Archive for the ‘Wine & Health’ Category

On one or two odd occasions (Sunday brunch for example), we’ve probably all indulged ourselves in an odd ‘beverage’ or two – maybe a Bloody Mary, Mimosa or something similar? For me at least, drinking wine or alcohol too early in the day has never felt quite right, but that’s probably just a person thing – each to their own I guess.

In recent years however, there are some worrying trends that have developed, all related to early morning drinking. For example, a common sight at many UK airports are groups of young men and women, enjoying their traditional full English breakfast….. with drink in hand. This sometimes extends to several drinks, eventually culminating in unruly behavior, even on early morning flights. The problem appears to be that once border control has been cleared, then normal UK licensing hours don’t apply, and so travellers are free to drink what they like. It is becoming quite a problem for the airlines – air rage fueled by alcohol.

I was a little perplexed therefore to read what I assumed to be a ‘serious’ article entitled “8 breakfast wines you should be drinking” – some restaurants are now apparently offering a wine list with breakfast. The recommendations rather depend on what you are ordering, but the majority of those offered are white, ranging from crisp, fruity white, to sweet white (intended to accompany your pancakes!). There is even one suggestion that a chilled, light red could be teamed up with your bacon dishes, albeit I find that eggs are notoriously difficult to marry, and most red wines would probably be rendered metallic, harsh and astringent by a ‘runny’ egg yolk.

Personally, I think that wine with breakfast quite a bad idea, and believe that a line has to be drawn somewhere, and round-the-clock drinking should not be encouraged. Whatever happened to ‘responsible drinking’ and ‘wine in moderation’? Has that now become an old-fashioned concept?

Apparently there is a very unique and different ‘style’ of wine now available on the market (although I’m pretty confident that it will never be made here in Galicia) – wine infused with marijuana. In California it is sometimes known as ‘weed-wine’ and in some local markets is now commercially available.

It may surprise you to know that this rather unusual blend was not originally cooked up by the fun-loving, open-minded Californians, but actually dates back centuries or even millennia. Pot-wine was sometimes consumed an integral part of ancient religious rituals, whilst in Chinese medicine it dates back as far back as the 28th century B.C. (so powerful that it could be used as an anesthetic during surgery). In any event, when this slightly bizarre cocktail was first used it was never intended simply as a way of getting high, but was used much more for its healing power and also relief of pain. In religion it was considered as an entheogen, aimed at spiritual development, literally ‘generating the divine within’ – which I think you could interpret in any number of ways!

Despite the fact that marijuana has now been legalised in several States, weed-wine is still not widely available, and in some of the places where it can be bought, it is still treated as more or less an ‘under the counter’ sale.

I have read that the most effective way to add this aromatic herb is by slow, cold maceration, and that the resulting wine has greater depth of flavour and a better structure. It is not mentioned exactly what this flavour is, but the ‘medicinal’ side-effect is ostensibly not as euphoric, but actually more mellow and long lasting. Certainly it would be a wine to be savoured with some moderation (if that’s your thing).

Finally, it is said that white wine better lends itself to these natural aromatics, a healthy marriage of marijuana and grapes, lower alcohol levels, giving a better balance to the finished wine. Who knows, Angela could become Galicia’s first “ganjapreneur”?

Vulcan wineI was recently sitting in a small village restaurant, grabbing a quick ‘menu’ lunch, to the inevitable accompaniment of the television in the corner of the room. The regional news was interviewing a local winemaker, who they were reporting makes the only vegan wine in Galicia! (I should immediately point out that wine classified as vegan is not to be confused with biological, biodynamic or even ‘natural’ wine).

A couple of months ago I made my own discreet investigation into biological and biodynamic wines by speaking directly to the Technical Director of our D.O. I simply asked him how many wines or bodegas are legally certified as such?

His reply was quite unequivocal. There is only one certified biodynamic vineyard in the whole region, but the wine made from these grapes is not…. biodynamic grape growing and biodynamic wine making are two completely different things and are certified independently of one another. To summarise, biological or biodynamic wine of the D.O. Rias Baixas do not exist at the time of writing.

Vegan is however, a whole different classification, and you could easily be forgiven for assuming that all wines might potentially be suitable for vegans. The problem is that there are quite a number of fining agents (commonly used to precipitate out the haze-inducing molecules), that are prohibited in vegan products – casein (a milk protein), albumin (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein) and isinglass (fish bladder protein). Fining, or clarification, leaves the wine clear and bright and is often enhanced by a final filtration that adds a bit of extra ‘polish’ to the finished wine.

The good news for vegans is that these days there are an increasing number of wine makers (including Castro Martin) who are using clay-based fining agents such as bentonite – particularly efficient at fining out unwanted proteins. Activated charcoal can also be used to produce vegan friendly wines.

So I am pleased to confirm that vegans can safely drink Castro Martin wines, happy in the knowledge that they will live long and prosper!

UnderwaterBy coincidence I have continued my recent theme of using film titles for our blog… I posted some time ago about underwater wine ageing, but now it appears that in the United States the FDA have expressed some new concerns about the practice. The Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has issued an advisory saying water pressure could cause contaminants to seep into the bottles.

“Overpressure on bottle seals increases the likelihood of seepage of sea water into the product, and biological growth on the container may contribute to the degradation of the cork which could contaminate the product when the bottle is opened”. The advisory warned that contaminants from petrol and oil to pesticides and heavy metals can sometimes be found in sea water.

For the time being the FDA will not approve labels for any underwater aged wine until more tests have been carried out. This ban will not change anything at  Castro Martin, as of course, we don’t use this method for ageing any of our wines, but I do know that there are at least one or two other Galician bodegas that may be affected.

