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Holiday cheer!

Linking wine and global warming

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Does anyone really need further convincing of wine's health benefits? If so, are you also convinced that "global warming" is a ruse promulgated by bad science? I'm sure you've heard plenty of news regarding our melting polar caps, but here are two recent, glaringly wonderful wine discoveries you may have missed.

1) Scientists from Johns Hopkins University recently released data showing that mice given a compound called resveratrol (res-VAIR-uh-trawl, found naturally in red grape skins and seeds) suffered 40 percent less brain damage than a control group when stroke-like damage was subsequently induced. In plainer speak, the mice that "drank" the equivalent of two glasses of red wine in humans were highly protected against brain damage by adding this simple substance to their diet. The resveratrol coerces the level of heme oxygenase, a brain enzyme, to increase dramatically. Heme oxygenase in turn shields nerve cells from damage and, in the words of researcher Sylvain Dore, "are building cell resistance against free radical damage." This nothing short of remarkable study was funded, in part, by the U.S. government, so nothing commercial was up anyone's sleeve. Levels of resveratrol are far more concentrated in fermented red grapes than in simple grape juice, although a glass of Welch's, it would seem, would be better than nothing.

2) As exciting as the previous study is, the following is even more resounding and must eventually play a large role in the entire equation of human well-being and longevity. David Sinclair, associate professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School, published his study results in a recent online version of the journal Nature. A high calorie diet (60 percent fat!) was given to test mice along with large doses of resveratrol. The death rate among those creatures who ate a diet similar to chocolate cream pie three times a day was 31 percent less than the control mice, and related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer were also reduced. The resveratrol molecules seem to trigger the mouse's genetic defenses against aging.

This study was dependent on overly high amounts of resveratrol—clearly, quantities unavailable from drinking wine in moderate amounts. But in the interim, why not supply your body with something that seems to make it flourish? "Take a bit of wine for thy stomach's sake," said Timothy in the New Testament. Now it seems for thy heart's sake as well. As for me, I've already started taking one resveratrol tablet along with my multivitamin. Why wait until dinner to lubricate your blood vessels with nature's own health promoter? I also firmly believe that, in time, resveratrol may be the center of, but not the end all and be all of, nature's health tonic. Just as vitamin C is enhanced by the bioflavonoids and rutin that occur naturally in the orange (I didn't work in a health food store just for my health!), so I'm certain that other excipients found in the skin of wine grapes, in addition to resveratrol, will be found to enhance your bodyworks as well.

A 2007 toast to red wine, the consistent serving of it, and all the health benefits that it will convey, alongside the good times and conviviality that wine brings to our stressful existence. A merry New Year, including a chocolate cream pie with a grape seed on top.

A downside?

For most of you, a glass or two of wine during the evening will not cause inebriation, but for some, a disagreeable headache can occur the next morning. I believe that if wine negatively affects your head, sinuses and the ability to think clearly come dawn, then the pleasure and benefits of wine need to be found elsewhere. (Have you read about recent discoveries of dark chocolate's healthful qualities?)

When wine is well tolerated, there is still the occasional overindulging—even in the best of families. A bit of this can certainly be permitted occasionally, especially in the confines of one's own castle, and should not provoke too hearty a scolding. I also find that when I drink 75 different wines in a day, as I often do at commercial wine tastings, the amount that reaches my stomach, after careful spitting of each sample, only amounts to 2 or 3 ounces. But dozens of different wines, with different colors, alcohol levels and mouth-searing tannins, can often produce a monumental headache. I'm not drunk; I'm intoxicated with what amounts to a slight poisoning of that biblical stomach, compounded by a pounding head.

I've discovered a new product that is very effective when you feel a nasty wine headache coming on (or already arrived) before bedtime. It's the brainchild of Tom Pemble, CEO of the DTK LLC company of Peoria, Ill. "After Hours" nighttime beverage is a full 16 ounces of vitamins, minerals, electrolytes and enzymes that replace what wine has depleted. (Think of it as the Gatorade of the social set.) It comes in four-packs of three different flavors (Last Call Lemon, Goodnight Grape and, my favorite, Bedtime Berry). Despite the cutesy names, this stuff really helps to practically eliminate any "hard feelings" the next day. It's a bit tough to drink this much liquid when all you really want to do is shut your eyelids. But perseverance pays dividends and you will discover that After Hours is quite the find. Contact the company at tasteafterhours.com to locate your nearest retailer.

