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Archive for the ‘Wine for Health’ Category

I have an interest in the size of a wine pour that borders on pathological—just ask anyone who’s ever been in my kitchen. On the side of my fridge, a few inches above counter level, there are two pieces of blue painter’s tape. If you position a Libbey stemless wine glass on the counter against these pieces of tape, you see the exact measure of both a 4 oz. pour and a 5 oz. pour.

This compulsive bit of measuring dates back to my pregnancy, when I became just the teeniest bit obsessed with how much—if any—alcohol was safe to consume during pregnancy. My doctor advised that one 4 oz. glass a month, after the first trimester, was fine—but no more. That was when I learned the ugly truth about what a 4 oz. glass of wine really looks like. (It looks like a large sip.) And as this was not my usual pour size, Peter slapped some tape against the fridge to keep me honest. Post-pregnancy, we went nuts and added the 5 oz. measure.

If this all sounds a little crazy, well, it is. But no crazier than W. Blake Gray’s great pour-size experiment of 2013, wherein the esteemed wine writer went to four wine bars and six restaurants—all in San Francisco—armed with a carefully concealed Pyrex measuring cup. He ordered a glass of wine from each establishment, and when it arrived, his wife produced the Pyrex and quickly measured the wine pour before returning it to its glass. He found that the average pour size was just above 5 oz., with 4 oz. being the smallest (Terroir Wine Bar) and nearly 7 oz. being the largest (20 Spot). Upon reflection, he realized that the most generous pours came after he’d inquired about the wine and engaged his server in conversation. He didn’t necessarily have to take that person’s advice on what to order, but merely seeming interested in wine clearly influenced pour size.

Lately it seems that every time I go to a new—or at least new-to-me—restaurant, there’s an atypical pour size on the menu. AL’s Place in San Francisco’s Mission District offers wine by the glass, bottle, and “grip,” which is essentially a glass-and-a-half. Meanwhile, at 123 Bolinas in Fairfax, you can order a “smidge”—which is roughly half a glass. A friend in the business says he sees more and more places pouring against a measure—which could account for why restaurants feel compelled to offer a range of pour sizes, with pricing to match.

Perhaps one day we’ll walk into a restaurant and find a Home Glass (definition: as generous a glass as you’d pour yourself at home) on the menu. Back when I first wrote about the concept, my home glass clocked in at about 6 oz—but the burning question is, how big is your home glass? Please respond in the comments, and invite others to weigh in. Pictures welcome; I’ll start.

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I have a friend who looks for the organic label every time he shops—not just for produce, but for all consumables. He lives in Portland, for the love of tiny houses and mushroom foraging—of course he buys organic! But when it comes to wine and this same friend sees the word organic anywhere on the bottle, he firmly takes a pass. “I find that whenever a wine person in the store or restaurant adds to their suggestion that it’s organic, I immediately think, ‘I don’t want it,’” he recently told me. “Organic is important to me in every food product I eat. If it’s available organic, I assume it will be better. But with wine, I assume it will be worse. It’s like a criteria I don’t want applied to wine for some reason. Like it screws it up. Am I alone?”

He is not. Quite a few wine experts complain that certified organic wine can veer a little to closely toward, well . . . vinegar. The problem seems to be this: producers of wine made from organically grown grapes can’t actually label their wine organic unless they bypass the use of sulfur dioxide in their production process. The omission of SO2 makes preventing spoilage a tricky business, and it sometimes necessitates storing the wine in a stainless-steel tank without letting it breathe. As a result, wine made this way either has a high potential of spoiling (vinegar) and getting a bacterial infection that could lead to odors of sauerkraut or paint thinner or the stainless steel storage process that prevents spoilage keeps the wine “closed” and lacking in depth.

For this reason, truly organic wines are quite distinct from wine made from certified organically grown grapes but not labeled organic. The latter simply means that no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides were used in the vineyard. More and more wines fall into this category these days, thanks to a mix of market demand and eco-consious vineyard management. Health concerns are much less of a factor, since the fermentation process seems to do away with any chemical residue in a wine that would otherwise result from the use of pesticides in the vineyard. And while the omission of SO2 makes organic wine the healthier choice for those allergic to SO2, for the rest of us the difference is negligible.

With all that said, here are a few quick and dirty tips for drinking organic:

Understand the difference. There’s wine that’s 1) made from organically grown grapes and organically produced,  2) just made from organically grown grapes, and 3) neither. If the environment is the big factor in your purchasing decision, there’s really no difference between No. 1 and No. 2. If the deciding factor is your health, all three are fair game.

