Archive for the ‘Wine’ Category

Heart health, safe tomatoes and a broth shortcut

June 18, 2008

Mice get all the breaks. Scientists have been testing the benefits of red wine on them. Again.

In this latest study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, results indicate that “the chemical resveratrol, commonly found in red wine, can help keep heart tissues young and delay aging—and at levels lower than previously expected.” In fact, researchers “believe that a glass of red wine a day might provide all the resveratrol the heart needs.”

Delaying the effects of aging on the heart is huge; the aging process itself apparently causes more health issues than age-related diseases. In tests on middle-aged mice [did that phrase make you smile too?], the hearts of the mice on resveratrol stayed stronger and the tissue maintained its health longer.

Resveratrol has been known for some time to offer significant health benefits, but previous studies involved levels of resveratrol found in hundreds of bottles of wine. If this latest study is correct, one or two glasses of red wine a day could actually prevent changes in heart cells that lead to aging.

Red wine-based pharmaceuticals are suddenly becoming big business, as heavy hitters like GlaxoSmithKline aim to cash in on these findings with resveratrol supplements. They’re already commercially available. Personally, it sounds like an answer for which there was no question, to quote a former boss. I mean, a nice glass of Cabernet versus a pill? No contest, as far as I can see.

Tomatoes and salmonella scare update

Last week I wrote about an outbreak of Salmonella serotype Saintpaul linked to consumption of certain kinds of raw tomatoes in the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA] has not yet pinpointed the source for the tainted tomatoes, but they have cleared the tomato crops in 39 states and the District of Columbia as well as Baja California [Mexico], Belgium, Canada, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, Netherlands and Puerto Rico. To see if your state’s tomatoes are safe to eat and for the latest updates on the outbreak, visit the FDA’s website.

Better Than Bouillon: Good broth, good and fast

Yeah, broth or stock made from scratch is best. No argument here. But often, we don’t have time to make it. And just as often, it’s playing a supporting role in a dish and, quite frankly, the time and effort to produce a cup or less of homemade broth just isn’t worth the payoff, at least not in my kitchen.

The good news is that choices for store-bought stock have gone way beyond the soup can and the bouillon cube. Reduced fat and reduced sodium options abound. And at Trader Joe’s [as well as other places], you can even buy organic chicken stock made from free range chickens. One of our favorite “stock options” is the Superior Touch line of Better Than Bouillon bases. They now offer an amazing 18 varieties in all, but what first caught our attention is the mushroom base. We first discovered it at Fairway Market in New York. And we loved it so much, we pestered the Chicago chain Treasure Island to add it to the varieties they already carried.

What makes Better Than Bouillon bases, well, better is that the main ingredient in whatever variety you choose is the name on the label: Beef, chicken, mushroom, lobster… not salt. That said, they do pack plenty of sodium too, so it’s good to taste whatever you’re adding it to before adding more salt. But by way of contrast, bouillon cubes can deliver anywhere from 38 to a whopping 56 percent of your DVA for sodium in a single one-cup serving! Superior Touch does offer reduced sodium versions of their beef, chicken and vegetable bases too.

And you can’t beat them for convenience or value. A single teaspoon makes a cup of broth; an 8-ounce jar makes 38 cups of broth. And it keeps in the fridge for up to 18 months, ready to grab at a moment’s notice when you need a little liquid for a dish. The mushroom base remains our favorite, but we also keep chicken and vegetable on hand. If your local store doesn’t carry Better Than Bouillon, you can order it at or direct from Superior Touch.


Beyond organic: Biodynamic wines

April 29, 2008

When we were in California last November, we visited the Bonny Doon Vineyard in California’s Central Coast region. I later wrote about its quirky owner Randall Grahm leading the way in introducing biodynamic growing practices in producing his wines.

The biodynamic movement is growing in the industry, slowly but surely. Wineries are finding that they’re not only able to have a smaller negative impact on the environment, but they’re actually producing better wines and improving their own working environment at the same time.

As this Wine Spectator video shows, biodynamics is more than just replacing pesticides and chemical fertilizers with organic alternatives—it’s about achieving biodiversity and a natural balance.

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Wait. Wine fights lung cancer too?

January 2, 2008


What can’t this miracle elixir do? We’ve all heard how moderate wine consumption can fight heart disease. And if you’re a regular WTF reader, you know it can actually improve memory. Well, now the November issue of Cancer Epidemiological Markers & Prevention reports that drinking wine can actually reduce the risk of lung cancer among non-smokers. As a recent article on this report at Wine Spectator’s website states, “While smoking has been identified as the greatest risk factor, a significant number of lung-cancer cases are unrelated to tobacco use.” Read the whole article here.

