Antioxidants and Wine
There has been a spate of reports emanating from the medical community citing wine's effects upon health. These reports are based on the presence of components other than alcohol. Much of the new data supports the basic premise - Moderate consumption of wine and other alcoholic beverages is associated with a longer and healthier life than that of abstainers (an observation supported by a great amount of published evidence). While at least half of the benefits associated with wine consumption appear to be derived from the alcohol itself (conversely, alcohol, when abused, is the only component of wine that adversely affects health), there are other components of wine that contribute to the same benefits, but they are more complex and variable, and less precisely defined. Alcohol's health benefits chiefly favor the cardiovascular system, and are dramatically reflected in reduced risks of atherosclerotic heart attacks, ischemic strokes and limb amputations due to compromised blood supply. Scientific views on the healthful effects of wine's other compounds are not as unanimous, however, but are under increased scrutiny. We are just beginning to peel back the layers of understanding. Most intriguing are the poly-phenolic flavonoids, which can be referred to as antioxidants, according to their most attractive function. Found in grapes, chiefly the skins, their concentrations tend to be higher in red wines (when skins are included in fermentation) than white (when skins are culled). Their functions in the vine are only partially known, antifungal for one. These antioxidants are less available in other alcoholic beverages. Among the best known, and most biologically active, are resveratrol, quercetin and the catechins. The antioxidants with which we are concerned are a class of phytochemicals, compounds of vegetable origin. They are not exclusive to grapes, although grapes are richly endowed with them. They are also found in allium vegetables (onions, leeks, garlic, shallots), broccoli, spinach, blueberries, strawberries, tea and chocolate. For some time, there was doubt about whether antioxidants could be absorbed when ingested as foods and whether they were biologically potent. The most current research has erased any doubt that the antioxidants remain vital when consumed this way. They appear to be even more active than the more renowned antioxidant vitamins A, C and E. At or near the top of the list of causes of death and disability (some the product of human instigation, others not) are diseases of the heart and blood vessels, cancer and degenerative disorders. While the cause and aggravation of these ills may be multiple and varied, free radicals and the process of oxidation also figure heavily into the formula. Free radicals (not a political term!) are highly reactive compounds produced normally as the body uses oxygen. Factors such as smoking, radiation and certain chemicals enhance their production, thus straining, and sometimes over-whelming, the body's natural, enzyme-mediated antioxidant defense system. For this reason, there is much interest in supplementing the anti-oxidants derived from food and drink. Some of mankind's most insidious diseases are suspected of being able to be relieved to some degree by antioxidants, among them heart attack, stroke, other complications of blood-vessel disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease and other dementias and degenerative disorders, immune dysfunction, cataract and macular degeneration.
Aging itself may be retarded by antioxidants.!!!!
What is a "Corked" Wine?
Cork taint is a broad term referring to a wine fault characterized by a set of undesirable smells or tastes found in a bottle of wine, especially spoilage that can only be detected after bottling, aging and opening. Though modern studies have shown that other factors can also be responsible for taint - including wooden barrels, storage conditions and the transport of corks and wine - the cork is normally considered to be responsible, and a wine found to be tainted on opening is said to be "corked". Cork taint can affect wines irrespective of price and quality level.
The chief cause of cork taint is the presence of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA) in the wine. Corked wine containing TCA has a characteristic odor, variously described as resembling a moldy newspaper, wet dog, damp cloth, or damp basement. In almost all cases of corked wine the wine's native aromas are reduced significantly, and a very tainted wine is completely undrinkable (though harmless). While the human threshold for detecting TCA is measured in the single-digit parts per trillion, this can vary by several orders of magnitude depending on an individual's sensitivity. Detection is also complicated by the olfactory system's particularly quick habituation to TCA, making the smell less obvious on each subsequent sniff.
Does Vintage Matter?
Vintage is the year in which the grapes were harvested. The year is on the label. Some wines, particularly many Champagne and sparkling wines, are non-vintage (a blend of several vintages).
Vintages give us an indication of both the weather conditions in which the grapes grew and the quality of these grapes. Vintages should only serve as shorthand for assessing rough attributes of wines produced in a certain region. Predicting any wine's "quality" from weather conditions is much too "broad- stroked." Isolated storms and vineyard locations make for major variations in any region. Tasting is much more reliable.
Wine vintage charts: A wine vintage table shows ratings for every year in a certain wine region. Would you think ratings would sum up the qualities of wines? They cannot. Rating only shows a rough estimate of a vintage's reputation. A convenient indication found in charts is when to hold and when to drink the wines.
The years of harvest make little difference to the quality of wines from many regions. The favorable climatic conditions of regions such as Australia, California, and Languedoc tend to make for steadier output. For example, the last vintages of 1998 and 2000 in Napa were difficult for the winemakers. However, there are still many incredible wines, especially from the mountain vineyards. Wines can also be manipulated with industrial wine-making methods, although the greatest of wines reflect their region and vintage and are left to express themselves. There is little if any vintage variation in largely produced, branded products that sells for $15 and under. Generally the winemaking imposes a target taste, i.e. Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay, which sells for under $12, and tastes the same year- after-year.
Vintages matter most in areas where the weather is unpredictable. Furthermore, winemaking may allow for variation in high quality or estate-grown wines. This empowers a variety of wine tastes. Thus, a wine produced by a demanding vintner in "a difficult vintage" will often taste better that a wine made by a careless vine grower in a year of great repute.
What should you do? Use vintages as a guide, but beware. Sometimes critics are too quick to criticize or acclaim a vintage. The 2002 crop in Barolo and Barbaresco was devastated by hail, floods and rain. The few wines produced have shown to be of lesser quality. Most of the best producers simply "declassified" or sold off what grapes they did get. On the other hand, 1997 Napa was touted to be one of the best vintages ever. Time in the bottle has shown that many of the wines, especially from the valley floor, are not necessarily aging well, as the vintage was hot and lacked the acidity and structure needed for complex development with time.
Most importantly---get the wines in your mouth and TRUST your taste buds.