Every day, worldwide, wines are consumed enormously. I dare say wines are adored.
Whether enjoying a glass of wine at home or on a special dinner date, we drink different wines for different occasions. Mostly we associate wine with romantic dates, but we also see wines as a cultural and social factor. There are annual wine tasting events that gather thousands of people to test quality and taste.
But how much do we know about the health benefits of the wine?
Is red wine really good for my health? Should I be drinking it? How much is too much?
Is the hype about red wine’s health benefits only a “good” marketing? A debate over whether the wine is beneficial or not has been going on for quite some time, and opinions are divided.
In science, there are always arguments for and against. Luckily, we can dig deeper to see what researchers are trying to find and confirm.
So, if these are the questions you are asking, I have them for you, the answers backed by science.
Let’s start from the beginning.
The short history of red wine
Many stories and myths surround the history of wine.
The first illustration of wine drinking is known to come from the Sumerian civilization. It is a 5,000-year-old panel known as the Standard of Ur.
The scientists suppose that wine was discovered by accident when wine was discovered 6,000 years ago in the Middle East.
Egyptians were the one who later turned winemaking into art. The Greeks and Romans made the wine popular and inevitable part of everyday life, introducing it to other countries.
For ancient civilizations, wine was not only an alcoholic beverage. The red alcoholic drink bears a cultural significance for them, as back then wines were mostly the beverage for the intellectual elite.
We can say that the wine was a part of everyday life in the ancient Greece, at the center of their intellectual and cultural life. If we look into language, we can see how the word wine encompasses various meanings. The word symposium literally means drinking together. The phrase – drinking to one’s health – comes from Greece. A dinner host would first take the sip of wine to assure the wine is not poisoned before the guests could enjoy it.
But what have we learned from the ancient Greeks’ habits and traditions? Not all wines taste good, and not all wines will improve in time.
The oldest bottle traces back to approximately 325 A.D. The bottle was discovered in 1867 inside one of two Roman stone sarcophagus in a vineyard near the town Speyer in Germany. If you are traveling to Germany you can see the bottle on permanent display at the Historisches Museum der Pfalz (History Museum of the Pfalz).
You might don’t know that the art of winemaking during the Middle Ages was preserved and improved by monks.
Benedictines and Cistercians, in particular, were responsible for improving the process of production and taste. In fact, the world’s most famous champagne was named after a monk Dom Pierre Pérignon (1638-1715). His methods and techniques are still used today.
Wine became a part of life and culture when the art of winemaking spread to France, Spain, and Germany. Back then the wine was considered an important part of healthy diet.
The 17th and 18th centuries brought finer qualities of wine, along with glass bottles with corks.
The golden age of the wine is thought to be the 19th century. Over the last 100 years, winemaking has been modernized and revolutionized. Today, the wine is considered an art and science.
How is red wine made?
The magic happens when dark-colored or black grapes are crushed and fermented.
The natural chemical balance of grapes enables the fermentation without the addition of acids, water, sugars or enzymes. The sugars in grapes are converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide because of yeasts. Apart from the natural process – the fermentation and biochemical development of the fruit, human interaction is included in the overall process.
Depending on the grape varieties, the color of wine can range from red to brown. The color comes in fact from the pigments present in the skin of the grapes.
Wines are naturally dry and sweetness occurs when the fermentation process of sugars into alcohol is interrupted.
The producer can also add liquid sugars to the wine during the manufacturing process.
Wines that do not contain extra alcohol are referred to as not fortified. Today, some wines do have higher alcohol content through the addition of straight alcohol to the wine.
Where are healthy nutrients in wine?
Polyphenols, the substances found in the red wine, combat against harmful bacteria, helping the body to prevent illness and diseases.
There are over 8,000 identified polyphenols found in food. Tea is the richest source of polyphenols, and the second is wine. These chemicals are also found in chocolate, vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, and different fruit.
Flavonoids, types of polyphenols, which are found significantly in red wine, lower risks of many types of cancer.
Resveratrol, catechin, epicatechin and proanthocyanidins are antioxidants where most of the wine’s health benefits are coming from.
In oriental medicine, resveratrol was used to treat diseases of the blood vessels, heart and liver.
Resveratrol is found in the skin of grapes; in other plants, it is produced as a response to damage or injury. Besides grapes, this antioxidant is found in some vegetables, cocoa, dark chocolate and peanuts.
Resveratrol is typically associated with red wine, and it is believed to be responsible for great cardiovascular health in the French population, despite their poor diets which include a lot of saturated fat and food high in cholesterol. This is where the expression French Paradox comes from.
Catechins are a type of flavonoids, natural, biologically active compounds found in plants. All these potent antioxidants may help to protect us from free radicals.
According to scientists, there are five different types of catechins that are able to stabilize potentially damaging chemicals.
Damaging unstable chemicals are usually by-products of normal digestion, but they can also develop in our skin and eyes, damaging certain parts of cells, and cellular membranes. Build ups of free radicals accelerate aging and increase risks of developing certain illnesses and diseases.
Certain kinds of tea are high in catechins, but we can find them in fruit, chocolate, and wine as well.
Epicatechin is a bioactive compound that enhances muscle growth and strength, improves vascularity, blood flow, and endurance, lowers cholesterol levels and improves brain and heart health.