Saturday, March 22, 2008

The top 10 wine spots in Miami

Indulge in Miami’s new nightlife scene

Wine bars are popping up everywhere in Miami—from North Miami, to the Gables to the deep south—and are quickly becoming the new hot spots. Sip a glass of Malbec at Novecento’s The Malbec Room on Brickell or savor the flavor by pairing bubbly with fondue at VINO Miami. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned connoisseur, wine bars are the next best places for happy hours, birthday get-togethers and, obviously, toasts! The best part is, there’s always more vino to go around -- no worries about the tap running dry. Check out the Top 10 Miami Wine Bars from a twenty-something oenophile (that’s wine lover for you beginners).

For the list with photos: highlight, copy, paste the link below to your browser & go!


By Tracy A. Block

Friday, March 21, 2008

Cognac's Cousin From Gascony

Armagnac has an image problem. To start with, not that many people seem to be sure exactly what it is. Kingsley Amis, in the "Mean Sod's Guide" section of his book "On Drink," suggested that the mean sod (that is, cheap host) can avoid the expense of serving a post-prandial cognac by presenting his guests a "rather exceptional" armagnac: "a watered-down cooking brandy from remote parts of France or from South Africa." Since few know what armagnac -- a French brandy not unlike cognac, but from the heart of Gascony -- should taste like, the average guest will be easily fooled, Amis suggested. But ignorance isn't the biggest impediment to armagnac finding the market it deserves. Far worse is that, to the extent most folks have heard of armagnac, the impression they have been given is that it is a pompous quaff for phonies and poseurs and heavies -- characters such as Senator Planet, Guy Francon, Sheridan Ballou and Eugene Lopwitz.

Senator Planet, in John Dos Passos's 1936 indictment of American avarice, "The Big Money," makes today's Abramoff crowd look like kindergartners. "I've been much criticized of late," laments the senator over a lavish dinner with lobbyists, "by irresponsible people of course, for what they term my reactionary association with big business." To punctuate Senator Planet's reactionary bona fides, Dos Passos puts a brandy in his hand and has the rapacious fellow proclaim: "Fine Armagnac has been my favorite for years."
A few years later, Ayn Rand picked up the theme. The novelist prided herself on penning caricatures of phonies such as Guy Francon, who in "The Fountainhead" embodies everything her architect hero Howard Roark despises. A rich and successful architect, Francon is intellectually lazy and stylistically derivative. Francon "hasn't designed a doghouse in eight years," but when he did, he was fond of such touches as "Corinthian columns of cast iron painted gold, and garlands of gilded fruit on the walls." And what does Francon like to drink? Armagnac.

Rand seems to associate armagnac with the most contemptible sort of self-satisfaction. The paragraph that ends with Francon declaring he has fired Roark (because "the insolent bastard" refused to mock up a simplified Doric design for an office building) begins with the boss bragging about how he buys his favorite armagnac for "a hundred dollars a case!"

Armagnac continued to come in for such abuse in Raymond Chandler's 1949 novel "The Little Sister." Sheridan Ballou is a Hollywood agent most notable for his pretentious affectations. When detective Philip Marlowe first visits Ballou's office, the agent strolls across the carpet swinging a Malacca cane. "It could only happen in Hollywood," sneers Marlowe. "That an apparently sane man could walk up and down inside the house with a Piccadilly stroll and monkey stick in his hand." Ballou soon has a glass of armagnac in his hand instead.

The agent pours a "pot-bellied" glass for Marlowe, too, and then congratulates himself for it: " 'Armagnac,' he said. 'If you knew me, you'd appreciate the compliment.' " Ballou then demonstrates the approved method for enjoying the drink: "He lifted the glass, sniffed and sipped a tiny sip." Marlowe is having none of that nonsense: "I put mine down in a lump. It tasted like good French brandy."

"My God," sputters the agent, "you sip that stuff, you don't swallow it whole."

"I swallow it whole," is Marlowe's blunt reply.

Derision of armagnac -- or at least of those who fancy it -- isn't restricted to mid-century authors. Tom Wolfe uses the brandy in "The Bonfire of the Vanities" to fill out the picture of Sherman McCoy's boss, Eugene Lopwitz. The financier, who has created a faux English manor lifestyle for himself, maintains a private jet he keeps stocked with a 1934 armagnac. "It's great stuff," Lopwitz crows. "That's the greatest year there ever was for Armagnac, 1934."

Unlike its cousin cognac, armagnac has long featured vintage dating, which is confounding to casual consumers but catnip to the sort of dilettante eager to bank impressively obscure knowledge. Thus armagnac's impression of fussiness -- a reputation that is not deserved.

If anything, armagnac is less fussy than cognac, which has been criticized over the years for being so carefully matured and blended that it ends up missing the quirky individuality natural, say, to single-malt Scotch. Though both cognac and armagnac depend in large measure on négociants -- merchants who buy up casks from small producers to age, blend and bottle under a brand name -- armagnac is decidedly less corporate than cognac. Which is one of the reasons that the Gascon brandy brands are generally less well known than Courvoisier, Hennessy and Martell. But it is also the reason that armagnacs tend to have a little more personality than cognacs. This is certainly the case with the single-estate, vintage, unblended armagnacs bottled by the boutique négociants such as Francis Darroze. Even the mainstream blended armagnacs retain a hint of rusticity that makes them a pleasant change of pace from cognac.

I went to my local liquor stores to see what nonvintage armagnacs I could find, and enjoyed most of them. They shared the regional style, which is somewhat drier than brandy from the Cognac region. Of those I tried, I particularly liked several, including the Cerbois V.S.O.P., that had a satisfying richness cut with a nice spicy note of licorice. The Laubade X.O. was dense without being heavy, with a taste of toast just shy of being burned. The Kelt Reserve de Chateau de Saint Aubin had a slight scent of smoke, but on the tongue was light and soft, with a lovely balance between its taste of fresh fruit and its buttery texture. The Kelt, by the way, ought not to be confused with "Domaine de Saint Aubin" a legendary producer of armagnac that is no more, the remaining stocks of which are being carefully (and expensively) doled out by Darroze.

If you give armagnac a try, don't feel obliged to swirl it in a snifter or sample it in baby-sips. Even so, please don't put it down in a lump.

Eric Felten

History of Armagnac

Armagnac is historically the oldest brandy in France, with references dating back as far as 1411 when it was used mainly for therapeutic reasons – hence nowadays a brandy being the drink of choice to calm the nerves following shock. This was 200 years before the first mention of Cognac and has always cast a shadow over the brandy it likes to see as a smaller, non-threatening, younger brother. Nowadays however it is Armagnac which is the rising star and big brother Cognac has a lot to watch out for!

Made in the Pays de Gascogne in the far south west of France, Armagnac has three distinct producing regions:

Bas armagnac: produces the most prestigious Armagnacs with a particular bouquet of plum.
Ténarèze: produces some highly perfumed spirits which are sometimes rather coarser than those from the other areas. It is responsible for most of the production of Armagnac.
Haut armagnac: this appellation has the largest territory but the smallest vineyard area with the smallest production of the three areas.

Armagnac is still mainly produced by small scale rural growers with some producers sharing mobile stills that are driven around the countryside at production time. The locals used to joke that when crows travelled over the region they flew upside down so they couldn’t see how poor the area was! Whether this is the case nowadays is doubtful but in comparison with Cognac where global producers are commonplace, this loyalty to the roots of the traditions of the Armagnac industry is one of many factors that secure a place in the hearts of consumers for this historical spirit
Key differences between Armagnac and Cognac:
Grapes Whilst Cognac is made largely from the Ugni Blanc grape, Armagnac’s base wine is made from a blend of several varieties to include Ugni Blanc and Folle Blanche.

Distillation The still used in Cognac is based on double distillation (the alcohol is obtained by heating twice) and the brandy has an average alcoholic content of 72° when leaving the still, the still mainly used for Armagnac is based on continuous distillation (although the same method as for Cognac can also be used) and the brandy it produces has an alcoholic content of 54 to 60. This continuous distillation gives a spirit rich in aroma (one of the reasons that Armagnac is noticeably more fragrant than Cognac) with a finish to match it’s reputation as ‘the dancing fire’.

Ageing Cognac is aged mainly in French oak casks from Limousin or Tronçais.
Armagnac is aged in French oak primarily from the Monlezun forest in Bas Armagnac.

Vintage dated Armaganc (a single harvest’s unblended produce) has long been one of the many marks of the individuality of the region (although vintage dating is becoming increasingly popular in Cognac).

The Oxford Wine Company is a local specialist in this particular area (having strong relationships with producers such as Delord, Gelas and Château de Tariquet) and displays single vintages ranging from 1900 to 1990, these prove popular with both connoisseurs and those seeking something a bit different for a special birthday or anniversary.

