Archive for the ‘Wine & Health’ Category

Should You Decant Fine Wine?

July 31st, 2014 No comments

Opinions on whether you should decant fine wine run the gamut from never to always. As is typical with this kind of charged subject the answer will depend on your understanding of what decanting does for and to fine wine. Once you understand the reasoning and the process you can make intelligent decisions concerning the wines in your cellar.

Reasons For Decanting Wine

Decant Fine Wine

  • Sediment

The most common and obvious reason for decanting wine is to reduce or eliminate the sediment that develops as some vintages age. Occasionally a younger wine also exhibits sediment if the winemaker chose not to filter the wine for taste or coloration reasons.

Sediment is a problem for both flavor and mouth feel of any wine, young or more mature. The solids in the bottle will impart a bitter, astringent taste to the wine, a real distraction from what might otherwise have been a delightful or significant taste experience. It is also unpleasant to have the bits of grape or lees, which are yeast particles, in a mouthful of wine.

  • Smoothing and Mellowing the Wine

While the need to avoid or at least minimize sediment rarely encounters argument, the other reason offered for the decanting of fine wines is to add oxygen to open up the flavors of the wine. Often suggested for younger wines that are prone to tasting sour or tight in at least the first glass, some wine experts feel that allowing the wine to experience the gentle agitation of decanting results in a more nuanced, complete wine taste.

You will recognize this second rationale as the common explanation that the wine needs to breathe. Particularly with wines bottled with screw caps, including both high end and low end wines, the theory is the wine needs to mix with oxygen to remove the unpleasant smells that affect your enjoyment of the wine. The components that have these odors are called thiols, and oxygenation through decanting causes them to create different compounds humans are not usually able to detect by nose.

The Dilemma

If you are contemplating drinking a young wine, decanting will probably not have a deleterious effect, although some aficionados frown at the practice with certain wines like Beaujolais. In fact, if the decanting does allow the flavors to develop before the rim is put to the lips many would be all for the practices.

Some actually advocate decanting and holding a younger wine in the decanter for an hour or more before serving. This will obviously be a matter of taste and can be an enjoyable experiment for you as you compare the nose and taste of your younger wines as they mature in the decanter.

The situation becomes complicated when considering older, more fragile fine wines. Although these highly anticipated vintages may benefit from decanting with regard to sediment there is more than a little concern that decanting can damage the wine. A real worry is that the burst of fruit many venerable wines offers in the first sip may be completely dissipated during decanting.

Consequently if it appears that sediment will be an issue with an older vintage decanting should be done, if at all, with an immediate pour into a glass to be enjoyed. You can also use one of the suggestions below to minimize the harm decanting may do to a delicate older bottle.

Some Compromises

If you are fearful that the subtle nuances of an older bottle will be forever lost if overly agitated, take the following steps.

  1. Stand the bottle upright for a couple days before pouring. The sediment will migrate to the bottom of the bottle.
  2. Carefully uncork to minimize debris.
  3. Place a filter, specially made for wine or even a clean tea strainer, over the rim of the glass or glasses.
  4. Gently and slowly pour the wine through the filter.

Another option is to decant a small portion of a bottle, recork the remainder, and taste the decanted wine to check for nose and flavor. If the decanting was successful, the remainder can be treated in the same way. On the other hand, if the wine seems to have suffered, the rest of the bottle can be used without decanting.

Final Words

If possible check out the process ahead of the time you will be serving the wine to family or guests. Experiment and follow your own instincts. Remember you are the final judge of how your fine wines taste best to you. You are your most important wine expert.

And remember also, that however you handle your wine when it’s time to drink it, if it hasn’t been stored correctly, it will hardly be worth the bother of trying to bring out its best by decanting.  So if you want to find out about state of the art wine storage, why not check out our Wine Guardian system on

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Biodynamic Wine Production: Fad or Fabulous?

biodynamic winery in sonoma

If you haven’t heard of biodynamic wine farming, you probably will in the near future. This agricultural philosophy, founded in 1924, is sweeping the wine growing community, from France to Australia, from the United States to Chile. In fact, some of the world’s most coveted wines are being produced using this method.