Be prepared to pay more. Just as organically grown produce costs more, so does wine produced from organically grown grapes. Blame the added labor involved, and the cost of certification.

And, if you do go for full-fledged organic . . . 

Consider going directly to the source. Since organic wines can be more vulnerable to spoilage during bottling and shipping, the optimal way to experience these wines would be straight from the barrel. If you live near a wine region, look for opportunities to barrel-taste or bottle your own.

Choose typically robust and higher-alcohol varietals over lighter, more delicate wines. Big reds like Zinfandel are likely to fare better without the SO2 than something like Sauvignon Blanc.

Drink it soon. The omission of SO2 does not set the stage for graceful aging. The best strategy is to pick a wine that typically does age well (again, think big reds like Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon) and consume it soon after purchase.

 

The options for drinking wine made from organically grown grapes are plentiful—and if you’re still a skeptic, one great place to start would be Robert Sinskey Vineyards. Sinskey winemaker Jeff Virnig started down the path of organic farming back in the early 1990s, moving to enhance vineyard fertility through composting, green manuring, and cover cropping. By 2001, all of Sinskey’s vineyards were certified organic.

Sinskey is probably best known for its much-loved Carneros Pinot Noirs, but this rosé is my personal favorite. I’ve also heard good things about this Pey Marin dry Riesling, made from organic grapes grown here in coastal Marin County, and friends rave about this Alexander Valley winery, whose vineyards are also 100 percent organic. For the PDX dwellers among you, consider following the musings of my favorite Portland wine correspondent, who often covers organic and sustainable viticulture practices.

 

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I’m sure we all have one: a Worst Valentine’s Day Ever. Mine involved teddy bears holding Mylar balloons, and I’m sure it’s partly to blame for the little shiver I get every time I’m sent a heart-sprinkled press release advertising a Valentine’s special. So I was relieved to see that instead of doing something schmaltzy on February 14, Napa’s Ehlers Estate winery is doing something classy on February 4.

To honor National Heart Month, winemaker Kevin Morrisey will preside over a tasting party from 6 to 8 p.m. at MO Bar in San Francisco’s Mandarin Oriental hotel. For the $30 price of admission, guests will enjoy appetizers paired with several Ehlers Estate wines, including the winery’s signature “One Twenty Over Eighty” Cab blend. Proceeds from the event will go toward a gift to the San Francisco Chapter of the American Heart Association.

This pairing between winery and cause is much more than a well-timed marketing campaign; all year long, 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of Ehlers Estate wines goes to the Leducq Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to international cardiovascular research. For more information, visit fondationleducq.org.

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I have a friend who says she knows when she’s really sick because she stops drinking coffee. This is how I feel about wine. If I’m not well enough for my daily glass, worry.

But when my last cold hit, I did wonder whether my moderate imbibing might be to blame for dragging the illness out. I don’t kid myself that Merlot is what my doctor means when she says to force fluids—so I turned instead to the late, great San Francisco-based epidemiologist Salvatore Lucia, aka “the wine doctor.” After all, in my favorite of his seven books on wine and health, Lucia proclaims wine “the most important medicinal agent in continuous use throughout the history of man.”

In Wine as Food and Medicine (The Blakiston Company, 1954), Lucia writes that “[a] glass of wine taken at bedtime will often forestall a cold by acting as a sudorific” (translation: thing that causes sweat.) He goes on to say that while alcohol is contraindicated during the acute phase of any illness, it is “highly recommended” during convalescence.

More than 50 years later, Your West Coast Oenophile is basically saying this same thing; he blogs at http://blog.sostevinobile.com and swears by a routine of “Sudafed and Ricola during the day, steam bath after my workout, overly generous glass of hot brandy with honey before bedtime, and within 7-10 days, I’m back with a vengeance.” From a quite different source—a blog called “Anglican, Plain” —comes the recommendation to try garlic wine, prepared as follows:

Get a bottle of not very expensive red wine and a head of garlic. Pour some wine in a cup, peel and bruise (slightly mash) a garlic clove or two, drop garlic into wine. Cover, let sit at least twenty minutes. Sip a little every hour or so for a day, then make a fresh batch the next day. Take for a couple of days at the first symptom – scratchy throat, hoarseness, sniffles. It will knock out the cold or lessen the severity a great deal.

Then there’s Joe Power of Another Wine Blog, whose cold-busting ritual includes Zicam, water, exercise, and a nightly glass of red wine. Power also writes that he was heartened to read this article discussing how researchers are examining whether the compounds used in winemaking may be able to “disable bacteria’s ability to sicken.”

Feeling better already…

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