John Chapman


What is Armagnac? It is a result of a traditional distillation of white wine made of grapes from Gers and a few cantons (parishes) in Lot-et- Garonne and Landes departments of South West France. The name dates back to the gallo-roman times of Arminius. The first known distillation was in 1411 and first commercial activity involving Armagnac was registered in 1414 in Saint-Sever in Landes. In addition this area produces Floc de Gascogne; a fortified sweet wine. Partially overlapping the same area is an area producing St.Mont and Madiran wines. Today, Armagnac is produced in three areas of Gers and Landes departments:
Bas Armagnac; lies in the west of the region. Bas Armagnacs are delicate and fruity reflecting sandy soil of this area. It is known as Black Armagnac for its dense pine and black oak forests. Main town is Eauze
La Ténarèze; in the center of the region is an area where soil is predominantly clay and chalky. Ténarèze Armagnacs are more lively and vigorous. Their richness is best expressed through long ageing process. Main town is Condom
Haut Armagnac; to the east where the soil has limestone characteristics is the area which was primarily developed in the nineteenth century. It is called White Armagnac for its chalky soil. Today, Haut Armagnac production is very small but of high quality. Main town is Auch
Once the wine distillation is completed by 31 March* following the October harvest it is placed in the oak casks (pièces). All Armagnac ages in oak casks made of Limousin or Monlezun black oak woods. The ageing process allows reaction between tannic and aromatic substances in the oak to dissolve in the alcohol. The alcohol content decreases and the color changes during ageing process.
Maître de Chais (Cellar Master) blends brandies of different ages and origins to produce commercially available Armagnac. The minimum alcohol content is 40%. There are small quantities of vintage Armagnac which are available at their natural ageing proof. Once Armagnac is transferred to the bottle it stops ageing. It must be stored vertically to prevent Armagnac interacting with the cork.
Age of the sold Armagnac is indicated by the following designations reflecting the age of the youngest blend used:
*** or V.S. at least two years old
V.O., V.S.O.P or Réserve at least five years old
X.O., Extra, Napoléon and Vieille Réserve at least six years old
Hors d'Age at least ten years old.
In general, when tasting Armagnac you will recognize rich taste with hints of rose and plum of Armagnac from Ténarèze area. While Bas Armagnac will be finer, drier with more spicy taste of cinnamon, violet and wood.

A Primer on Brandy - Part Two: French Brandies, Cognac and Armagnac

Cognac is the best known type of Brandy in the world, a benchmark by which most other Brandies are judged. The Cognac region is located on the west-central Atlantic coast of France, just north of Bordeaux, in the departments of Charente and Charente-Maritime. The region is further subdivided into six growing zones: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Bois Ordinaries, Borderies, Fins Bois, and Bons Bois. The first two of these regions produce the best Cognac and will frequently be so designated on bottle labels. Cognacs labelled Fine Champagne are a blend of Petite and Grande Champagne. The primary grapes used in making Cognac are Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Colombard. The wines made from these grapes are thin, tart, and low in alcohol; poor characteristics for table wines, but oddly enough, perfect for making Brandy. Cognac is double distilled in pot stills and then aged in casks made from Limousin or Troncais oak. All Cognacs start out in new oak to mellow the fiery spirit and give them color. Batches that are chosen for long-term aging are, after a few years, transferred to used, or "seasoned," casks that impart less of the oak flavor notes while the Brandy matures.

Virtually all Cognacs are a blend of Brandies from different vintages, and frequently, different growing zones. Even those from single vineyards or distilleries will be a mix of Brandies from different casks. As in Champagne, the production of local vineyards is sold to Cognac houses, each of which stores and ages Cognacs from different suppliers and then employs master blenders to draw from these disparate Brandies to create continuity in the house blends. Because there are no age statements on Cognacs, the industry has adopted some generally accepted terms to differentiate Cognacs. It is important to note that these terms have no legal status, and each Cognac shipper uses them according to his own criteria.

V.S./V.S.P./Three Star:

(V.S., very superior; V.S.P., very superior pale) A minimum of two years aging in a cask, although the industry average is four to five years.


(very superior old pale) A minimum of four years cask aging for the youngest Cognac in the blend, with the industry average being between 10 and 15 years.


(X.O., extra old) A minimum of six years aging for the youngest cognac in the blend, with the average age running 20 years or older. All Cognac houses maintain inventories of old vintage Cognacs to use in blending these top of the line brands. The oldest Cognacs are removed from their casks in time and stored in glass demijohns (large jugs) to prevent further loss from evaporation and to limit excessively woody and astringent flavors. Luxury Cognacs are the very finest Cognacs of each individual Cognac house.

Armagnac is the oldest type of Brandy in France, with documented references to distillation dating back to the early 15th century. The Armagnac region is located in the heart of the ancient province of Gascony in the southwest corner of France. As in Cognac, there are regional growing zones: Bas-Armagnac, Haut Armagnac, and Tenareze. The primary grapes used in making Armagnac are likewise the Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Colombard. But distillation takes place in the unique alambic Armagnacais, a type of column still that is even more "inefficient" than a typical Cognac pot still.

The resulting brandy has a rustic, assertive character and aroma that requires additional cask aging to mellow it out. The best Armagnacs are aged in casks made from the local Monlezun oak. In recent years Limousin and Troncais oak casks have been added to the mix of casks as suitable Monlezun oak becomes harder to find.

Most Armagnacs are blends, but unlike Cognac, single vintages and single vineyard bottlings can be found. The categories of Armagnac are generally the same as those of Cognac (V.S., V.S.O.P., X.O., etc.). Blended Armagnacs frequently have a greater percentage of older vintages in their mix than comparable Cognacs, making them a better value for the discerning buyer.

French Brandy is the catch-all designation for Brandy produced from grapes grown in other regions. These Brandies are usually distilled in column stills and aged in oak casks for varying periods of time. They are frequently blended with wine, grape juice, oak flavorings, and other Brandies, including Cognac, in order to smooth out the rough edges. Cognac-like quality designations such as V.S.O.P. and Napoleon are frequently used, but have no legal standing.

Alan Dikty

Armagnac is cheaper and better than cognac. So why are so few people drinking it?

Americans drink thirty-five million bottles of cognac each year (we're the world's No. 1 consumer by far). That's a lot of cognac, and most of it isn't particularly good. To meet growing demand, cognac producers have shifted to mass production, and today the typical bottle of cognac is one-dimensional, industrial and boring.

But hope is not lost for lovers of fine French brandy. As with many French wine-and-spirits designations, cognac is the name of a place, and just to the south of Cognac, in Gascony, is Armagnac. There you'll find true artisans making brandies of far superior quality on a much smaller scale. And it costs less.

What is Armagnac?
Armagnac (like cognac) is distilled from white wine grapes, namely the Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc and Colombard varieties. After distillation, it's aged in casks made primarily from local Monlezun black oak. The key technical difference between Armagnac and cognac is that the latter is distilled twice, whereas the former is distilled only once. This means more time in the oak for Armagnac; the extra patience required rewards a brandy with more finesse and roundness.

Buying Armagnac
Though some Armagnacs are vintage dated (such as the wonderful brandies of Domaine Boingneres), most Armagnac is a blend of vintages. In blended Armagnac, the label indicates the age of the youngest wine in the blend (there are usually many older vintages mixed in as well). A label that says VS means the Armagnac has spent a minimum of two years in cask; VSOP and Reserve labels indicate five years; XO and Napoleon are aged six years; and Hors d'Age means ten years or more. Typically, the older Armagnacs are better, more complex and more expensive, but it's also important to choose Armagnac from a good producer. I recommend the Larressingle VSOP and XO bottlings, which are widely available at New York's better wine shops.

Storing Armagnac
Just like scotch and bourbon, Armagnac stops aging once it's removed from its wood casks and placed in glass bottles. No matter how long you save grandpa's special bottle of XO, the liquid in the bottle will never improve. This remains true even when you pull the cork -- Armagnac is stable enough that oxygen won't harm it, so you can open it and leave it in the credenza indefinitely. There's only one thing you must do when storing Armagnac: Keep the bottle standing up, not lying on its side, since Armagnac will spoil if it comes in prolonged contact with its cork.

Serving Armagnac
Believe it or not, the traditional snifter is not the ideal choice of stemware for the enjoyment of fine French brandy. The best glass for this purpose has a rounded belly with a tapered chimney. If you don't have glasses like this, use a tulip-shaped champagne glass, not a snifter. It may feel strange at first to drink your Armagnac from a champagne flute, but you'll be rewarded with a better drinking experience.

Drinking Armagnac
Appreciating the bouquet is the first critical step in the enjoyment of this most beguiling libation, but please don't go sticking your nose right in the glass and inhaling deeply. All you'll do is singe your nasal passages with powerful alcohol esters. Instead, hold the glass at chest level and let the delicate fragrances waft up. In a minute or so, your senses will be luxuriating in a cloud of vanilla, toffee, nougat, pepper, rose and chocolate. Now bring it a little closer, maybe to chin level, and you'll begin to see what Armagnac is all about.

What's next is a trick I learned from the brandy professionals. Stick a finger in the glass and then dab the liquid on the back of your hand -- just as you would a perfume sample. Your body heat will cause the alcohol to evaporate, leaving behind only the essential aromas of the Armagnac. After about a minute, smell it up close. The Armagnac will no doubt remind you of dried fruits like apricots, prunes and figs, and you may also detect butterscotch, licorice and flowers.

Now take the tiniest sip of the Armagnac -- about a half-teaspoonful. Roll the liquid around your tongue, your cheeks and your gums. Drinking it this way, you'll see why people love this stuff.

As the evening progresses, cradle the glass in your hand to gently warm the Armagnac. As its temperature rises, it will release new aromas and its flavor will change. Keep sipping slowly, contemplating and relaxing. Before you know it, you and your glass of Armagnac will have spent the night together.

Joseph Nase

What Is Armagnac?

A historical region and former countship of southwest France in Gascony. Added to the French royal domain in 1607, the area is now noted for its viniculture.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Armagnac An Old Wine

The House of Ryst-Dupeyron, was founded in 1905 by Joseph Dupeyron. The offices occupy the elegant Hôtel de Cugnac, a private home dating from the XVIII Century, set on the edge of the historic center of the town of Condom, while the wine and Armagnac stores, and an old distillery, are housed in the cellars and former conservatory in the grounds.

Today, the House of Ryst-Dupeyron's two main activities are run by the founder's great-grandchildren.

Armagnacs Dupeyron possesses an original and high quality range of spirits aged in oak barrels. The house owns an exceptional collection of vintage Armagnacs the oldest of which goes back to the last century. In Condom visitors are always welcome. Guided visits of the cellars, called "chais", and tastings are organized.
Armagnac is the oldest wine eau-de-vie produced in the South West of the France, in the heart of Gascogny. It is produced by distilling white wine in an Armagnac still and aged for many years in oak barrels before coming to market. It comes in blends, or, as is specific to Armagnac, in vintages.

