The Role of Wine in Diet and Health
Wine is the quintessential food beverage. Both historical and modem evidence confirms its role in a healthy diet. Its virtues are most evident when it accompanies food that goes naturally with it - which probably explains why the Mediterranean diet, exemplified by the symbiosis of Italian food and wine, continues to gain advocates, in an increasingly health-conscious world.
Wine is a food. Its vitamin and mineral content do not make it a nutritional necessity, but it supplies the human organism with ethyl alcohol and sugars that are a useful source of calorific energy. Wine's medicinal properties were known even before the Greeks and Romans. Though its healing powers may have been overstated at times when other cures were unavailable, modem medicine is rediscovering the benefits to health of wine that were once dismissed as folklore.
A healthy person is able to metabolize one gram of ethyl alcohol per day for every kilo of body weight. Thus the recommended daily consumption for a person weighing 75 kg (165 pounds) can be calculated as approximately 75 g, equivalent to 750 ml of wine with an alcohol content of 12.50% in other words one standard bottle of average strength wine per day.
Sensible wine drinking, in line with these suggested amounts, promotes healthy functioning of the following organs:
The heart and circulatory system: the tonic effect of wine on the cardiovascular system is due to ethyl alcohol, which dilates the veins and increases the resistance of blood vessels. The iron content of red wines helps combat anemia by "building blood". Tannins and coloring pigments counteract fatty deposits arid help to lower cholesterol.
The digestive system: wine can facilitate digestion by increasing the secretion of gastric juices, stimulated mainly by ethyl alcohol and tartaric acid. Lactic acid has an antiseptic and slightly laxative effect on the intestine.
The liver: the sugars in wine, in particular glucose, stimulate the function of the liver. Glycerine favors the secretion of bile.
The kidneys: ethyl alcohol and acid salts aid diuretic functions, notably potassium bitartrate, contained in wine.
The lungs: the respiratory system is stimulated by the ethyl alcohol in wine which increases the rate of oxygenation.
Dry wine in small doses is sometimes recommended to diabetics as a means of building glucose tolerance. It is known to stimulate the appetite of underweight persons. Lt is a useful source of energy. (In modem dietary science the sugars and alcohol contained in wine are defined as a thermodymogenic foods). Wine can also have pleasant effects on our emotional and psychological states, helping people to overcome shyness, anxiety and depression. In social settings, it stimulates the intellect and the desire to communicate.
Excessive use of alcohol on the other hand diminishes or reverses the benefits of moderate wine drinking. The dangers of alcohol abuse are well known and widely discussed, as they should be in a reasonable modem society. However, recent emphasis on the negative issues in some countries has unjustifiably obscured the value of wine as a part of a healthy diet.
Matching Wine and Food
The successful combination of food and wine at table brings out the best in both the meal and the wine. Rules about matching food and wine aim to provide guidance in this difficult art. However, they should not be interpreted so rigidly that they inhibit the desire to experiment.
The systematic approach to matching food and wine devised by the Association of Italian Sommeliers is based on the principles of analogy and contrast.
Food and wine can be matched by analogy in different ways, according to:
Style of Cuisine: following the rule that the best combinations are between complimentary styles, country wines match country cooking, refined cuisine deserves fine wines and local wines are best with local specialties.
Color: following the rule of color matches, white wines are preferred with light colored foods: (seafood, shellfish, chicken and veal with light sauces) and red wines with dark colored foods (salame, red meats, game pigeon, duck, dishes with brown sauces). The main exceptions to this rule are cheeses and desserts.
Aroma: delicate wines match foods of subtle flavors. Foods with stronger flavors call for aromatic wines. Wines with rich bouquets are paired best with smoked or spicy foods.
Structure: full-bodied wines accompany dishes with rich textures and flavors.
In gastronomy the successful matching of food and wine depends on the same principle of balancing contrasting flavors. Fine wines are set apart from everyday wines, when contrasting tastes create the sensation of balance on the palate. For example, rich foods need dry or tannic wines with good acidity and an aromatic vein and sharp-flavored foods need soft wines with moderate to generous alcohol.
