Forget Exercise – Raise Your Glass Instead?

Let’s get one thing on the table: today is National Beer Day. That’s a good thing, but it’s not my thing. I’d rather write about wine: why at we love learning about wine, writing about it and most of all, drinking it.

And the best reason for drinking red wine especially: because it’s good for you – apparently as beneficial as a one-hour workout at the gym.


Scientists aren’t telling us to hang up our sneakers just yet, but they have discovered some surprising gains in recent years from drinking a glass of vino.

Researchers from Oregon State University found that ellagic acids, antioxidants found in grapes, can delay the growth of existing fat cells and slow the development of new ones. Pretty cool, yes? When they tested the acids on mice, those that were given extracts of Pinot Noir grapes stored less fat in their livers and had healthier blood sugar levels, while those who scarfed down “mouse chow” developed fatty liver and symptoms of diabetes—“the same metabolic consequences we see in many overweight, sedentary people,” the researchers wrote.

Jeff Gargiulo, now owner of Gargiulo Vineyards in Napa Valley, isn’t surprised. “We all agree out here that wine is very healthy,” he told “People out here live it.”

It gets better: in a separate study out of the University of Alberta last year, scientists concluded that drinking one glass of red wine per day bestows the same payoffs in physical performance, heart function and muscle strength as working out for an hour. Resveratrol, they found, “could mimic exercise” for patients unable to work out, or to boost benefits for those who did exercise.


But moderation matters: Three glasses of red does not equal three hours in the gym, no matter how pricey the wine. The good news is, you don’t have to spend a fortune; cheaper red wine brings the same health benefits as the good stuff.

And the bonuses keep coming:

  • Drinking red wine can lower your risk of depression, according to a  2013 Spanish study published in the journal BMC Medicine. That’s for people who drink two to seven glasses per week.
  • Another mental health boost: a study published in The Journal of Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment showed that 23 percent of participants who drank red wine lowered their risk of developing dementia.
  • A newer study last October found that for patients diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes who also were at low risk for alcohol abuse, enjoyed more restful sleep and higher HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) when they drank one glass of red wine each day. That group, in fact, scored better than patients who drank white wine or water.
  • A bit of surprise, but it makes sense: researchers at the University of Barcelona found that drinking moderate amounts of red wine helps protect against sunburn.

Beer drinking, by the way, carries its own health advantages: it’s a heart-healthy drink, it boosts creativity, and it helps prevent cataracts, among other benefits.

So, I’ll raise my wineglass to beer drinkers today – and whatever you pour, drink it in good health!

Wine Lingo of the Day:  Flavonoids = compounds that contribute to a wine’s color, astringency (tannins), texture and bitterness, and are largely responsible for wine’s healthy qualities.

Healthy sipping!


[Photos courtesy of Steve Corey and donireewalker, Flickr/Creative Commons]

It’s International Women’s Day–Ladies, What’s In Your Glass?

It sounds like a fabricated holiday designed to sell more greeting cards, doesn’t it? But International Women’s Day (IWD) has been around longer than any of us: in 1909, women from 17 countries came together for the first International Conference of Working Women. After much more evolution and revolution, the United Nations finally, in 1975, established March 8 as International Women’s Day.

It does have a purpose, but first – do these history lessons make anyone else thirsty?

You’ll have to pardon me for setting aside my wineglass this evening. The sun’s shining here in Cleveland, and that means just one thing:


Oh yeah. As soon as I can walk outside without a heavy sweater, my gin and tonic craving sets in. Gin has been quenching thirsts since the 14th century, when the first recipe for “Genever” was recorded in a Dutch encyclopedia. In 1585 it was known as “Dutch courage,” and by the 1700s, “gin tonic” was a common cure.

By law, the dominant flavor in gin must be juniper, but you’ll find other botanicals in the mix: coriander, angelica, quinine (a bitter medicinal from the bark of the chinchona tree), cardamom, cassia bark (you know it as cinnamon) and orris root, the dried root of the iris.

This cocktail was started in India by the British army. Quinine had been used for years to help prevent and treat malaria – a big problem in the tropics. Soldiers were given a periodic gin allowance, so they added it to their quinine, along with sugar, water and lime. (Today’s commercially produced tonic water uses less of the nasty-tasting quinine.)


So why limes? Presumably because they were cheap and plentiful. If you order a gin and tonic in the U.K., though, it’s likely to be garnished with a lemon wedge rather than lime, which I think tastes awful. A “g & t” made with Hendrick’s Gin usually is garnished with a slice of cucumber.

Popular culture loves a gin and tonic. James Bond’s recipe in the book Dr. No called for the juice of an entire lime for each drink. Billy Joel sings about “Piano Man,” “making love to his tonic and gin.”

The best bartenders use a “balloon glass,” shaped like a little bowl, because it concentrates the gin’s fragrant aromas at the opening of the glass – just like a good wineglass. I use rocks glasses, but I may invest in some balloons.

The recipe for my best g & t? Start with four ice cubes in the glass, and smoosh a thick wedge of lime around the rim (though I was told by my nephew last week that he doesn’t like pulp on his lips – picky, picky). Squeeze the juice from the wedge into the glass, then drop the wedge in. Add about an inch of gin (oh, don’t be such a prude – the glass has those big ice cubes in it!), then fill it to the top with tonic.

I like New Amsterdam gin – it has a great taste and it’s half the cost of the gins most people order. And I buy diet tonic (zero calories compared to about 90 for a serving of regular tonic). It has a bit more sodium than regular, but it’s a small tradeoff.

Before I forget, the purpose of International Women’s Day: to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and, these days, it’s also a call for gender parity.

I’ll drink to that.

Wine Lingo of the Day:  Sloe Gin = not a real gin because it’s not made with juniper as the dominant flavor; sloe gin is made from “sloe berries,” a relative of the plum. But there is a liqueur called Pacharán made with sloe and juniper in the Basque region of Spain.



[Photos courtesy of Fred Wenzel and Spencer E. Holtaway, Creative Commons]