What is biodynamic agriculture?

Biodynamic agriculture takes organic farming one (or perhaps two) steps further. The theory, first expounded by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, is based on the symmetry between the land and the plants. In this, biodynamics is similar to the French concept of “terroir” that maintains the flavor of a wine grape (and thus the wine made with it) is influenced by the soil and climate in which it is grown.

In addition to banning the use of chemicals and pesticides, biodynamic farming uses nine natural substances to enrich the soil, promote plant growth and boost the grape vines’ resistance to disease and pests. These substances include cow manure and quartz (which are buried in the ground inside of cow horns), dandelion leaves, chamomile, stinging nettles, yarrow flowers and oak bark.

Biodynamic farming uses the stages of the moon to guide planting, fertilizing and harvesting. Using the lunar calendar in farming isn’t a new concept. Such practices were used by Native American farmers for centuries.

Biodynamic wineries

This all may sound a little far-fetched, but this method of wine farming is being adopted by wineries all over the world, with astonishing–and often delicious–results. Some of the world’s major vineyards, including California’s Benzinger Estates, Burgundy’s Domaine Leroy and Domaine Zind Humbrecht in Alsace have adopted biodynamic farming. According to “Fortune” magazine, there are currently more than 450 biodynamic wineries around the globe.

What does this mean for the average wine consumer? In a word, it means taste. Although vintners and winemakers are at a loss to say way this practice works, the evidence is that biodynamic farming is producing superior wines to those produced using traditional methods. According to the “Fortune” article, biodynamically-produced wines were judged superior in several blind tastings to similar wines that were conventionally produced.

Though biodynamic farming is labor-intensive and only used by a relative handful of the world’s wineries, it’s a trend that merits watching. We predict now that you’ve heard this phrase, you’ll be noticing a lot more talk about biodynamic wines in the future.

Wine May Help Prevent Diabetes

March 29th, 2012 No comments

American studies have shown that drinking wine helps to prevent type-2 diabetes, and a recent study conducted in Europe concurs.  The results, soon to be published in the Journal of International Medicine, were derived by examining numerous variables among thousands of participants.  These included detailed lifestyle and eating habits of individuals living in Italy, Spain, the UK, and other European countries.  Examining the data from this massive selection of people, what was the verdict on alcohol?

The blue circle represents diabetes, and wine may help reduce the risk of diabetes

The blue circle is a universal symbol used to represent diabetes

According to this study, scientists discovered that moderate alcohol use is connected with a 13% lower risk of developing type-2 diabetes in men, and a whopping 20% lower risk in women.  (Ladies, raise your glasses!)  Women who drank primarily fortified wine (as opposed to other types of alcoholic beverages) fared even better; their risk factor of developing diabetes was 32% less than the norm.

Another very interesting finding had to do with weight.  Moderate alcohol intake reduced the risk of diabetes in overweight participants much more than participants who were of average build.  Scientists could not explain why this was so, but have theorized that heavier folks may metabolize alcohol quicker.

In short, the study reports that moderate alcohol consumption lessens one’s chances of developing type-2 diabetes.  Wine drinkers, especially, had the highest percentage of protection.  This is welcomed news for the world of wine!

*This blog does not constitute medical advice.  Consult your primary care physician before making changes to your diet or lifestyle.   Women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects.

Take a Bath, A Wine Bath!