Highly seasoned foods need strong, mellow wines while bitter-flavored foods need soft, smooth wines with a slightly sweet vein.
If one of the contrasting tastes (sweet, acid, salty/spicy or bitter) predominates, it will cover the others and spoil the balance. In the case of foods with overwhelming flavors it is necessary to choose a wine on the basis of analogy rather than contrast. Desserts call for sweet wines for instance, and do not go well with dry ones, especially spumanti.
Antipasti or Hors d'Oeuvres
Choices of wine vary according to ingredients and methods of preparation. It is useful to distinguish between cold and warm dishes.
Pastas and risottos
With pasta asciutta or risotto dishes, the choice of wine depends on the ingredients of the sauce. Fish, meat, vegetable or cheese sauces each call for different wines.
This group includes fresh water and sea fish, and all types of mollusks and crustaceans. For most dishes the choice of wine depends as much on the style of cooking as on the type of fish. If wine, either white or red, is used in the preparation the same wine is normally served with the dish.
Choice of wine depends on the type of meat and the method of cooking. Usually the wine used in preparing a sauce, gravy or stew should be served with the dish.
White meat (veal, rabbit, pork, baby lamb)
Game (venison, hare, and game birds)
The color of the meat and the method of cooking determine the choice of wine. Again any wine used in preparing a sauce, gravy or stew should be served with the dish.
Light meat (chicken, turkey, capon)
Dark meat (guinea fowl, pigeon, duck, goose)
Other meat and poultry dishes
The choice of wine with dishes made from the meat of other parts of the animal again depends on color.
Mushrooms, Truffles and Vegetables
Wine choices with mushrooms depend partly on the species but more on the type of cooking and the other ingredients included in sauces. Truffles are a case apart. The prized white or yellow truffles found in several parts of Italy are usually shaved raw over pasta, rice or cheese dishes. Black truffles, also common in Italy, are usually cooked so the choice of wine depends on the other ingredients of the dish.
With vegetable dishes alone a fresh rosé is often the best choice. When they are served as a side dish the wine depends on the food they are served with or the sauces. Wines do not go well with salads dressed with vinegar.
Choice of wine to accompany soft cheeses depends on whether the cheese is fresh or mature. In the case of hard cheeses, it depends on whether it is made from raw or boiled milk.
The degree of sweetness in the dessert usually dictates that of the wine. Ice cream and sweets based on chocolate are not well suited to wine.
Fresh fruit at the end of a meal does not require wine although aromatic dry whites are often used in the preparation of fruit cocktail. Red wine, usually medium sweet, may be poured over bowls of strawberries or raspberries or mixed wild berries. Baked or stewed fruit, such as apples, pears and prunes, can be accompanied by rich, well-built reds with good bouquet and mellow, slightly sweet flavors. Dried fruit and nuts are ideal partners for fragrant, slightly tannic red wines with plenty of body.
The Sequence of Wines Throughout a Meal
The wines served through a meal should follow a progression in terms of body and intensity of flavors, from light and dry to rich and full bodied to sweet and strong. The senses generally become less acute during the course of a meal and so need stronger flavors and aromas as it progresses. Our sensitivity to acid tastes on the other hand tends to increase, which is one reason why sweet wines are best suited to the end of the meal. The following is a suggested sequence of wine types.
Young, lively, light bodied whites, with delicate aromas.
Mature whites with intense flavors and aromas and good body.
Young, aromatic, light bodied rosés.
Young, light-bodied reds with fresh fruit aromas.
Mature, full-bodied reds with soft texture and intense flavor and aroma.
Older, mellow, full-bodied reds with depth of flavor and complex bouquet.
Medium sweet, aromatic, light-bodied sparkling whites wines.
Rich, full-bodied sweet whites (or reds) with rich bouquet.
Wines need to be changed when the course being served is clearly different from the last. The number of wines served can vary from a single type with a simple meal to three or more with a full menu. There is no truth in the common belief that switching wines through a meal is harmful. (It is sensible however to keep the amount of wine drunk during a long meal within reasonable limits).
The general rules for the order in which should be served are:
Young BEFORE Old
There are exceptions to these sequences but the key to success is that the last wine served should leave no regrets that the previous one is gone.