Ever since Morley Safer introduced America to the French Paradox on 60 Minutes, health-conscious wine lovers have been toasting to long lives and good heart health with glasses of red wine held high. Now, an Italian company called Revino is marketing a wine it boasts contains even more benefits than your average vino. But is the claim based on sound science?
Vitis Vitae—which translates to "vine of life"—is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Bovale and Tannat grapes, which were selected for their high levels of procyanidins, a subcategory of tannins linked with many health benefits. Also prevalent in apples, green tea and dark chocolate, procyanidins have been found to improve the health of the endothelium (the layer of cells lining blood vessels), which, in turn, helps prevent heart disease, strokes and dementia.
After five years of research with the University of Verona's department of enology, company founder Roberto Pasqua di Bisceglie claims that a serving of Vitis Vitae contains 50 percent more procyanidins than an average serving of red wine—reportedly around 2,400 milligrams per liter—without tasting overly tannic. (This isn't the first time someone has tried to engineer healthier wine.)
British wine expert and author of The Red Wine Diet Roger Corder said he discussed the concept of a procyanidin-heavy wine with Pasqua di Bisceglie back in 2007. "We focused primarily on the concept [of greater health benefit while consuming less alcohol] and feasibility," Corder told Wine Spectator via email, mentioning maceration, extraction and achieving an optimal level of procyanidins as some of the main issues they considered. Though he was not consulted during the creation of Vitis Vitae, Corder said he is "very interested to taste the result."
Pasqua di Bisceglie asserts that the result is worth trying. "I don't want to be perceived as someone who says that we are the ultimate healthy wine, because that would be absurd," he told Wine Spectator. "The focus for us is to make a great wine, but at the same time, a healthy wine. It's a matter of finding balance and creating an elegant blend that can have a very high dose of procyanidin."
Nilanjana Maulik, professor at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, has studied wine's potential effects on cardiovascular health, and is enthusiastic about the concept, but has reservations. "Of course, I like the idea!" she told Wine Spectator. "But without published studies, it is just an assumption that it might be beneficial, especially because no studies have been done in the United States."
Howard Sesso, associate professor at Harvard Medical School, concurs with Maulik. "We know from many research studies over the last few decades that light to moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease," he told Wine Spectator in an email. "Whether this specific red wine, rich in procyanidins, confers greater benefits than other red wines or even other forms of alcohol is entirely speculative. Ideally, research studies would help determine the mechanisms of effect."
According to Pasqua di Bisceglie, Enrico Raber, biochemist and winemaker for Vitis Vitae, has been working with the University of Verona's medical and enology departments to study the effects of this wine on a molecular level. "The findings are very exciting," Pasqua di Bisceglie said. "At this point, we can't divulge too many details on the data, but it will be published soon, within this year." Of course, that does not count as independent, peer-reviewed research.
American wine and health fanatics shouldn't plan on conducting their own taste test anytime soon. The 1,666-case production is earmarked for the Chinese market, due to the high consumer demand there for health-focused, anti-aging products. Don't hold your breath for it to come stateside anytime soon; though Pasqua di Bisceglie said he's begun reaching out to distributors in other countries, U.S. (and European) laws prohibit wine companies from promoting their wines as healthy.
If it is proven both heart-healthy and palatable, Vitis Vitae could spawn other health-geared wines. "This product does raise interesting questions about a growing trend in foods, to develop 'superfoods' rich in natural compounds or nutrients to confer greater health effects," Sesso said. But until we know more, his suggestion is to "enjoy what you drink, and to keep it in moderation!"