March 20th, 2012 No comments


There’s been a lot of discussion about the benefits of wine consumption, lately, but a new trend has appeared that takes wine enrichment to the next level: bathing in it!  That’s right, it’s called “vinotherapy,” and it purportedly reduces wrinkles, repositions unsightly cellulite, and even helps lift the face.   Begun in the world’s first “wine spa” in France (appropriately), the full-body wine treatment also includes being wrapped and massaged in delightfully-aromatic wine extracts.  The “secret” to the procedure is grape seed oil, which is believed to increase blood circulation when applied topically.  Participants often begin their vinotherapy regimens by bathing in a jacuzzi of warm, red wine, since the force of the jets offers cardiovascular benefits.  To minimize cellulite, a wine and honey wrap is then applied, or a Merlot wrap designed to refresh the skin and help eliminate toxins.  Some people even follow this treatment with an all-grape diet for 3 days following the procedure (Though I doubt your doctor will approve)!  If your face could use a tune-up, a  “vinolift” may also be in order.  This natural facelift procedure utilizes resveratrol (found in grape skins), as well as gentle electrical pulsation.

Even though antioxidants found in grapes have been shown to slow the aging process, skeptics remain unconvinced that the amount of them absorbed through the skin during vinotherapy provides much benefit.  Still, if you’re a wine lover looking for an unforgettable spa experience, vinotherapy may be a nice preview of heaven.  Cheers!

If You’re Going to Drink, Choose Red!

March 6th, 2012 No comments

Pink Ribbon for Breast Cancer AwarenessThere have been a lot of benefits associated with drinking red wine.  Now, a study at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center at Los Angeles has demonstrated that a glass of red wine a day may help reduce the risk of breast cancer.  What did the researchers find?  Chemicals just under the skins of red grapes (and in their seeds)  lowered women’s estrogen levels slightly (and also boosted testosterone levels).  How is estrogen control helpful?  Elevated levels of estrogen, in women, puts them at a greater risk of developing breast cancer cells.  Lower estrogen levels decrease the risk of this cancer.  Women participating in this study who drank red wine experienced lowered levels of estrogen, while women who drank white wine exhibited no estrogen reduction.

As with most studies, researchers stressed that further studies are still required.  Even so, it’s interesting that moderate amounts of red wine have shown a beneficial estrogen-reducing effect, while white wine displayed no impact on estrogen.  Dr. Chrisandra Shufelt, assistant director of the Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, has commented that “If you were to have a glass of wine with dinner, you may want to consider a glass of red. Switching may shift your risk.”  This is some curious food for thought.

Please note that of course this blog does not constitute medical advice.  Consult your primary care physician before making changes to your diet or lifestyle.   Women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects.

Drink Wine, Prevent Sunburn?

August 15th, 2011 No comments

According to a recent study conducted by the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Barcelona, a compound found in grapes (and grape products) may actually help protect skin cells from harmful UV rays.  Researchers “evaluated the in vitro capacity of several antioxidant polyphenolic fractions from grape, which differ in their degree of polymerization and percentage of galloylation, to protect HaCaT human keratinocytes against UV-induced oxidative damage.”

The result?  Flavonoids in the grapes helped stop the harmful reaction that destroys skin cells triggered by exposure to sunlight.  When exposed to UV rays, the skin activates “reactive oxygen species”  which then oxidize larger molecules.  Like a chain reaction, this eventually activates enzymes that destroy skin cells.  The flavoniods in the grapes, however, reduce the amount of reactive oxygen species in skin cells exposed to the sun’s harmful rays, thus preserving the skin.  “These encouraging in vitro results support further research and should be taken into consideration into the clinical pharmacology of plant-derived polyphenolic extracts as novel agents for skin photoprotection.”  Here is yet another miraculous property of our beloved grapes!  The study can be found in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

drinking wine on the sunny beach

Image courtesy of

“Contains Sulfites”–Don’t Fear the Label!

