Drink: Case studies

Is red wine really good for your heart - if so, are some varieties better than others? Scientists and wine-makers are still arguing. Illustration by Rose Epple

Is wine really good for you, as an increasing number of scientific studies appear to be telling us? To get to the bottom of this complex and controversial issue, Safeway gathered together a battery of boffins in London last month to reveal the latest, cutting-edge findings on the subject of wine and health. Might there be an element of preaching by the converted to the converted? Er, yes. But actually, no boozer's charter emerged. No green light for your GP to prescribe Safeway's Chilean Merlot on tap. Not yet, at least. In a nutshell, the most that could be said for its health-giving properties is that wine, mainly red wine, taken in moderation, is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and possibly certain cancers.

Already a host of studies exist demonstrating that a little of what you like does you good. The evidence shows that wine, particularly red wine, contains anti-oxidants which, in common with green vegetables, tomatoes and citrus fruits, guard against heart disease. The latest evidence is impressive. Detailed research from Denis Blache of Dijon University shows that biologically active components that come from the skin of the grapes, known as flavonoids, act to inhibit dangerous low density lipoproteins (LDLs) in the blood. The most common flavonoids in wine are catechin and anthocyanins, but according to Blache, the most effective is resveratrol, which is also found in peanuts and mulberries.

Of the many disease-fighting proteins, resveratrol is a star because its anti-oxidant properties are highly effective, and it's found in significant concentrations in wine. Given the marketing potential in all this (something that won't have escaped the eagle eye of Safeway), will a new wine war break out, with different regions claiming to have the "healthiest" wines - namely, those with the greatest anti-oxidant properties?

It will come as little surprise to find that Denis Blache, from Burgundy country, found that "Burgundy wines are among the world's richest because Pinot Noir [the red Burgundy grape] is a good resveratrol producer ... both in young and older vintages."

Jenny Burns, who co-presented a paper from the University of Glasgow, argued forcibly - based on research into 60 wines - that the main factors producing anti-oxidant compounds are grape variety, growing conditions and the wine-making process.

Burns's research to date pinpoints Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon as being especially high in phenolic compounds, but she was careful to add that "some wines may be more beneficial than others, but we haven't yet identified a specific phenolic compound that could have a more beneficial effect". Clearly more consumption required in the name of science then.

Shortly after the seminar, meanwhile, it was reported in the journal Heart that, according to Jean Paul Broustet in Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, the Bordeaux grape, has particularly large amounts of resveratrol and therefore helps prevent heart attacks. Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon and Chianti Classico have also been identified as high in anti-oxidant properties. The spectre looms of health-seeking wine drinkers studying wine league tables for their resveratrol content rather than their inherent quality.

But then there is the question of co-factors: do the people who drink red wine (generally from a higher social stratum, in this country at least) have healthier lifestyles anyway, eating better, exercising more, smoking less, which could confuse the extent to which the wine is responsible? Only a couple of weeks ago, the National Heart Forum reported that the incidence of heart disease was declining, especially among higher income consumers, because of a healthier lifestyle.

Here the evidence of Federico Leighton, flown in from Argentina for the Safeway forum, was interesting. His study compared a healthy Mediterranean diet to an unhealthy high fat diet. Not surprisingly, the Mediterranean diet was clearly more efficient than the high fat diet. But equally, the inclusion of wine in both diets was shown to be an added factor in protecting against heart disease.

Throughout the seminar, speakers were careful to reiterate that wine consumption, to be healthy, must also be moderate and sensible. What use after all is a strong ticker if the rest of you is as pickled as a rollmop herring. But exactly what is sensible drinking? The official jury is still out on this one, since one country's sensible drinking guidelines are another's licence to indulge. Recommendations on what's a sensible amount to drink each day vary from 32g or four units in Sweden to 60g a day in France. Peter Duff, from the pressure group Alcohol in Moderation (AIM), was there to tell us that AIM is pushing for a worldwide standard.

Following the heavyweight scientists, it was left to Andrew Barr, author of Drink (Bantam Press), to sum up for the gathering, albeit devoid of scientific evidence. Barr likes to call himself a controversialist and in two areas at least he lived up to his billing. He was rather loftily dismissive of science and, more dubiously, dismissed alcoholism as no disease at all. In one area, however, he was less controversial, adopting the layman's view that wine is good for you because it relaxes you, gives you pleasure and enables you to enjoy life more. All unsubstantiated, unverifiable and thoroughly sound common sense

White of the Week

1992 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett, pounds 3.99, Majestic Wine Warehouse A special parcel at an astonishing price for a mature seven-year-old, from Germany's Mosel Valley. This is a featherweight (8 per cent alcohol), off-dry summery white with classic, appley fruitiness and the petrolly undertones which characterise the Riesling grape, as it evolves, from the vertigo-inducing slopes of Germany's Mosel Valley. This is the sort of genuine Riesling which makes a mockery of Liebfraumilch.

Red of the Week

1997 Capel Vale CV Pinot Noir, pounds 7.99, Majestic Wine Warehouse The curriculum vitae of this opulent red shows that it's made at Dr Peter Pratten's Capel Vale estate in Western Australia and from red Burgundy's Pinot Noir grape. Delightfully perfumed with cherryish undertones, this is an exotic, loganberry-fruity red with a smooth veneer of spicy oak.

Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Steven Fletcher scores the second goal for Scotland
cricketBut they have to bounce back to beat Gibraltar in Euro 2016 qualifier
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

    £6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing