Research in the area of wine and health has exploded in recent years and in this blog I sort through it to see what is really useful. For a definitive resource please refer to my book Age Gets Better with Wine: New Science for a Healthier, Better, and Longer Life.
OK, we all know that wine is good for the heart; French paradox, old news. And if you are at all interested in anti-aging, you will have heard that wine’s benefits are attributed to the polyphenol antioxidants from the skins, including resveratrol, quercetin, and a menagerie of other exotic molecules. But the role of alcohol has long been questioned. Even though the epidemiologic evidence points to a contributory part for alcohol, the exact mechanisms by which it might accomplish this have not been well understood, other than favorably shifting the high density/low density cholesterol ratio. New findings implicate a signaling molecule called Notch, another one of those exotic breeds that seem to be involved in a lot of things once we get to know them.
Vessel thickening is reduced in the carotid arteries of mice fed the equivalent of two drinks, compared to no-alcohol controls. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Rochester Medical Center)
No one knows for sure when the oak barrel was invented, but it probably dates to the 13th century. Wine and oak have had a long and happy marriage, despite occasional excesses and changes of taste, and it is as hard to imagine a big red without oak as it is beer without hops. Vanillins and other compounds improve the wine if managed carefully, but the question of how these molecules may affect the health benefits of wine has just recently begun to be explored.
Collectively these compounds are called lignin-derived polyphenols, which bear a relationship to polyphenols from grape skin and seeds. These molecules are often aromatic, vanilla being a good example. And the prolonged time that red wines often spend in barrels can result in a high degree of extraction into the wine, though levels may still be small in comparison. Nevertheless, their contribution to wine’s effects on health may be as important as their input to flavor and structure, according to recent research.