The local soils and distillation method meet rules defined by the AOC obtained by Armagnac in 1936.

Above all, Armagnac is a craft product, made in small quantities by vine growers and wine merchants who carry on the old methods and techniques. The diversity of the local soils and grape varieties impart a rich and diverse character on the eau-de-vie, similar to the natural surroundings and craftsmen who make it.

The French paradox:

The concept of "French Paradox" has prompted numerous teams of researchers to specify the role of alcohol, grape and wood tannins in the benefits of moderate consumption of wine or alcoholic beverages. For Armagnac, recent scientific works show that this eau-de-vie has known therapeutic capacities. Its properties are due to the wood tannins that it contains following the long aging process in oak barrels. Another medical team has also just proved the protective role Armagnac in blood platelet clumping (one of the causes behind cardio-vascular illnesses). All these observations tend to prove that moderate consumption of Armagnac (which is, after all, the best way of savoring it) is part, along with all the gastronomic products of South West France, of a diet and lifestyle which favors the good health of the region's population.

Of the ten grape varieties authorized in Armagnac production, four in particular leave their imprint on the eau-de-vie:

Ugni-blanc is the distillation variety par excellence. It produces acidic wines with low alcohol content which, after distillation, produces fine and high quality eaux-de-vie. This grape variety is equally adaptable to Bas-Armagnac and Armagnac-Ténarèze.

Folle Blanche is the best known. This is the historic Armagnac variety which dominated the wine area before its destruction by phylloxera in 1878: it was then called piquepoult or "pinched lips". As its graft stock is now hard to cultivate, it is poorly represented amongst the grape varieties. Folle Blanche produces fine eaux-de-vie, often floral and extremely elegant, particularly valued in White and young Armagnacs.

Baco 22 A is unusual in the French viticulture landscape. It is a hybrid, daughter of the Folle Blanche and Noah grapes invented by a teacher from the Landes region, Mr Baco, in the aftermath of the phylloxera epidemic. It is especially suited to the sandy soils of the Bas-Armagnac region where it gives very round eaux-de-vie, with suave essences and ripe fruit aromas, particularly after a long aging process.

Columbus is now appreciated and heavily used in Vins de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne wine production . Its distillation is confidential; its fruity and spicy aromas are appreciated in blends.

Distillation takes place during the winter, at the latest by the 31st March of the year following the crop; for the last 3 years, this date has been set by national decree;

The wine is often distilled on the estate, sometimes using a mobile distiller which moves from winery to winery to distill the vine growers' wine. It is also produced in distillation workshops by professional distillers and cooperative cellars.

The essential part of Armagnac (approximately 95%) is obtained with a still which is very specific to this eau-de-vie: the continuous Armagnac still.. This is a pure copper apparatus, which was patented in 1818 and has since been adapted, modified, and improved by regional distillers. It genuinely forms part of the character of Armagnac.

Double distillation is also used by some Armagnac houses who have remained very attached to it.

Immediately after distillation, Armagnac is put to age in "casks": these are 400-litre oak barrels, mainly from the forests of Gascogny and Limousin. These casks are stored in wineries where the temperature and humidity are important to the quality of the aging process. From then on, the cellar master supervises the development of his eaux-de-vie:

the extraction of the cask's tannic compounds and aromas

the evaporation of part of the eau-de-vie and a reduction in the degree of alcohol (approximately a 1/2 degree per year), what is known as "the angel's share"

the growth of aromas from the wood and wine through the slow oxidation of the Armagnac, in contact with the air through the barrel.

The eaux-de-vie remains in new casks until the wood materials are optimally dissolved. They are then transferred to older barrels to prevent excessive wood flavors from being infused in the Armagnac, and to continue its slow development: the woody substances are refined, the vanilla and prune aromas grow, the "maderization" character begins to appear, and the alcoholic content drops progressively through the evaporation of alcohol (which is "the angel's share"). The eau-de-vie takes a beautiful amber color; later changing to mahogany.

When the Cellar Master considers the aging sufficient, he begins "mixing": harmoniously blending various eaux-de-vie of different origins and ages. The alcohol content (minimum 40% by volume) can be obtained by progressively adding "petites eaux" made up of a mixture of distilled water and Armagnac.


Vintages, specific to Armagnac, correspond exclusively to the year of the crop.

Reduction is not practiced here, because the aging winery is humid, and the eaux-de-vie are sold at their natural degree of aging, which generally falls between 40% and 48% by volume..

The Armagnac ceases to age once bottled. The bottle must be stored upright so that the alcohol does not reach the cork.


Tasting Armagnac is firstly an exercise in the history of pleasure and curiosity.

Take a ball shaped glass, which gets nice and warm when you spend long minutes tasting with the glass cupped in your hand; or a tulip shaped glass which concentrates the flavors and allows you to taste more quickly and precisely. Pour some Armagnac into the glass, just 2 or 3 cl is enough, then gentle shake the Armagnac with a circular motion to wet the walls of the glass.

Armagnac should first be tasted with your eyes
The eau-de-vie is shiny, the color golden, amber or mahogany, which is the logical color development brought about by aging.

It will sharpen the curiosity the nose
Before tasting in the mouth, smell the Armagnac gently, with your nose out of the glass and without agitating it so that the aromatic power does not overwhelm you. The first impression is forceful as the alcohol rises; but don't stop there, the Armagnac's treasure lies elsewhere, a few seconds later. The aromas can be categorized in different aromatic families depending on the age and quality of the Armagnac:

fruity aromas: here you'll find nuances of quince, grape and plum, and then with age, prune, orange or apricot conserve

floral aromas: vine blossom, honey or lime...

woody aromas: vanilla, spicy, grilled ... maderization: this is the measure of the Armagnac's maturity, it reveals most notably dry

fruit aromas: walnuts and hazelnut.

The intricacy of the aroma, combining several types of flavor, is itself a gauge of the quality of the Armagnac.

In the mouth, power and unctuousness confront each other

Take a sip, paying attention to the succession of flavors in the mouth. The attack is very subtle, the development warm, before the Armagnac assumes its full place. We speak about its volume, unctuousness, richness, and all terms to describe its structure. The aromatic wealth begins to overcome the sensation of power. Now, you find the same aromatic variety as on the nose with prevalent woody and maderization tones.

When the glass is empty, don't abandon it, warm it between your hands and smell it: that's what we call the "bottom of the glass"; prune, spices, maderization or woody tones, the quintessence of the Armagnac is in there.

Armagnac & chocolate:

This is a marriage made in heaven when the synergy of flavors works to the good, and each is erased to emphasize the other. A moment of pure happiness.

Armagnac & cigars:

They have many points in common: those are products of artisan production, whose qualities depend on the local soil, geology, climate and craftsmen. Their diversity is impressive (chosen according to the time of day, meal, company and circumstances), the tasting important (revealing the aromas and flavors), notwithstanding the pleasure that they give...

Armagnac & coffee:

This combination places the accent on the aromas created by Armagnac's maturation process (woody, grilled, smoked, torrefaction, coffee, cocoa, etc.) which match the aromas of coffee well. The bitterness of the coffee "erases" the acidity of the eau-de-vie and reinforces its sense of fullness. An old Armagnac with fine aromas will prolong the delicious and fine flavors of a Kenyan coffee. A young and vigorous Armagnac merges well with the power of an Ethiopian coffee.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Health Benefits of Wine

We begin with a review of some of the published studies regarding the health benefits from wine and other alcoholic beverages. The following is taken mostly from the writings of Elisabeth Holmgren, director of the Department of Research and Education at the Wine Institute. Although she represents the wine industry, her writings seem to be relatively even handed. Nothing that follows is meant to obscure the fact that prolonged excessive alcohol consumption is detrimental to one’s health. Joel’s comments are in brackets [JM].

Wine’s Role in the “French Paradox” Receives Confirmation
A new study by original “French Paradox” researcher Serge Renaud offers more evidence that moderate wine consumption is associated with a significant reduction in all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease and cancer among men. The findings (Epidemiology, March, 1998) were based on a large cohort study [JM - cohort studies are epidemiological studies that use individuals having a statistical element in common, such as race, gender, age, etc., as opposed to a random selection of individuals. As such, the results cannot always be projected to the population as a whole.] of middle aged men in eastern France. Daily, moderate drinkers who consumed mostly wine were compared to non-drinkers and heavy drinkers.
Renaud and colleagues from the University of Bordeaux found that moderate wine consumption (2-3 glasses a day) was associated with a 30% reduction in the death rate from all causes; a 35% percent reduction in death rates from cardiovascular disease; and an 18-24% reduction in death rates from cancer. “The results of the present study,” the researchers write, “appear to confirm the speculation that the so-called French Paradox is due, at least in part, to the regular consumption of wine. [JM - The French Paradox, of 60 minutes fame, is the observation that, although the French and Americans have similar high fat diets, the French have a much lower incidence of cardiovascular disease. Speculation was that this is due to the protective effects of wine consumption, since the French drink much more wine than we do. Of course, there are many other possible explanations.]