No-risk gift picks

Here are my holiday wine ideas that are all highly recommended; my year-end, cream-rising-to-the-top compendium. Each wine brings the important character of its chosen grape to the fore. Superb balance inhabits each entry, plus the all-important impression that the wine you're drinking seems to be as good as it can possibly be; overachievers all, regardless of cost. The prices range from $14-$70, with the bottom line being that if you're considering wine as a gift, it ought to not only be drinkable, but thrilling. These are.

Using this list, in the words of television's Men's Wearhouse guru, "You're going to like the way you look—I guarantee it." And why not also use it for some not-so-subtle hints about a gift for you?

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2005 St. Clement, Napa Valley Carneros $17

2005 Olivier Leflaive, Bourgogne Blanc, "les Setilles" $17

2004 Taz, Santa Barbara County $21

2004 Clos Du Val, Napa Valley $22

2004 Sebastiani, Dutton Ranch $25

2005 Stag's Leap Winery, Napa Valley $28

2004 Chateau Ste. Michelle, Ethos Columbia Valley $30 (very special)

2004 Firepeak Vineyard, Edna Valley "The GFC" $30

2004 Buena Vista, Dijon Clones Ramal Vineyard $32 (remarkable)

2004 ZD California $32

2004 Beringer, Sbragia Limited Release $40 (liquid butterscotch)

2003 Zahtila Vineyards, Napa Valley $33

2002 Frank Family, Napa Valley $40 (fabulous)

2002 Falcor, Napa Valley $48

2003 St. Clement Oroppas, Napa Valley $50 (classic)

2002 Clos Du Val, Oak Vineyard, Stag's Leap District $52

2001 Sena, Oconcagua Valley, Chile $70 (beautiful connoisseurs delight)

2005 Torrontes, Michel Torino, Argentina $15

2006 Sauvignon Blanc, Kim Crawford, Marlborough New Zealand $17 (best ever)

2005 Pinot Gris, Tangent, Edna Valley Paragon Vineyard $17

2004 Sauvignon Blanc, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley $30

2004 Syrah "Nadir," Tenuta Rapitala $14

2004 Carignan Vielles Vignes," Domaine De Nizas $18

2000 Rioja Reserva, Baron de Ley $20

2003 Prima Voca, Tenuta di Arceno (super Tuscan) $20

2004 Post Scriptum, Symington, Portugal $24 (an attitude changer)

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2004 Migration Pinot Noir, Duckhorn, Anderson Valley $30

2004 Pinot Noir, Dutton Goldfield, Russian River $35

2004 Pinot Noir, Etude, Carneros $40 (scrumptious)

Good news for modern man

A pocket-sized wine lover's partner has just been released. This guide doesn't pretend to cover every wine region from Tanzania to Tasmania (Hugh Johnson's Pocket Encyclopedia of Wine is unsurpassed for that purpose). What it does is short-circuit all the supercilious, perfectionist wine jargon and hit you with cool, youthfully energetic and totally useful wine information for how we actually drink, buy and live. It's Food & Wine Magazine's Wine Guide 2007 by Jamal A. Rayyis (Food & Wine Books, $11.95).

I met Jamal on a recent journalist's junket to Spain, and was struck by a life with a worldview conscience at its core and a curiosity for seeing a big picture; this, rather than just another wine whore whose observations are an insular, "what-else-could-possibly-matter" monologue. The living, breathing bore, dreaded by everyone.

The book covers Old World and New World trends with equal relish, and in a language the wine consumer can get excited about. Tracking current wine trends is also a hip way to keep up with the rapidly changing ethic of what's in style and why. Get this for your budding wine lover, who will be tantalized into craving more. For the older set, I find it refreshingly open, relaxed, flexible, unpretentious and, most of all, happy. It brings fresh joy to a well-beaten path.

Arturo's Wine Beat column appears the second Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at deal5@earthlink.net.

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