languedoc, whose vineyards extend from the Spanish border on the Mediterranean to the mouth of the Rhone River.

A single reason for the “French paradox” was revealed by the British physiologist, A.S. St. Leger, M.D., and his two collaborators, A.L. Cochrane, M.D., and F. Moore, M.D. Dr. St. Leger’s article published in the May 12, 1979 issue of The Lancet affirms that wine consumption is associated with low death rates from ischemic heart disease. Wine-drinking countries such as France and Italy score at the bottom of a list of eighteen industrialized countries for the incidence of cardiovascular mortality. In contrast to the French, the Finns who are also notorious for their lousy lifestyle, have the highest death rate from heart and artery disease. Not much wine is imbibed in Finland. Other clinicians have gone on to confirm the St. Leger findings.

Among the French wine drinkers, there is nearly a 40 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease than for other people around the world who normally do not drink wine but rather imbibe other alcoholic beverages such as liquor or beer. The beneficial effect of wine-drinking has such an enormous impact on health statistics, that in 1995 French women reached the highest life expectancy in the world and their husbands are doing almost as well.

Is it the alcohol created during wine-making that has such a beneficial effect on heart health and longevity? No! It’s something else which provides this result. As has been examined by researchers, alcohol hardly enters into the equation for cardiovascular benefits since no such “French paradox” shows up from imbibing the many other types of alcoholic drinks. The above statement is confirmed when statisticians look at the mortality occurrences for alcoholics. They die earlier than most people, especially if they are smokers. Plus cardiac and arterial advantages seldom occur for those who drink whisky, vodka, rum, beer, gin, tequila, and the various additional forms of alcoholic beverages. The incidence of a “French paradox” happens only for wine drinkers.

I rest my case.

Needless to say, the consumption of any alcoholic beverage, or for that matter anything else, should be done in strict moderation. Else how can we truly enjoy? With that in mind, let’s enjoy our wine.

As for me, I think I’ll pour a glass of a fine Nouveau Bougalais left over from Thanksgiving dinner. And, oh yes, I think I’ll have a smoke too.

Oops.

(Much more on the benefits of consuming red wine may be found here.)

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