Ignore the French Paradox
By Jeff Morgan, West Coast editor
It took a medical report and a television show to force a large group of Americans to sit up and realize what most Europeans have known for centuries: Wine goes well with meals. It's ironic that red wine sales are booming because red wines are reputed to be most effective in preventing heart attacks. (Chardonnay is the exceptional white, because, well, it's easy to pronounce and fashionable on the cocktail circuit.)
As a longtime wine drinker, I must admit that the continuing good news on wine and health is comforting. But that's not why I drink wine; it never was.
I confess that I drink wine because it tastes good. Wine also improves the flavors of my lunch and dinner, because its natural acidity balances food oils and fats. I'd probably drink wine for breakfast too, but it doesn't seem to work with cornflakes. Besides, if I drank wine for breakfast, when would I drink my cafe au lait?
Today, with plastic surgeons in high demand, personal trainers exhausting themselves with too many clients and vitamin manufacturers posting staggering profits, it's evident that Americans are hooked on the search for a fountain of youth. How convenient that wine now fits into the picture.
But what about the negative aspect? Too much will make you drunk, which can be dangerous for your health in many ways.
Perhaps the good and bad news cancel each other out, and that leaves us back where we started--with a focus on flavor. I believe people should drink wine because it enhances the mealtime experience. Wine's fruit essence, refreshing acidity and conversation-promoting nature are three great motivators that stand on their own, without the benefit of a doctor's approval.
Many second- or third-generation Americans have lost their immigrant grandparents' daily relationship to wine. That's why so many folks still drink soda pop with dinner. I actually observed one hapless restaurant diner recently, as he chowed down on Dungeness crab, while sipping alternately from a glass of Pepsi and then from a glass of white wine. The sweet, cloying Pepsi destroyed both the crab and the wine. But he was a lot bigger than I am, so I decided to allow him to remain unenlightened.
I see similar wine-clueless behavior in restaurants all the time. At lunch, for example, business execs often spend a fortune on a fine meal and wash it down with soda or iced tea. (In the name of health, they dispensed with martinis long ago.) Now they suffer from health paranoia, as they worry about the effects of alcohol on their afternoon productivity. Of course, one glass of wine with a normal lunchtime meal has virtually no effect on anyone's cognitive abilities.
The restaurants play into the problem by taking an order for wine first and delivering it ten minutes before the food arrives; it's an open invitation to drink on an empty stomach. Why don't they give everyone iced tea or mineral water as a lunchtime aperitif, and serve the wine with the meal?
As a nation, we really needn't be so concerned about wine and health. We do need to develop a healthy attitude about wine drinking, however. Drink with your meals, and don't drink in between. If you're driving or need to go back to work, don't drink much. It's so simple, yet so many people still don't get it.
I also suggest you drink what you like, not what you think is good for you. Red wine with fish? Forget about it, unless it's a lighter-styled Pinot Noir, for example. Go for the white stuff, even if it doesn't have as many of those heart attack- and cancer-fighting phenolic compounds.
Most importantly, relax and enjoy yourself. Linger over a meal instead of rushing through it. Wine's most important health contribution is that it promotes a less harried dining tradition. It allows us the time to recharge. Fast food with wine is something of an oxymoron (although a Big Mac would certainly taste better with a good Zinfandel than a Coke).
So what about wine and health? Well, in moderation, it seems to be good for you, and that's something to be thankful for. But the big news, for me, is just old news. Wine tastes so good that it turns every meal into party. It's really a lifestyle issue. And I feel better just thinking about it.
Now it's your turn. In this week's poll, tell us -- do you believe wine has an effect on health?
This column, Unfiltered, Unfined, features the opinionated inside scoop on the latest and greatest in the world of wine, brought to you each Monday by a different Wine Spectator editor. This week we hear from West Coast editor Jeff Morgan. To read past Unfiltered, Unfined columns, go to the archives. And for an archive of senior editor James Laube's columns, visit Laube on Wine.
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