How Wine Works: Emerging Research on Mealtime Alcohol Consumption
It is known that alcohol consumption reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and overall mortality. [JM - This statement is a bit strong. Statistical studies show a relationship between two variables (here, moderate alcohol consumption and reduced incidence of heart disease), but they do not establish a cause and effect relationship - “proof” that one causes the other. The recent wealth of data should give us more confidence in a cause and effect relationship, but we are not nearly to the point of “proof.” It took decades and hundreds of studies before the Surgeon General was willing to declare that smoking causes cancer.] But it has been less clear just how alcohol works to protect the body against heart disease and death.
A new study from researchers at the University Hospital of Zurich, Switzerland. identifies a mechanism for how alcohol favorably effects arterial muscle cells. According to Wilhelm Vetter, M.D., and colleagues, alcohol, when consumed around mealtime, reduces the proliferation of smooth muscle cells (SMC) within the arteries. SMC growth is a key element in the develop-ment of atherosclerosis, which commonly leads to heart attacks and strokes.
The study found that the ingestion of alcohol. equivalent to two glasses of wine or three beers, with a high-fat meal resulted in a 20% decrease in the growth of arterial muscle cells. Researchers suggest these results could have a profound effect on heart disease “considering the amount of time humans spend in the postprandial state during their lifetimes.”
Other mechanisms may be at work. Several researchers have suggested that the apparent health benefits of wine ingested at mealtime may be due to the ability of alcohol and other phenolic compounds in wine to counter adverse effects of fatty foods during the critical digestive phase. Renaud has written of the positive effect of wine during meals on platelet aggregation , finding that wine “consumed with meals is absorbed more slowly, and thus has a prolonged effect on blood platelets at a time when they are under the influence of alimentary lipids known to increase their reactivity.”
An Israeli study by Fuhrman et al, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that drinking red wine with meals resulted in a 20% reduction in the LDL (“bad”) cholesterol oxidation. A Dutch study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that alcohol consumed with a meal may prevent blood clotting triggered by fat.

Women Wine Drinkers Have Fewer Kidney Stones
A new study from Harvard University researcher Gary Curhan and colleagues, using more than 81,000 women participants drawn from the Nurses’ Health Study, found that an increase in fluid intake significantly reduces risk for kidney stones and that risk reduction was greatest for wine compared with other beverages. Out of 17 beverages, including tea, coffee, fruit juices, milk and water, wine was associated with the highest reduction in risk - 59%.
Researchers noted: “Intakes of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee, tea and wine were associated with decreased risk.” Curhan and colleagues reported similar results for men and kidney stones in 1996. Wine consumption was associated with highest risk reduction - 39%.

Moderate wine consumption cuts stroke risk
The moderate consumption of wine (but not beer or spirits) is associated with a reduced risk of stroke, according to a new report. The authors believe wine’s protective effects may be linked to disease-fighting compounds other than alcohol. “Intake of wine is associated with lower risk of stroke,” concludes a 16-year Danish study led by Dr. Thomas Truelsen of Copen-hagen University Hospital (Journal of the American Heart Association, December, 1998).
Previous studies have suggested that moderate wine consumption (a glass a day, for example) may provide cardiovascular benefit. This phenomena is exemplified by what the Danish team call the ‘French paradox’ - “a low incidence of cardiovascular disease in the (wine-drinking) French population despite an unfavorable exposure to known cardiovascular factors (such as smoking).” Investigating further, the authors tracked the stroke incidence of over 13,300 Danes for 16 years.
They report that, compared with abstainers, individuals who said they drank wine on a monthly, weekly, or daily basis had a 16%, 34%, and 32% reduced risk of stroke, respectively. The researchers found “no association between intake of beer or spirits on risk of stroke.”
These findings suggest that other compounds in wine besides alcohol may have a positive impact on cardiovascular health. “Wine contains flavonoids and tannins,” the authors explain, “which are components presumed to prevent cardiovascular disease.” They speculate that drinking patterns specific to wine lovers may also influence cardiovascular health. Wine is more commonly consumed at mealtimes than either beer or hard liquor, and “these differences in ‘timing’ may be important,” according to the researchers. One recent study concluded that mealtime alcohol consumption reduced unhealthy alterations in blood composition that can occur after eating.
In a press release, the American Heart Association “does not recommend that individuals start drinking to reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke.” Experts point out that excessive drinking can actually raise the likelihood of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Regular, Moderate Alcohol Consumption Protects Against Atherosclerosis
New Data from the Bruneck Study (Italy) was reported by Australian and Italian researchers in the May 1998 issue of Stroke. They conclude that light to moderate alcohol consumers faced a lower risk of atherosclerosis (early atherogenesis) than either abstainers or heavy drinkers. Arteriosclerosis, the gradual build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries, is the leading contributor to coronary heart disease and fatal heart attacks.
Notably, alcohol consumption during meals offered advantages. “Alcohol ingestion during meals tended to offer more protection, probably due to a delayed absorption and prolonged mode of action at a time when platelet reactivity increases under the influence of alimentary lipids,” explained the researchers, led by Innsbruck University’s Stefan Kiechl, M.D.

Cohort Studies From Around the World Link Moderation to Longevity
In recent years dozens of cohort studies from all over the world have associated moderate alcohol consumption with reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, decreased overall mortality rates and other potentially improved health conditions. This growing worldwide research consensus has resulted in certain changes in the world view of alcohol during just the last few years. In a significant departure form the past, major public health organizations and governments around the world now officially recognize that moderation can be part of a healthful diet for those who choose to drink. The World Health Organization, the United States government, the United Kingdom’s government and the American Heart Association are among the health policy leaders that recently have issued balanced alcohol statements expressing caution in terms of alcohol abuse, but highlighting scientific findings that associate cardiovascular benefits with moderate consumption.
In varying degrees, wine, beer and spirits have been shown to confer certain health advantages for those who consume in moderation. The most recent review study on the subject of alcohol and longevity was by esteemed British epidemiologist Richard Doll, M.D. In the British Medical Journal, Doll concluded, “The consumption of small and moderate amounts of alcohol reduces mortality from vascular disease by about a third.” In his review, Doll looked over three dozen studies published over the last decade. We will discuss some of these cohort studies from around the world which are highlighted in the table below.

Alcohol and Wine’s Effects on Mortality - Findings From Around the World

United States Europe Asia/Australia
Framingham Heart Study (MA) Seven Countries Study Japanese Physicians
Kaiser Permanente (CA) British Regional Heart Study Busselton Study (Austral)
Nurses Health Study (MA) British Doctors Study Dubbo Study (Austral)
Physicians Health Study (MA) Copenhagen City Heart Study New Zealand Cohort
Health Professionals (MA) MONICA (WHO) Shanghai China Cohort
NHANES (USA) Italian Rural Cohorts Study
Honolulu Heart Study (HI)

Well-Established Cardiovascular Benefits of Moderation
As early as 1980, the Honolulu Heart Study reported that moderate alcohol consumption was associated with a 50% reduction in the rate of coronary heart disease. Dozens of studies around the world have since confirmed this for both men and women. In the 1990’s, large-scale studies including the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (over 44,000 men) and the Nurses’ Health Study of over 85,000 women have convincingly demonstrated reduced risks for heart disease. The data are so clear on this issue that leading Harvard researchers included moderate alcohol consumption as one of the best ways to cut heart attack risk. In 1996, they credited “one or two drinks of beer, wine, or liquor per day” to “a reduction in risk of 20-40%.
The latest research has also found associations between moderation and other cardiovascular diseases. In early 1997, data was published showing that moderate alcohol con-sumers reduced their risk for stroke, angina pectoris (a painful precursor of heart attacks) and for peripheral artery disease, a condition in which internal blood clots form in the extremities.
It was Dr. Arthur Klatsky of Kaiser Permanente Hospital in California who first noted that the association between consumption and heart disease resembled a “U” with moderate con-sumers at the lowest risk in the curve, and abstainers and abusers at higher risk. This U-shaped relationship between alcohol intake and disease continues to be seen for both cardiovascular and overall mortality studies. Moderate consumption appears to be most advantageous.

Moderation and Reduced All-Cause Mortality
Some of the most respected population studies find that consuming wine, beer or spirits in moderation has been associated with an increased life expectancy. Researchers report that although substantial decreases in mortality risk for moderate drinkers can be attributed to reduced risk of heart disease, this factor alone does not entirely account for their favorable mortality profile. Moderate drinkers compared to abstainers, both male and female, appear to be at lower risk for all causes of death, including cancer and other chronic diseases, while heavy drinkers increase their mortality risk. This U-shaped relationship was seen in the Honolulu Heart study and subsequently in an American Cancer Society Study which found that subjects who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol (less than 3 drinks per day) were less likely to die during the research period than either abstainers or heavy drinkers. Several studies with similar findings have led the American Heart Association to state in 1996, “The lowest mortality occurs in those who consume one or two drinks per day.”
A 13-year follow-up of a British Physician’s Study found that the overall death rate for 12,000 male doctors in middle or old age who had an average of one to two drinks per day of wine, beer, or spirits was at least 1/6 lower than that for abstainers. Investigators for the Danish government’s Copenhagen City Heart Study similarly analyzed 10-12 years of follow up data on 7234 women and 6051 men aged 30 to 79. A U-shaped curve emerged: consumers of 1-6 drinks per week had the lowest risk for all causes of mortality. A 1997 Shanghai Cohort Study, the first major Chinese study, examined 18,000 men in Shanghai and found a 19% lower mortality rate for all causes in moderate drinkers.

The Nurses’ Health Study (1995) found a reduced overall mortality rate for light-to-moderate drinkers among 85,000 women. They concluded, “For women as a group, light to moderate alcohol consumption offers significant survival advantages. It was associated with a decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease; heavier drinking was associated with an increased risk of death from other causes, particularly breast cancer and cirrhosis.” Benefits were most pronounced for women with risk factors for heart disease and those 50 years and older.
Other Harvard University cohort studies, the Framingham Heart Study as well as the Kaiser Permanente Study confirm overall mortality benefits for moderate drinkers. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the largest government survey of Americans’ health and lifestyle habits, reported that for white males, “Moderate drinking increases the time until death from any cause by about 3 percent.”
At the same time, scientists point out that more research is needed to provide a true risk/benefit analysis for different gender and age groups that considers not only coronary heart disease and overall mortality, but also various types of cancer. In particular, some studies find a link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer in women. However, most researchers feel that the cardiovascular benefits of moderate alcohol consumption far outweigh the breast cancer risks (Cardiovascular disease is very common; breast cancer is rare in comparison).