Living in Illinois now reduces lung cancer risk too. As of January 1, virtually all public places in Illinois are smoke-free, including bars and restaurants. Whether you’re a smoker or not, you have to applaud that waitstaff, bartenders and other industry workers will no longer have to accept secondhand smoke as a work-related health hazard. And selfishly, I’m looking forward to hanging out in some of my favorite bars without coming home smelling like I’ve been hanging out in some of my favorite bars.

Photo credit: Sebastiani Vineyards

Quirky vintner leads the way to wise changes

December 19, 2007


Randall Grahm, founder and “President-for-Life” of Bonny Doon Vineyard in California’s Central Coast region, is known for his sometimes quirky, even eccentric approach to winemaking and marketing. Even our hostess at a recent winetasting there said as much. But he has a way of embracing smart changes to the winemaking process—changes that others may soon be following.

The latest is the listing of ingredients on wine labels. Beginning in January, all back labels will “include the wine components, such as grapes and the preservative sulfur dioxide, as well as products used during winemaking, such as yeast,” according to Wine Spectator magazine. It’s believed that this will be the first major U.S. vineyard to do so.

The first new labels will appear on two wines to be released this coming March, the 2007 Ca’ del Solo Vineyard Albariño and Muscat.

The big dealness of this decision is not just about letting buyers know what’s in the wine we’re drinking. It’s about vineyards thinking twice about what they put in their wines. When the FDA finally grew a pair and decided to require the listing of trans fats on ingredient lists, the food industry woke up and started finding a way to remove these evil fats from their foods. In fact, the words zero trans fats suddenly became a powerful marketing tool. The more wineries start listing ingredients on their labels, the more they’ll start trying to reduce the length of those ingredient lists—and to rid them of less than desirable ingredients.

For Bonny Doon, green is beautiful. In another move that took three years to achieve, it was announced in June that Bonny Doon Vineyard received Biodynamic® certification from the Demeter Association for its 125-acre estate Ca’ del Solo vineyard. According to a report on environmentalist website World-Wire, “This strict three-year process eliminates all chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, hormones, fumigants and GMOs from the vineyard. Instead, traditional green vineyard practices such as composting, manuring and the use of biodynamic preps, sprays and teas are employed to achieve a healthy level of soil and crop fertility in the growing environment.”

Grahm’s long-term goal is to produce only 100% estate grown, biodynamic wine at Bonny Doon. And while many wineries are beginning to embrace biodynamic practices, Bonny Doon is one of the larger producers to be doing so, producing some 35,000 cases a year. Besides making some great wines his own way, Grahm is making some good decisions about the process. I’m betting smart vineyards are already starting to follow suit.

Health news: The days of wine and rosemary

December 5, 2007


By now, anyone not living in a cave has heard some of the health benefits of moderate wine consumption, so let’s start with the rosemary. I’ve said in the past that it’s my favorite herb. Whether making Tuscan beans, a simple, but stunning French dessert with rosemary and apricots or this week’s rosemary sage chops, rosemary imparts an unmistakable fragrance and flavor, a mix of lemon and pine.

Turns out it also imparts good stuff for your brain. According to a recent article in ScienceDaily, the carnosic acid in rosemary protects the brain from the free radicals that contribute to strokes, neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and the ill effects of normal aging on the brain.

If you drink to forget, you may be out of luck. A new study by the University of Auckland and Ohio State University, published in the September issue of the Journal of Neuroscience and reported in Wine Spectator, suggests that moderate consumption of alcohol may improve memory. That’s actually any alcohol, not just red wine—but red wine has so many other health benefits going for it [see below], why not stick with it?

The research, conducted on rats, found that “rats that drank alcohol in moderation seemed to have superior cognitive skills when compared to non-drinking and heavy-drinking rats, in ways that may occur similarly in humans.” My question is how they determined the rats’ drinking habits prior to the study. Questionnaire? Or perhaps observation, hanging out with rats in little rat bars?

“Does this leftover turkey smell okay?” “Better have some red wine.” Okay, so this isn’t so much about the brain, but if you’ve ever had food poisoning, you’ll never forget it, no matter how good, bad or indifferent your memory is. Red wine to the rescue. According to research by the University of Missouri and noted in Wine Spectator, some red wines help kill food-borne pathogens. [Editor’s note: I obviously went to the wrong school—all our alcohol research was strictly independent study.]

Specifically, the study says that Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Shiraz make for potent bacteria killers. The drier the wines and the higher their acidity, the better they worked. Further, they “did not affect non-harmful and helpful strains, such as those that aid digestion, called probiotic bacteria.”

So far, they’ve only tested red wine’s bacteria-slaying abilities in the lab and don’t know “if the positive effects from the lab would be realized in humans by drinking red wine.” Probably had trouble finding student volunteers.