AllergyI don’t know if it’s my imagination, but I have a feeling that there are an increasing number of people with allergies these days. It could be that we live in such a clean, sterile world (where children aren’t allowed to play in the dirt as they used to), that our immunity and intolerance to certain foods and materials, is slowly being eroded. Please don’t quote me on this thought, it is based solely on my own personal observations, and is not necessarily a scientific fact. Whatever the truth, I now find myself living my with own personal sensitivity…..

This winter I have been suffering from a throat irritation that only occurs when I am working in our bodega. This does however, exclude the offices, which are the only part of the wine cellar that have any form of heating. This being the case we are able to keep them dry and warm for the most part, during our long, cold, humid winters. My problem is that the minute I step out of the offices I can feel my throat tightening, and almost immediately, the irritation begins, resulting in a rather annoying dry cough. This is compounded when I spend a lot of time working outside the office, and means that sometimes I actually become short of breath. This week I finally decided to get it checked out. (Why are men always so reluctant to visit the doctor?)

After a battery of tests with a specialist in respiratory problems, resulting in a forearm that resembled a pin cushion, it was finally determined that I am now allergic to fungus and mold. Now, please don’t imagine for one second that our bodega is a filthy hovel, with dark, damp, black walls covered with mold, because I can assure you that it’s not – but inevitably, wherever there’s darkness and humidity, then there’s going to be fungal spores hanging in the atmosphere.

So, what’s the solution? Tablets? Stay in the office all winter? Well, apparently the suggestion is that I should probably wear some sort of surgical mask to filter the air that I breath when working in the cellars. (I do of course, already use a full face mask with filters for working with sulphur dioxide, but for this minor irritation that might be just a bit extreme!). I will have to try it and see.

steak & wineAnyone who has read my posts over recent months and years will know that included in my ‘soapbox’ issues are the conflicting reports that we read on a regular basis, concerning what is and isn’t good for you. The experts abound, each one claiming to make some startling new discovery, that contradicts everything we have been told before about what we should eat or drink to stay healthy.

There have been various claims and counter claims relating to wine, admittedly mostly relating to red wine. Some of the alleged health benefits include protecting the body from heart and neurodegenerative diseases, cancer prevention, and even a control for obesity. Without getting too technical the benefits are attributed to different compounds found in the tannins and phenols – these are the very same compounds that contribute to the colour and flavour of a red wine.

A new study in the British Medical Journal completely contradicts many of the popular beliefs about food and drink, the most dramatic of which is that saturated fats are actually good for your heart, and that the real killers are carbohydrates. The study is extensive, and will certainly leave you more confused than ever before about healthy eating – probably the best summary of the report can be found using this link.

NaturalSo what is your New Year’s resolution for 2015? To eat a bit less, or more healthily? Perhaps drink a bit less?…. No doubt all the usual ideas spring easily to mind. I did however read an interesting article the other day about ‘what not to publish in your 2015 wine blog’, and whilst the language was sometimes a little colourful, it did include one or two very valid, or at least thought provoking ideas that could help form the basis of your 2015 resolution.

For example there was a very interesting paragraph about natural wines, some of which I agreed with, and other parts that just made me smile. I will modify an odd word here and there, if only to clean up the language a little…. on the subject of Natural Wine. “Let it die. Your concern for the Earth and the holy temple of your body is fascinating, don’t get me wrong. But you’re boring everyone to death. Really. I’m not kidding. You’re just another middle-class white person who feels the need to instruct all of us on morality and taste.  I get enough of that in the news every day of my life. I drink wine to escape from people preaching at me. Fine, I admire you. You’re a better wine drinker than I am, with an incredibly sensitive and refined palate. You’re saving the world, if only people would listen!”

OK, perhaps it’s a bit strong, but I did like the part about drinking wine to escape….. I imagine simply kicking back, relaxing, glass in hand, not a care in the world. It’s true, you really don’t need people lecturing you about the rights and wrongs of a product created purely for your enjoyment. Let’s not over complicate matters, and get too tied up in the detail…… just enjoy!

He goes on to finish (still about Natural Wine): “You bought that Natural Wine produced in France, it was shipped in an ocean-polluting tanker to a busy harbour, loaded on an exhaust-belching truck to be delivered to a warehouse, driven in a truck getting four miles per gallon to your local wine shop, and you feel good about it because the guy who made it didn’t spray Roundup? Thanks. Now I get it. You’re a saint.” (Roundup being a brand of weedkiller)

The article was written by the Hosemaster himself, ex-award winning sommelier, Ron Washam, a contributor to the website of my friend Tim Atkin MW.

Deutz ChampagneGreat news!…. This time researchers have found that three glasses of Champagne a day could help ward off brain disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. (Four glasses and you might start not to remember anything!) Unfortunately, for lovers of Blanc de Blancs Champagne, this is unlikely to produce the same benefits as the compound responsible for improving memory is only found in the black grapes – Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

It is not the first time scientists have identified health benefits in champagne. A year or two ago the same team found that it was as good for the heart as cocoa or red wine polyphenol antioxidants, which are believed to reduce the effects of cell-damaging free radicals in the body. The memory aid found in champagne is actually a different compound, phenolic acid, and in this latest study, researchers found that it provoked a noticeable boost to spatial memory.

Having said that I believe that most of the tests carried out so far have been restricted to laboratory rats, but the scientists now hope to conduct a trial on up to 60 pensioners who will be asked to drink champagne for three years. My guess is that there might be no shortage of volunteers!

A spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK said: “This is an interesting study, especially for those who enjoy a glass of bubbly. However, people should not start celebrating just yet. This is the first time a link between champagne and dementia risk reduction has been found. A lot more research is needed.”

Posted in Wine & Health