Wine Phenolics and Disease Prevention
While some researchers believe that all alcoholic beverages provide equal benefit, several scientists believe wine offers benefits in addition to its ethyl alcohol component. The beverage-specific data from the ongoing Copenhagen City Heart Study reported that wine drinkers were least likely to die from any cause during the 12-year study period. “Our finding, that only wine drinking clearly reduces both the risk of dying from cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease and the risk of dying from other causes”, write researcher Morton Gronbaek and colleagues, “suggests that other more broadly acting factors in wine may be present.”
Research programs on other factors in wine has resulted in several studies in the past few years on the antioxidant and protective effects of wine compounds. Several phenolic compounds in wine (such as quercetin, epicatechin and resveratrol) inhibit platelet aggregation and act as antioxidants to prevent the breakdown of LDL cholesterol into atherosclerotic plaque. One in vitro study even found that these compounds were more effective than vitamin E in inhibiting LDL oxidation. Since 1991 over three dozen studies have provided preliminary evidence that wine phenolics have positive health effects. However, as most of this research comes from animal studies, it has not yet been demonstrated that this is applicable to humans.

Summary Perspective
Key recent cohort studies (Harvard’s Physician’s Health Study and the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study II) found lower mortality profiles for moderate drinkers. The ACS study was the largest on alcohol consumption to date, with nearly half a million subjects, finding all-cause mortality risk to be reduced by approximately 20% for both men and women who consumed one drink per day. Several published reviews have pointed out that higher levels of alcohol consumption can be detrimental to health in many ways. However, as Finnish researcher Kari Poikolainen wrote in a 1995 review in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, “The lowest risk of death seems to be at the average intake level of one drink per day.”
Key studies throughout the 1990’s (see Table last month) associate approx. one drink per day with increased longevity. In each study, all-cause mortality rates for moderate drinking men and women, in diverse populations such as the US, China and Australia, are significantly lower than rates for non-drinkers. Based on a decade of research findings, Richard Doll, M.D. (in the British Medical Journal) calls the evidence for alcohol’s beneficial effect “now massive. People should told the facts. These still need to be defined in detail, but in broad outline they are quite clear: In middle and old age, some amount of alcohol within the range of one to four drinks each day reduces the risk of premature death, irrespective of the medium in which it is taken.”
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines advises moderation, which is defined as no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women. Forthcoming research will continue to clarify the effects of moderate wine and alcohol consumption in healthy diets and balanced lifestyles. It is hoped that these findings will be reflected in worldwide nutrition policies like the year 2000 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Drinking Wine May Lower Risk for Upper Digestive Tract Cancer
Many research studies have associated alcohol consumption with increased risk of upper digestive tract cancers. But Morton Gronbaek and colleagues at the Institute for Preventive Medicine in Copenhagen, Denmark, report just the opposite. They speculate that previous studies did not analyze data for specific types of beverages and/or did not distinguish between use and abuse. Although they acknowledge that their analysis may not be perfect, the Danish researchers tracked the 13-year incidence of mouth, throat and esophageal cancers among 28,000 Danes. They report that heavy drinkers experienced a 12-fold increase in upper digestive cancers compared with abstainers. But among moderate drinkers, those who consumed at least 30% of their alcohol intake in the form of wine were at slightly lower risk than non-drinkers for these cancers. “A moderate intake of wine probably does not increase the risk of upper digestive tract cancer.” They speculate that compounds found in wine, such as resveratrol, may exert powerful anticarcinogenic effects that protect against any cancer-causing effects of alcohol. “Wine contains several components with possible anticarcinogenic effects - these may exert their action locally in parallel with the possible effect of ethanol.”

New Research Developments of the Antioxidant Front
The Italian National Institute of Nutrition (Rome) found that phenolic compounds in wine are absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and “might be directly involved in the in vivo antioxi-dant defenses.” This study clearly associated non-alcoholic components in wine with increased plasma antioxidant capacity, which may lead to a reduced risk in coronary heart disease.
A team of researchers from New York, Japan and the University of Illinois reported prelim-inary evidence that resveratrol (a compound found primarily in grapes and wine) may inhibit cancer growth in humans.

Moderate Drinkers’ Benefits Begin in Early Adulthood
A new study from the UK, published in The Lancet, has found that among young adults, moderate drinkers are at a reduced risk of psychological distress, poor general health and long-term illness compared to abstainers and heavy drinkers. Dr. Chris Powers and associates studied 9,605 men and women at age 23 with a follow-up at 33. They found that men drinking between 11-35 units of alcohol and women drinking between 6-20 units of alcohol per week experienced fewer health-related problems than nondrinkers and heavy drinkers. One unit of alcohol was the equivalent to a half pint of beer, one measure of spirits or one glass of wine.
Dr. Powers is from the Institute of Child Health (London) and the co-authors are from the Australian National University (Canberra). They hope to continue the research with the same subjects in order to see how they progress with age. This is one of the first studies to look at the effects of alcohol consumption in early adulthood and it’s long-term effects on health.

The information in this article is for educational purposes only. Wine should be enjoyed in a responsible manner as part of a well balanced lifestyle by healthy adults who choose to drink. “If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation, with meals, and when consumption does not put you or others at risk” ~ Advice for Today, 1995 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Meanwhile, the research on the health benefits of wine continues!


Updates on Wine and Health

Wine linked with lower lung cancer risk
NEW YORK, Mar 01, 2000 (Reuters Health) -- Male wine drinkers may have a lower risk of lung cancer than those who drink beer or spirits. Dr. Eva Prescott and colleagues at Copenhagen University Hospital examined data from three Danish studies involving more than 28,000 adults. Overall, they found no association between low to moderate alcohol intake and lung cancer risk. When the analysis was limited to men, they observed that those who drank wine had a lower risk of lung cancer than those who did not drink wine. But the data also suggested an increased risk of lung cancer in men who drank beer or spirits. For example, men who reported drinking 1 to 13 glasses of wine per week had a 22% lower risk of lung cancer compared with drinkers of other types of alcohol. Men who consumed more than 13 glasses of wine per week had a 56% lower risk than other alcohol drinkers. The researchers suggest that the seemingly protective effect “may be related to the antioxidant properties of wine, and deserves further attention.” SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology 1999;149:463-470.

Light-to-moderate alcohol intake may prevent stroke
NEW YORK, Nov 17, 1999 (Reuters Health) -- People who consume as little as one alcoholic drink per day significantly reduce their risk of stroke, but drinking more does not increase the benefit, results of a study suggest. Previous studies have shown that “drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may have protective effects against subtypes of stroke,” according to Dr. Klaus Berger, from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues.
The researchers analyzed the medical records of more than 22,000 male doctors aged 40 - 84. Over 12 years, 679 men experienced first strokes. Most of the strokes were caused by interruptions of the brain’s blood supply (ischemic strokes), while fewer than 15% were caused by brain bleeding (hemorrhagic strokes). Compared with other participants, the group of men who consumed at least one drink per week had a 21% lower risk of having any type of stroke.
The same group had a 23% lower risk of ischemic stroke, the scientists calculated. Drinking had neither a positive nor a negative effect on the risk of hemorrhagic stroke. After Berger and his colleagues accounted for other risk factors, they found that “the largest risk reductions were found among the men who had one to four drinks per week.” Blood pressure and exercise affected the impact of drinking on stroke risk, according to the investigators. Alcohol consumption benefited men whose blood pressure was 140 or higher or who exercised at least once a week. The authors conclude that “light-to-moderate consumption of alcohol (one to seven drinks per week) reduced the risks of total stroke and ischemic stroke.” SOURCE: The New England Journal of Medicine 1999;341:1557-1564, 1605-1606.

Red wine without the alcohol good for the heart
NEW YORK, Jan 03, 2000 (Reuters Health) -- It may not please wine connoisseurs, but red wine without the alcohol is also good for the heart, researchers report. Dr. Jennifer R.C. Bell and colleagues at the University of California, Davis, report the results of their study, in which they took a 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon and removed the alcohol. They then asked 5 men and 4 women -- all healthy -- to drink about a 1/2 cup of the wine, with water added on one day and water and ethanol added on the other. The investigators measured levels of the flavonoid “(+)-catechin” -- the wine component credited with heart benefits -- after consumption.
The researchers collected blood at baseline and then 30 minutes, 1, 2 3, 4 and 8 hours after consumption. They found that the half-life of (+)-catechin was significantly shorter (3.17 hours) when subjects drank alcoholic red wine than when they drank the dealcoholized version (4.08 hours). Bell and colleagues report that increases in total (+)-catechin in plasma were similar after ingestion of alcoholic and nonalcoholic red wine and that gender had no effect.
But moderate amounts of alcohol also make a contribution to heart health. Previous research shows that alcohol by itself increases concentration of HDL -- “the good cholesterol” -- in the blood, the researchers note. “The results (of this study)... suggest that red wine provides two independent factors capable of contributing to vascular health when consumed in moderation,” the investigators write, namely the HDL-boosting effects of alcohol and the increase of flavonoids in the blood. SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2000;71:103-108.

One drink is good, more than two isn't
NEW YORK, Jan 03, 2000 (Reuters Health) -- Consumption of one alcoholic drink per day appears to reduce the risk of heart disease in middle-aged men, but more than two drinks each day may offset these benefits by increasing the risk of some cancers, researchers report. “Our observational research shows that there seems to be benefit of light to moderate alcohol consumption,” Dr. J. Michael Gaziano told Reuters Health. “However, people shouldn’t drink instead of doing other preventive activities such as stopping smoking, controlling cholesterol and exercising.” And the data from US physicians participating in the Physicians’ Health Study show that excess consumption will cancel the benefits of moderate consumption, by increasing the risk of some of the less common cancers.
Any recommendation on alcohol consumption should be individualized through discussions with a physician, according to Gaziano of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. People with liver disease or a history of alcohol abuse should not drink at all, while those with diabetes and hypertension may partake in light alcohol consumption, Gaziano said.
Gaziano and colleagues analyzed self-reported alcohol consumption of 89,299 male physicians between the ages of 40 and 84 years with no prior medical history of heart attack, stroke, cancer or liver disease. Their findings are reported in the January issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. After an average of more than 5 years of follow-up the data revealed that, “light to moderate drinking -- perhaps one per day -- shows benefits in reducing risk of heart disease with no increased risk of cancer,” Gaziano said. SOURCE: Journal of the American College of Cardiology 2000;35:96-105.

