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Healthy Beginnings to the New Year

by  Greg B. C. Shaw on December 28, 2012
Healthy Beginnings to the New Year

Resolutions

New Year's resolutions have a way of not sticking. Promises to go to the gym, read more, open a new savings account, keep in touch with relatives and even be more focused at work are often lost within the first few weeks of the New Year. Resolutions focused on health too often center on minutes on a treadmill or attending an aerobics class. Exercise is critical, but why not take on a New Year's resolution that will benefit your health as easily as lifting a glass of wine? For 2013, make a resolution to drink one to two glasses of wine with dinner each night. It's that simple. Wine is good for you and as many of you know, it makes life more pleasant.

A Delightful Paradox

Morley Safer started something back in 1991 with his groundbreaking "60 Minutes" episode called "The French Paradox." How did the French eat so many fatty foods but have such low levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol? There are a few reasons for this, but one thing stood out to many viewers watching Safer's report – the French enjoyed wine. Red wine specifically, and they enjoyed it daily with meals. Both the wine and medical industries jumped on this. Wine, as it turns out, not only contains resveratrol which can help keep you slimmer, but also antioxidants which help prevent heart disease and can lower the risk of a heart attack. Red wine in particular can lower "bad" cholesterol, greatly reduce your risk for colon cancer and slow the progression of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. There's even been evidence that red wine drinkers live longer than people who drink spirits or beer. Not bad for something that doesn't involve sweaty gym equipment or depriving yourself of one of your favorite beverages.

A Glass a Day…

It's become fairly common knowledge that a glass (or two for most men) of wine per day is considered healthy. But what exactly constitutes a glass? A glass of wine should be between four and six ounces. Restaurants, for example, often serve glasses of wine that are between six and eight ounces. Although most of us don't eat out every night, it is something to consider when ordering wine by the glass for dinner. Additionally, table wine is usually sold in 750ml bottles (not jug wine, thank you), and 750ml is approximately 25 ounces. Thus, one bottle of wine contains just over four "healthy lifestyle" sized glasses.  That's good news and it can make sense to have a bottle of wine with dinner for two.     

Calories also matter and while wine has many health benefits, like all alcohol, it also contains calories. In general, an ounce of red wine has about 24 calories and two glasses of wine (white or red) has approximately the same number of calories as a 10-ounce Coke. If you're battling weight issues, wine consumption should be counted into your overall caloric intake. Otherwise the other health benefits may be overcome by dangers associated with being overweight.

Red Wine

When wine is mentioned as a healthy drink, it's usually red wine that gets all of the praise. The flavonoids, resveratrol and antioxidants that are so beneficial in wine come from the skins of the grapes. White wine is typically made without contact with the skins, therefore greatly reducing or eliminating those key components (although studies from the University of Buffalo have concluded that white wine can improve lung health and also reduce the risk of breast cancer).

Of course, there are other benefits to drinking wine than just the straight-forward medical ones. Wine is relaxing and can calm you down after a hard day at work. The aromas and tastes of wine complement food and make you notice the tastes of foods more – which increases the enjoyment of eating. And one of the main enjoyments of wine is discovering new wine regions and wineries, something drinking a glass each day will certainly help you do. Cuisine Noir recently visited the Lodi, Calif. wine region (Discovering Lodi Wine Country) and introduced readers to several of the region's wineries. Ten years ago one might have called Lodi "undiscovered." That tag is hardly applicable now with bold Lodi zinfandels all over the market. The region, while still rapidly expanding, has certainly found the attention of wine buyers and the main reason is the excellent red wines.   

Klinker Brick's Big Reds

Joseph Smith is the winemaker at Klinker Brick Winery in Lodi.  Klinker Brick produces outstanding zinfandels from vines that are more than 100 years old! They may produce fewer grapes than younger vines, says Smith, but it's worth it to have that legacy.  In a recent conversation, Smith told Cuisine Noir about what makes Lodi and its famous red wines so special and he also gives his thoughts on why wine is so important to good health.

Klinker Brick's signature wine, what Smith calls, "our prized possession," is a zinfandel called Old Ghost.  Smith says that this shows "that you can really make good wine in Lodi." Klinker Brick has eighteen different lots of old-vine zinfandel to choose from and Old Ghost is made from the best lot in their vineyards. Smith adds that the grapes are given a lot of "hang time" (meaning they stay on the vine as long as possible before picking) to increase the sugars in the grapes. This produces a higher alcohol content and more intense flavors – trademarks of the Lodi region. Old Ghost tends to be a difficult wine to make because of the very old vines used and the low yields. It's definitely a small lot product and customers are limited to a maximum of twelve bottles when purchasing Old Ghost. (Check out some of the notes on Old Ghost and some of the unique packages.)

Old Ghost aside, Klinker Brick also produces a more standard Lodi-style zinfandel (big, bold and flavorful), a rosé (sold only at the winery) and a delightful syrah named after owner Steve Felton's daughter, Farrah. The Farrah Syrah is amazing and a standout. Smith says that people are "surprised that you could make a syrah like that in Lodi," but adds that it's not a typical syrah. This is true, and to me, it tastes like a warm-region syrah made in a zinfandel fashion. The key to this working is that both grapes, syrah and zinfandel, can produce a pleasant peppery finish and both are known for having fruit-forward profiles. Some of the more mineral characteristics found in some Rhône syrah wines aren't present here, but it's fruity and full of body – very much a Lodi-style wine. If pairing, as with most syrahs, this one goes fantastically with lamb.

And since we're on food, in response to a question about what foods pair well with Klinker Brick wines, Smith says that the options are wide open.  He says, "The wine is elegant. Soft enough to go with roast pork, big enough to go with a steak. Nice grilled steak – good with that." Of course, that's my kind of wine since I'm all about grilled steaks –even in the winter.

Finally, we came full circle after asking Joseph about his views on wine and health. He is less interested in what doctors say and responds right away that wine "keeps the blood pumping." "Opening a good bottle of wine… that takes away stress and brings people together." He relates a story from an evening when his wife came home stressed from the day. He opened a bottle of Old Ghost for the two of them. "After a couple of glasses into the bottle, she feels good, she feels happy again."

What other New Year's resolution can guarantee that? 

Greg B. C. Shaw

Greg B. C. Shaw

Dr. Greg Shaw is an assistant professor with the Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Administration at California State University, Sacramento, and the co-author of a book chapter, Tourism in A Bottle: The California Winescape. full bio

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