The Benefits of Drinking Wine
If you carefully read this book, and diligently taste a few wines along the way, you’ll eventually be seduced, I hope — seduced into a life-long quest to learn more about the wonderful world of wines and to continually indulge yourself, bathe yourself, in its many sensual pleasures. You will not be disappointed. Be somewhat moderate on the imbibing side of things, but don’t be afraid of getting lost in the look, smell, and taste of wine — one sip at a time. Accept the multiple rewards that wine offers. Wine has given me some terrific comforts and lasting gifts, which I can divide into five distinct areas.
“[Wine is] proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.” —Ben Franklin, letter to Abbé André Morellet, 1779
The one indisputable thing about wine is that it will cheer you up. The first taste of a good wine can result in an immediate delight. I can think of countless times when I tried a new wine and my first reaction was “wow!” Each subsequent mouthful leads to further confirmations that this beverage is something to behold. Then, as the wine begins to open up from exposure to air, it reveals new smells and flavours. Your appreciation ramps up sip after sip. Finally, a slight feeling of relaxation accompanied by a lift in spirits washes over you as the effects of the alcohol settle into your system. In short, wine can offer pure, unadulterated sensual pleasures.
Enhanced Social Gatherings
“Wine is the most civilized thing in the world.” —Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon
Have you ever noticed the positive contributions that a few drinks can have on a dinner party or other types of get-togethers? I have. The guests invariably become more animated, and conversations flow more easily. Thankfully, discussions often turn to those three supposedly taboo subjects: politics, sex (or is it money?), and religion. No more trivial chatter . . . the weather is just fine, thanks! It is an empirical fact, with few exceptions, that a social gathering is better when you include some wine.
My favourite toast at a dinner party is simply “Health, wealth, wisdom, and many good friends.” The order and meaning of the words in my toast is quite logical. You need health to begin with . . . period. Second, the wealth I’m speaking of is not monetary; it refers to a sense of fulfillment. It means that our fundamental needs are satisfied and that we’re at peace with ourselves. Third, I think wisdom is the ultimate goal of any human endeavor (and that’s why it’s in my toast!). And finally, one needs a lot of fine friends to share all these good things with. There you have it: My philosophy on life in just seven words. Wine just helps to bring people closer together.
“Wine nourishes, refreshes, and cheers. [. . .] Wherever it is lacking, medicines become necessary.” —The Talmud
Countless studies show that wine is a very healthful beverage. Perhaps the most famous source for revealing wine’s health benefits was a 60 Minutes television episode titled “The French Paradox.” The show highlighted the apparent contradictory fact that although many people in France have diets that are very high in saturated fats, France has very low incidences of coronary heart disease. Experts have long believed that eating a lot of fatty foods leads to a higher risk for heart disease. This connection seems to be true in many societies but not in France. Why? Some people have speculated that the one big mitigating factor is the consumption of wine, especially red wine. Each year, the French drink approximately 100 bottles of wine per capita, versus the less than 20 bottles per capita in North America. A compound called resveratrol seems to be responsible for many of the healthful properties of wine (the compound is higher in red wines because it comes mainly from the grape skins from which red wines get their colour). Plus, wine is high in antioxidants, which are known to have positive effects on our bodies.
Many other benefits are associated with wine consumption. Written evidence shows that people have used wine for medicinal purposes since the time of the Egyptians. Wine has long been used as an antiseptic and is said to help with digestion (I rely on it at every dinner). Interestingly, Champagne is known to be the only drink or food that a person who is seasick can digest without vomiting! Among the many other positive properties attributed to wine consumption are alleviating sleep problems, treating some nervous disorders, relieving pains, curing diarrhea, treating some cancers, and possibly controlling blood sugars. Recent evidence shows that wine may even help reduce colds and act as a memory boost for the elderly! To top it all off, there’s strong evidence that moderate consumption of wine (two to four drinks a day) increases our longevity.
Sound like an amazing elixir? Not completely. Some people recognize all the good things about wine and take them as a license to increase their consumption. But as with any medicine, you can overdose with wine. When wine is enjoyed responsibly, especially with food, its allure and positive attributes are overwhelming, but overindulgence is dangerous. Besides liver disease excess alcohol use has been associated with various types of cancer (conversely, some studies have shown that low-level use may help prevent some cancers due to the antioxidants). The old adage holds: “Everything in moderation.” Drivers, pregnant women, young people, and mentally ill folks all need to carefully monitor or avoid any use of alcohol. People with a family history of alcoholism would be wise to avoid any alcohol whatsoever.
In summary, wine can be a mixed blessing. No one expresses this better than Omar Khayyám in The Rubáiyát: “And much as wine has play’d the Infidel / And robb’d me of my Robe of Honour — well, / I often wonder what the Vintners buy / One half so precious as the Goods they sell.”
Peace and Fulfillment
“And wine that maketh glad the heart of man . . .” —Psalm 104:15
Everyone who has had the opportunity to drink wine recognizes the feelings of warmth and satisfaction it can offer. Some refer to the sensation as that “gentle glow” one gets from just the right amount. I think the induced state of mind is best described as an amazing combination of relaxation and an uplifted spirit — a beautiful feeling of contentment. There always seems to be a point at which this feeling of peace, optimism, and fulfillment is at its peak. Unfortunately, there’s always a temptation to take more wine in an attempt to ramp up this sense, or glimpse, of bliss. Drinking more is usually a big mistake, as you’ll soon drift into a foggy, sometimes headachy space. Some people don’t particularly care and share Lord Byron’s attitude: “Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter, / Sermons and soda-water the morning after” (Don Juan).
Curiously, alcohol is classified as a depressant, which means it inhibits the central nervous system. I think this term is a bit misleading, especially in everyday conversation. Because alcohol can put me into such a relaxed and upbeat state of mind, it certainly does not “depress” me, nor has it at any time. Using this descriptor in conjunction with wine kind of reminds me of the phrase used for a bad medical test result: “Your test results were positive.” Excuse me! Maybe we should find a new medical term for classifying wine, some version of my personal favourite word for wine, like elixir. Just a thought . . .
“In vino veritas.” —Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturalis
Let’s go back to some ancient wisdom as it relates to wine’s final attribute. “In wine there is truth” is the English translation of Pliny’s words written in Latin . . . pretty good phrase for expressing wine’s most valuable — and most mysterious — gift. I, for one, have had many insights while quietly enjoying a glass or two. Sometimes I could even classify those moments as epiphanies. I can honestly say that this seemingly suddenly gained knowledge and these intuitive-like discoveries have helped me in both my personal and professional life. Through experience, I know that wine, used judiciously, is a true treasure for which mankind should be extremely grateful. “Wine brings to light the hidden secrets of the soul,” wrote Horace (a Roman poet who lived in the 1st century BC, about 100 years before Pliny).
Let us give the final word on wine to another quote from The Odes of Horace:
“No poems can please nor live long which are written by water drinkers. Ever since Bacchus enrolled poets, as half-crazed, amongst his Satyrs and Fauns, the sweet Muses have usually smelt of wine in the morning.