Moderate drinking lowers diabetes risk in men
NEW YORK, Jan 06, 2000 (Reuters Health) -- Men who are ‘moderate’ drinkers -- between 5 to 10 drinks per week -- have a lower risk for adult-onset diabetes than either abstainers or heavy drinkers, researchers report. “Men with a high alcohol intake may be able to reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes if they drink less,” report Dr. Ming Wei and colleagues at the Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas.
As reported previously by Reuters Health, numerous studies have suggested that having a drink or two per day appears to have a protective effect against cardiovascular disease. In their study, Wei’s team examined rates of type 2 diabetes -- the adult-onset form of the disease affecting 95% of all diabetics -- in over 8,600 Texan men. They found that diabetes risks were lowest in men who drank between 5 and 10 drinks per week, compared with either abstain-ers/infrequent drinkers (0 to 5 drinks per week) or heavy drinkers (10 to 22 drinks or above). In fact, infrequent or heavy drinkers faced twice the risk of type 2 diabetes of moderate drinkers!
Wei told Reuters Health that, according to previous studies, moderate drinking “reduces insulin resistance,” while heavy alcohol consumption “increases insulin resistance.” Insulin resistance -- in which the body gradually stops responding to the sugar hoarding effect of the hormone insulin -- is thought to precede full-blown type 2 diabetes. Based on their findings, the authors estimate that “24% of the incident cases of diabetes in (adult men) might be attributable to high alcohol intake.” While they do not recommend that abstainers take up drinking to lower their diabetes risk, they do urge that heavy drinkers cut back in order to lower their risk. SOURCE: Diabetes Care 2000;23:18-22


Study Suggests Why Red Wine Does a Heart Good
By Suzanne Rostler

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - UK researchers have zeroed in on compounds in red wine that battle a protein linked to heart disease--a finding that provides clues to why the French have relatively low rates of heart disease despite a national diet rich in creamy cheese and buttery desserts. The investigators found that polyphenols--compounds in grape skins and present in red wine--decrease the production of a protein that causes blood vessels to constrict and reduces the flow of oxygen to the heart. The protein, endothelin-1, is believed to play a key role in the development of heart disease, explain Dr. Roger Corder and colleagues from Queen Mary University of London.

Their findings support the results of earlier studies showing that a moderate intake of red wine may lower the risk of heart disease. But while these studies focused on the antioxidant properties of polyphenols--their ability to quench disease-causing free radicals in the body--the results of the new study suggest a new mechanism by which red wine might bring benefits. According to the report in the December 20/27th issue of Nature, red wine polyphenols inhibit protein tyrosine kinases, a group of enzymes that play a key role in cell regulation. Compounds that inhibit these enzymes have been shown to suppress endothelin production, Corder told Reuters Health.
“We believe that red wines contain specific polyphenols that inhibit protein tyrosine kinases, and that this effect leads to suppression of endothelin synthesis,” he said in an interview. “The effects we describe are completely unrelated to any antioxidant properties of polyphenols.'”

White wine is made without the use of grape skins, while red wine is made by fermenting the juice from grapes along with the skins. Grape skin provides red wine with its color, and also contains the highest concentration of polyphenols. Other alcoholic beverages do not contain these compounds. “Consumption of one to two glasses of red wine per day with food might be considered part of a diet to reduce heart disease, provided there are no health grounds for avoiding alcohol, and that the person is not going to drive or operate equipment,” Corder said. The study findings are based on experiments with cow artery cells treated with alcohol-free extracts of various red, white and rose wines. The researchers also tried an extract of red grape juice, which inhibited endothelin production, but much less so than red wine did.

SOURCE: Nature 2001;414:863-864.


Updates on Wine, Alcohol, and Health

Moderate Drinking May Cut Women's Risk of Diabetes
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - New research suggests that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may help prevent healthy postmenopausal women from developing diabetes as well as heart disease. According to the report, women who consumed one to two drinks a day were better able to respond to insulin, a hormone that helps cells use sugar for energy. These women also had lower levels of insulin in their blood. High blood levels of insulin, as well as decreased insulin sensitivity, are risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

In the study, 51 healthy, postmenopausal women rotated among three 8-week treatment periods in which they consumed either no alcohol, one drink a day, or two drinks daily, in addition to a diet to maintain their body weight. Blood samples drawn from the women revealed that insulin levels were nearly 20% lower after consuming two drinks compared to women consuming no alcohol. Levels of triglycerides, a type of fat associated with increased risk of heart disease, were about 10% lower in the two-drink-a-day group compared with the no-alcohol group. Insulin sensitivity rose by roughly 7% after two drinks. There was no effect on blood glucose.

The researchers attributed the findings to the effects of alcohol, but note that other compounds in red wine may provide additional protection. Whatever the beneficial component in alcohol may be, the findings are consistent with previous reports that have observed improved insulin sensitivity among nondiabetic adults who drink moderately.

SOURCE: The Journal of the American Medical Association 2002;287:2559 (5/15/02)

Moderate Drinking May Cut Dementia Risk -Study
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Moderate drinking may reduce an older person’s risk of developing dementia, a new study suggests. Researchers in the Netherlands found that among the 5,400 older adults they studied, those who had up to three drinks a day were less likely than non-drinkers to develop any type of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. And it did not matter whether the alcohol was wine, beer, liquor, or a fortified wine such as sherry. However, the relatively few who said they had four or more drinks in a day saw no such protective effect.

Past research has suggested that a drink or two a day might help ward off the mental decline associated with age. Since evidence also shows light-to-moderate drinking may benefit the heart, investigators speculated that alcohol might similarly help maintain blood flow to the brain by reducing clotting or improving cholesterol levels. Another possibility is that alcohol directly affects mental functioning through the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Substantial evidence indicates that ACH affects learning and memory. Low levels of alcohol stimulate the chemical’s release in humans, while higher alcohol levels inhibit it in studies with rats.

In the study, mentally healthy men and women aged 55 and older were followed for an average of 6 years. During the study, 197 participants developed dementia, most often Alzheimer's disease. Those who had said they drank one to three alcoholic beverages a day were 42% less likely to develop any type of dementia, regardless of the other health factors. They were 70% less likely than non-drinkers to be diagnosed with vascular dementia, an impairment caused by significant reductions in the brain’s blood supply.

In addition, a couple of drinks per day showed a protective effect among people who carried the gene variant ApoE4, which is associated with an increased Alzheimer’s risk. The researchers speculated that alcohol, possibly through improving cholesterol levels, might moderate dementia risk among ApoE4 carriers.

SOURCE: The Lancet 2002;359:281-286 (1/26/02)

Red Wine May Keep Prostate Cancer Cells in Check
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Compounds in red wine may keep prostate cancer cells from proliferating, results of a preliminary laboratory study suggest. Researchers from Spain found five different polyphenols, antioxidants found in red wine, tea, and certain fruits and vegetables, inhibited the growth of prostate cancer cells in a test tube and encouraged cancer cells to “commit suicide,” a natural process called apoptosis.

The findings, if confirmed by larger studies, may help to explain the higher rates of prostate cancer in the US and non-Mediterranean European countries. The rate of prostate cancer in Mediterranean countries, where intake of red wine and other polyphenol-containing foods is high, tends to be lower. The Mediterranean diet is considered to be protective against the endocrine cancers (including prostate cancer), and features a low animal-fat and meat content, with a high intake of fresh fruit, vegetables, pasta, and wine.

The study examined the effect of five polyphenols found in red wine--gallic acid, tannic acid, morin, quercetin and rutin--on prostate cancer cells. The researchers added varying amounts of these compounds to a dish containing prostate cancer cells. All five compounds inhibited cell proliferation and promoted apoptosis. The results point to a need for studies investigating the effects of these compounds in humans with the potential goal of developing recommendations for use in cancer prevention. Prostate cancer is the second-deadliest form of cancer for US men, after lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

SOURCE: BJU International 2002;89:950-954.

Light Drinking May Help Keep Leg Arteries Clear
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Moderate drinkers may be less likely to develop blockages in the arteries that supply blood to the legs. In a study of almost 4,000 people over 55, Dutch researchers found that all women and non-smoking men who reported having 1 or 2 drinks a day were less likely than nondrinkers to have peripheral arterial disease (PAD). These results complement previous research that suggests light drinking can reduce cardiovascular disease risk.

The strongest effect was noted in non-smoking women who were 59% less likely to have PAD than teetotalers. PAD occurs when arteries in the legs become blocked by a buildup of fatty material, a process known as atherosclerosis. PAD can lead to leg cramps when walking. Atherosclerosis in general can bring on stroke and heart attacks. Alcohol may slow atherosclerosis by inhibiting the oxidation of cholesterol, which prevents it from accumulating inside arteries. Since atherosclerosis can lead to other cardiovascular problems, reducing this process may be the means by which light drinking promotes heart and blood vessel health in general. The benefits of alcohol may stem primarily from red wine. This could explain the stronger effect seen in women, since women tended to choose wine, whereas almost half of men liked beer best.

SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology 2002;155:332-338.

Alcohol May Benefit Heart Attack Patients
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Moderate drinking has been linked with a lower risk of a heart attack. Two new studies show that a drink a day may promote survival in patients after a heart attack, as well as help the elderly avoid heart failure. The researchers of both reports found that any type of alcohol had potentially healthy effects when consumed in moderation. Alcohol has been shown to raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol and prevent blood clots from forming.