April 8th, 2011 No comments

Contains Sulfites” is printed on most bottles of wine we purchase.  We may even know people who claim to be allergic to sulfites and abstain from drinking red wine.  (They often substitute a few glasses of white.)  Other people complain that the sulfites in all wines give them headaches; they avoid drinking wine altogether, preferring other spirits.

sulfite wine label

What is interesting, however, is that use of sulfur dioxide is not limited to wine production.  In fact, sulfur dioxide is commonly used in the food industry, partly because of its antibacterial nature!  Sulfite levels in wine are actually much lower than those found in the majority of foods we consume.  Pizza, fruit juice, jams, jellies, cookies, crackers, soda, flour tortillas, hash browns, and other common foods contain substantially high levels of sulfites.  So do prescription medications.  Although a small number of people genuinely suffer from sulfite allergies, the majority of us do not–we can eat pizza or pop a pill without developing a rash, itching, or swelling up.  However, many folks are still quick to point to the “Contains Sulfites” label should a headache follow a few glasses of red.

If you have not been diagnosed with sulfite sensitivity, chances are that your headache is not caused by your glass of red or white!  (Why white?)  Contrary to popular thought, in actuality red wines contain fewer sulfites than white wines. That’s right!  Less sulfur dioxide is required to protect reds because of the tannins these wines naturally contain. Though sulfites have often been blamed for causing headaches, many people choose to drink whites with higher sulfite levels to avoid headaches!  The headaches such people experience when drinking red wine are, therefore, not caused by sulfites, but might be caused by the tannins in red wine, which release serotonin.  And high levels of serotonin–the “happy” hormone–are known to produce headaches.  If tannins are really the issue, think twice the next time you have a bar of chocolate, cup of tea, or healthy soy snack; these foods are also rich in tannins!

serotonin cartoon

Sulfites abound in the foods we eat daily, from pizza to processed potatoes, yet these foods do not display large  “Contains Sulfites” labels.  Dried fruit, alone, contains about ten times more sulfites than a glass of red wine.  If you consume dried fruit snacks and feel fine afterward, you probably do not have a sulfite allergy.  When it comes to wine, don’t buy into the sulfite hype. But obviously, if you experience frequent or severe headaches you should talk to your doctor.

dried fruit

courtesy of

Take Your Flavonoids!

January 5th, 2010 No comments

You’ve probably heard before that red wine can have an impact on heart health.  But what exactly is it about this beloved beverage that can keep you living better, longer?

Studies on red wine began to emerge when scientists realized that the French, despite indulging in rich, buttery, and fatty foods, experience less obesity and live longer than people in many other countries, including the U.S.  The French also drink a lot of red wine–280 glasses per year, as compared with the average American consumption of 68 glasses per year.  Could there be a connection?

The answer is: probably.  Although many studies have produced conflicting results, most seem to show that a moderate consumption of wine has health benefits.  Certain components of red wine appear to keep the heart healthy.  They are:

  • Alcohol: Alcohol raises HDL cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, often called the “good” cholesterol on the evening news.  It helps keep blood clots from forming, and prevents artery damage.  Alcohol may also improve heart health by helping you relax, lowering deadly stress.
  • Flavonoids: Flavonoids are antioxidants found in many foods, including tea, onions, cocoa, and oranges.  White wine and beer have them too, but the levels are much higher in red wine.  These types of antioxidant, called polyphenols, help protect the lining of the blood vessels in your heart.
  • Nonflavonoids: Another type of polyphenol, nonflavonoids have become the focus of recent studies.  In mice, they have been shown to help prevent arteries from becoming clogged with fatty deposits–perhaps the reason the French way of accompanying frites (french fries) with red wine has worked out so well for them.  The nonflavonoid that has received the most attention of late is resveratrol.
  • Resveratrol: Resveratrol, found in the skins of wine grapes, might be a key ingredient in red wine’s apparent ability to reduce damage to blood vessels, prevent blood clots, and reduce “bad” cholesterol.  Red wine has about 10 times more resveratrol than white wine.  Research in mice indicates that resveratrol protects from diabetes and obesity, and may reduce inflammation and blood clotting.  All of these things are associated with heart disease.

Of course, all these studies also show that drinking too much wine is much worse for you than not drinking any at all.  Most health professionals suggest one to two glasses a day, with meals.  So be sure to drink in moderation. But the next time you’re filling your glass, you might want to choose red wine.  And make a toast to your heart.