One study of more than 1,900 adults who had been hospitalized for heart attack found that patients who consumed seven drinks a week in the year before their heart attack had a 32% lower risk of dying compared with teetotalers. And those who consumed less than seven drinks a week lowered their risk of dying by 21% over nearly 4 years, compared with patients who abstained from drinking. The findings suggest that alcohol consumption is probably safe after a heart attack for moderate drinkers. Patients who abstain from alcohol may need more aggressive treatment with drugs such as aspirin, beta-blockers, and cholesterol-lowering medications.

Another study found that elderly people who drank at least 1.5 drinks per day had a risk of heart failure 47% lower than abstainers, regardless of age, race, blood pressure, history of diabetes, smoking, and other factors. The study included 2,200 adults averaging 74 years of age.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association 2001;285:1965-1977.

Moderate Drinking Helps Preserve Women’s Mental Functioning
TORONTO (Reuters Health) - Consuming less than one alcoholic drink per day may help preserve the mental function of older women. Between 1995 and 1999, 9,072 women in the Nurses’ Health Study, aged 70 to 79, were interviewed. Mental function was assessed using seven different tests. Information about their alcohol use had been collected at the beginning of the study in 1980, and was updated through 1994. After adjusting for other factors that could affect mental function, the researchers found that the women who drank moderately had better average scores on five of the seven tests and on a score that combined all seven tests. The effect seen on cognitive function was the equivalent of being 1 or 2 years younger.

SOURCE: Presentation by Dr. Meir Stampfer (Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health) at the 2001 Congress of Epidemiology.


Study Sheds Light on Wine’s Benefits
(Molecules found in food and wine may help to extend life)

(Reuters) - In a research paper, Harvard scientists announced they have found a new class of chemicals that may extend life. The research is preliminary, but what makes it interesting is the chemicals can be found in some red wine.

Researchers have known for years that cutting calories can prolong life in everything from yeast cells to mammals. But an easier way to live longer may be as simple as turning a corkscrew. Molecules found in red wine, peanuts, and other products of the plant world have for the first time been shown to mimic the life-extending effects of calorie restriction. This could help researchers develop drugs that lengthen life and prevent or treat aging-related diseases. One of the molecules, resveratrol, was shown in a study to extend the life span of yeast cells by up to 80 percent. Resveratrol exists naturally in grapes and red wine.

David Sinclair, an assistant professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School and co-author of the study, said he and his fellow researchers hope the molecules will prove to prolong life not just in yeast but in multi-cellular organisms like worms, fruit flies, and perhaps humans. Sinclair, whose study appears in the journal Nature, said tests on worms and flies were already yielding “encouraging” results. Similar trials are already being planned on mice.


Sinclair said he has become more “enthusiastic” about the purported health benefits of red wine since his research began, and that experts who have reviewed his findings have had a similar response. “Not many people know about it yet, but those who do have almost invariably changed their drinking habits; that is, they drink more red wine,” he said.

The molecules that were shown to extend life in yeast belong to a family of compounds known as polyphenols. These include resveratrol, which is already thought to make red wine healthy in moderate amounts. Sinclair said the latest study may help explain why moderate consumption of red wine has been linked to lower incidence of heart disease and why resveratrol prevents cancer in mice.“We’re connecting many dots with this study,” he said.

Scientists have known for decades that putting organisms on a calorie-restricted diet dramatically reduces the incidence of age-related illnesses such as cancer, osteoporosis, and heart disease. In the 1990s, research showed that single genes can control how fast organisms age. Because of that, scientists have been racing to find ways of manipulating those genes.

Sinclair and his team have been looking for what he calls the Holy Grail of aging research: molecules that activate the enzymes that in turn influence the genes that regulate aging. Now, they say, they have found those molecules.

Sinclair’s team partnered with BIOMOL, a Pennsylvania company, to screen thousands of molecules to see which ones might activate the enzymes. Not only did they find a group of 18 molecules that fit the bill — resveratrol being just one — but all of them came from plants and were produced in response to harsh environmental conditions like drought.

“We think we know why these plants make these molecules. We think it’s part of their own defense response, and we also believe that animals and fungi that live on the plants can pick up on these clues,” he said.

To illustrate that theory, Sinclair noted that red wines from regions with harsher growing conditions — Spain, Chile, northern France, Argentina, and Australia — contain more resveratrol than those produced where grapes are not highly stressed or dehydrated.

The Origins of Bacchanalia

The bacchanalia were wild and mystic festivals of the Roman and Greek god Bacchus. Introduced into Rome from lower Italy by way of Etruria (c. 200 BC), the bacchanalia were originally held in secret and only attended by women. The festivals occurred on three days of the year in the grove of Simila near the Aventine Hill, on March 16 and March 17. Later, admission to the rites was extended to men and celebrations took place five times a month. According to Livy, the extension happened in an era when the leader of the Bacchus cult was Paculla Annia - though it is now believed that some men had participated before that.

Livy informs us that the rapid spread of the cult, which he claims indulged in all kinds of crimes and political conspiracies at its nocturnal meetings, led in 186 BC to a decree of the Senate—the so-called Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus, inscribed on a bronze tablet discovered in Apulia in Southern Italy (1640), now at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna—by which the Bacchanalia were prohibited throughout all Italy except in certain special cases which must be approved specifically by the Senate. In spite of the severe punishment inflicted on those found in violation of this decree (Livy claims there were more executions than imprisonment), the Bacchanalia survived in Southern Italy long past the repression.

Modern scholars hold Livy's account in doubt and believe that the Senate acted against the Bacchants for one or more of three reasons. First, because women occupied leadership positions in the cult (contrary to traditional Roman family values). Second, because slaves and the poor were the cult's members and were planning to overthrow the Roman government. Or third, according to a theory proposed by Erich Gruen, as a display of the Senate's supreme power to the Italian allies as well as competitors within the Roman political system, such as individual victorious generals whose popularity made them a threat to the senate's collective authority.

The term bacchanalia has since been extended to refer to any drunken revelry.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Better than breakfast in bed...

Why and How to Decant Wine

Three Reasons for Decanting Wine

Old wines that have been cellared properly will contain sediment due to the aging process. By properly decanting the wine, the sediment will remain in the bottle.

Young full-bodied red wines can benefit from decanting. When the wine comes in contact with oxygen, the aromas present in the wine are released. The decanter in this case should be a wide bottomed decanter. Wide body decanters provide more surface area for oxygen to allow aromas from the wine to be released.

The presentation of wine in a beautiful crystal decanter adds to the ambience of a beautifully set table and prepared dinner.

How to Decant Aged Wine
For old wines with sediment one needs to be very diligent about pouring the wine into a decanter. First, stand the bottle up for several hours to allow the sediment to settle at the bottom. Fine sediment will take longer to settle to the bottom of the bottle.

Use a lit candle or lamp. Hold the bottle of wine so that the area just below the neck of the wine bottle can be seen through the light while pouring. Ever so slowly begin pouring the aged wine into the decanter. Be patient. Hold the bottle as much as possible perpendicular to the candle. As the last one-third of the wine is poured, carefully watch for sediment. Stop pouring when any sediment appears in the neck of the bottle.

How to Decant Young Red Wine
For young red wines, splash the wine into the decanter. The more it splashes into the decanter, the more it comes in contact with oxygen. Let the wine settle and rest for a short time.

Wine Enjoyment Guide

I love to drink but I'm learning how...

With a little guidance and refinement there is a lot of bacchanalian potential here

Wine Quotes

"Wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages."
--Louis Pasteur

(After having just been surprised by a double agent) "Red wine with fish. Well, that should have told me something."
--Bond in From Russia with Love (1963)

"Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me..."
--Vizzini in The Princess Bride (1987)

Classy Wine Connoisseurs

Perfecting the pleasures of life...

Glory Days

College Students

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Thanks For Warning Us Mata Hari

Now I have to worry if they want me for me or for my wine!

Stressed Out Wine Drinker

Careful Of Those That Pray

I pray to prey on rich men and their prized bordeaux

La Femme Fatale

The Wine Punt

The dent on the bottom of a wine bottle is called a punt. It is found on the bottom of Champagne/sparkling wine bottles and still in many red wine bottles. The main purpose of the rounded bottom or punt is to strengthen the bottle--especially important for sparkling wines--but punts also can be useful for collecting sediment and for pouring wine (it provides a place to put your thumb).

Wine Market Council

How To Choose The Best Corkscrew

No wine lover has ever avoided the problems caused by a poorly functioning corkscrew and we have bad memories attached to these failures. We all had the experience of watching a waiter/waitress struggling with the corkscrew and have us pray that the wine will be OK after all the work. So we ask ourselves how to buy a corkscrew that will work the best, even for the fairer sex, if she is stuck without a Martian (us men) to delegate the bottle opening job to. Let me address the problem and give some recommendations.

First of all, what makes a good corkscrew? Aside from the obvious job of removing the cork, what other important issues are there?

1. The work should require as little brute force as possible
2. The cork should be kept intact – no shredding, breakage, etc.
3. The screw should go in straight to avoid breaking the cork or the screw
4. The pulling action should not shake up the bottle to avoid disturbing the sediment, if any, there
5. Must do the job safely (no explosions, cracked glass, broken corkscrew, etc.)
6. It has to fit all types of bottle necks, including the new flanged types

Joseph C. Paradi

More to Cork Than Meets the Bottle

Any way that you pull it - with a corkscrew, wine puller, or some other modern contraption designed to remove it from a bottle - a wine cork has a history of its own. That history begins in about 500 BC in Greece where cork was reportedly used as a stopper for wine jugs. Prior to that, olive oil was floated over the top of wine in ancient Egypt, and it was a practice that was still common throughout the ancient world until the Middle Ages.
As cork caught on, Portugal with its large population of cork trees (which are a type of oak) became the focus for a whole industry that has supported the wine industry. The cork producers take processing cork to be ready for a wine bottle just as seriously as a winemaker takes in turning grapes into a fine wine. More importantly, it takes more time to produce a cork than it does a wine.

The typical cork tree takes about twenty-five years to mature and then it must undergo a couple harvests of its outer bark before it is ready to be used as cork for wine bottles. Those early harvests do not provide material dense enough for stopping a wine bottle, so most of the producers have other materials such as cork tiles for floors and walls that are byproducts of that process. Some wineries in Portugal even use cork as their wine labels, because it can be easily branded with the name of a winery.

Each of the cork harvests need a 7-9 year waiting period before the cork can be harvested again. Once the bark is harvested off the cork trees, they look like they have undergone the ultimate body peel. After the cork manufacturers have aged, washed, and sterilized the cork, it is then punched into the shape it will have for insertion into a bottle. However, that is only part of the process. Bags of cork are then shipped to the United States for further processing.

In visiting Cork Associates in Napa, a production arm of the largest cork producer in Portugal, we found that the process still had many more steps before a cork was ready to be sent to a winery for its journey to fulfill its purpose of preserving a wine. Here, the corks were graded for quality. If they have defects, look too coarse, or have some other problem, they will be removed before they go any further. Wineries buy corks based on their quality, and prices are determined by premium quality. Corks are then washed, usually with hydrogen peroxide, although chlorine was widely used in the past, to disinfect them of any impurities. The cork producers even do lab tests to check the quality throughout the process.

Following their journey through quality control, the corks are de-dusted. This makes the corks ready for printing or branding with a winery’s name or logo. In some cases, a winery will use both forms of marking their corks; it’s a flashy way to remind the consumer about who produced the wine. An ozone-treated humidity room is where the corks stop next to make certain they are at the optimum pliability.

The next step is coating the corks with emulsified paraffin or silicon to create a good seal so the cork will be uniform against the glass. Then, they are tumbled in large industrial dryers that look like they belong in a laundromat. Finally, they are given a small dose (35 parts per million) of sulfur dioxide to prevent any contamination on their way to wineries or while they are being stored. Plus, the corks must be between 5 1/2 to 7% humidity in order to work effectively.

What happens if corks are not treated properly or become too moist? One result can be the development of mold that will lead to a wine being "corked." While every step of the process takes every precaution to eliminate this problem, industry experts estimate that between 5-8% of all wines have the musty dusty odor often associated with it. Fortunately, the majority of wines are preserved as they are meant to be.

All of us are looking for a little "closure" in our lives, and in the case of a bottle of wine, cork has been the answer. However, with the supply of cork trees diminishing at a fair rate of speed, the cork is being challenged by other adversaries wanting to be the next on the bottling line. The introduction of synthetic corks, as the ultimate method of sealing out oxygen from the bottle, has many wine purists up in arms.

The cork industry not wanting to waste any byproducts has taken to shredding leftover cork pieces and then gluing them back together to make a "composite" cork. Then there is always a screwcap, but where is the romance in that? The incredible journey cork takes from tree to bottle is an important part of the winemaking quality. It plays a significant role in the preservation of the investment wineries make as they produce super premium wines for consumers.

Most importantly, the process of cork production is paramount to producing good wines. Without it, how could you set the mood of removing the foil, inserting the corkscrew, hearing the pop of the cork, watching the bottle’s contents glide into the glass, and then tasting the wine as it caresses your palate.

Tim Hayes & John Koetzner
Wine Tributaries

Old World Italian Wine Cellar

Understanding Sulfites In Wine

Sulfites or sulfur dioxide is a fruit preservative widely used in dried fruits as well as wine. It is also produced by the human body at the level of about 1000 mg (milligrams) per day. Consumption of food preserved with sulfites is generally not a problem except for a few people who are deficient in the natural enzyme to break it down. For these people, the additional sulfites from food can be a problem. There are reports of severe and life threatening reactions when sulfites were added at erroneously and enormously high levels (100 times what was supposed to be used!) on salad bar vegetables. I have found two reviews of the medical effects of sulfites-unfortunately I could find neither on-line as they appear to be too old. They should be available at medical school libraries.
AF Gunnison and DW Jacobsen, Sulfite hypersensitivity. A critical review. CRC Critical Review in Toxicology, 17: 185-214 (1987). CRC Journals
R.K. Bush, S.L. Taylor and W. Busse, A critical evaluation of clinical trials in reactions to sulfites, J. Allergy Clin. Immunol. 78:191-202 (1986). J. Allergy Clin Immunol

The levels in wine average 80 mg/liter, or about 10 mg in a typical glass of wine, with slightly higher amounts in white versus red. A number of studies show reactions by sensitive patients to drinking wine with sulfites, but it appears that their reactions are also caused by other components. For details on this issue see this review: A.T. Bakalinsky, Sulfites, Wine and Health, in Wine in Context: Nutrition, Physiology, Policy, A.L. Waterhouse and R.M. Rantz, Eds. American Society for Enology and Viticulture, Davis, 1996. (Publication List)

The medical literature has virtually no reports on sulfites inducing headache. There are many studies of sulfites and asthmatic responses, and a few of these address sulfites in wine. A few studies from Australia shows that even with extremely sensitive people, there is only an asthmatic response in a small number of sensitive subjects (4 out of 24) for a single drink (150 ml) at extremely high sulfite levels-300 mg/liter or 45 mg. No effects were seen at lower levels, such as 150 mg/liter, or with several increasing doses up to 750 mg/liter! See H Valley and PJ Thompson, Role of sulfite additives in wine induced asthma: single dose and cumulative dose studies, Thorax 56:763-769 (2001). Link

There are many erroneous ideas about sulfites, so to put the record straight:

All wines contain sulfites. Yeast naturally produce sulfites during fermentation so there is only a rare wine which contains none.
The US requires a "sulfite" warning label and Australia requires a label indicating "preservative 220," but nearly all winemakers add sulfites, including those in France, Italy, Spain, Australia, Chile, etc etc. So, the wine you drink in foreign countries contains sulfites, but you just are not being warned about it when purchased abroad. Survey studies show that European wines contain an average of 80 mg/L sulfites just as in the US.

There are a few (very few) winemakers who make wines without adding sulfites. In the US, organic wine must be made without added sulfites. These are unusual because the wine is very perishable and often have unusual aromas from the aldehydes that are normally bound and rended aroma-less by the sulftes. Look for these wines at natural food stores.
Sulfites do not cause headaches!!! There is something in red wine that causes headaches, but the cause has not yet been discovered. Refer to the Bakalinsky article above. (Many people seem to connect their headache with the sulfite warning label, but sorry there is no connection). To avoid headaches, try drinking less wine, and drink with food. If you think sulfites are causing your headache, try eating some orange-colored dried apricots, and let me know if that induces a headache. If not, sulftes are not the likely culprit. These bright colored dried fruits typically have 2000 mg/kg sulfites, so a two ounce serving (56 gm) should contain about 112 mg sulfites.
I get about one note every two months protesting this assertion from individuals who say they get terrible headaches from sulfites. Their experiences may well be true, but anonymous emails cannot be verified and tested, rendering them useless in advancing a valid understanding. I have offered to post their stories if they are willing to verify their identities (to me) and let me compile them in a list for a future research investigation. Unless the sufferers are willing to undergo some actual verification of their affliction by an independent observer, their stories remain heresay. Neither science nor the law is willing to take a stand on such grounds.

So, if you feel that you are so afflicted and you are willing to go on a verified list of potential subjects of a scientific study, please send me a note that includes your postal address, and daytime phone, and a statement of your willingness to be a participant in a future study. This personal information will NOT be posted in the internet. I will keep this in a list for medical researchers interested in such a study. Just so you know, your note will NOT be a legal document and any future study on human subjects will include many more documents explaining the nature of any study in which you may participate as well as the risks, etc., and you will have ample opportunity to back out if you have concerns about the study.

Current Testimonials

In the US, the law states that
Wines cannot contain more than 350 mg/liter sulfites
Wines with more than 10 mg/liter must have a "Contains Sulfites" warning label
Producers must show levels below 10 mg/liter by analysis to omit the label
Wines must have less than 1 mg/liter to have a label that says "No Sulfites"
This level must be shown by analysis
All wines must carry the label whether made in the US or abroad
Still want to get rid of sulfites? In theory, you can remove sulfites by adding hydrogen peroxide to your wine. I don't recommend it but I mention it only because I keep getting asked how to do this. The correct amount to add will depend on the sulfite level in the wine, an amount you cannot deduce except by chemical analysis. However, for the typical wine at 80 mg/L sulfites, 1 milliliter of 3% hydrogen peroxide, the form sold in pharmacies, will remove the sulfites in one bottle of wine. If you want to learn more, there is a study of the reaction between sulfite and hydrogen peroxide in simple water solutions: M.R. Hoffman and J.R. Edwards, Kinetics of the Oxidation of Sulfite by Hydrogen Peroxide in Acidic Solution, J. Phys. Chem. 79: 2096 (1975) Link Hydrogen peroxide has been used to remove sulfites from cucumbers and dried fruit. Ozkan, M; Cemeroglu, B. 2002. Desulfiting dried apricots by hydrogen peroxide. JOURNAL OF FOOD SCIENCE 67 (5): 1631-1635. McFeeters, RF. 1998. Use and removal of sulfite by conversion to sulfate in the preservation of salt-free cucumbers. JOURNAL OF FOOD PROTECTION 61 (7): 885-890.
Every 5 years or so a M.D. asks me if I want to collaborate on wine headaches, but there is no funding for such research. So, if anyone wants to support a Master's student research project on the topic of wine headaches ($30K) we can start to investigate.

Andrew L. Waterhouse
Minor Wine Components