Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wine and Health: It's For Real

This year's 5th International Wine & Heart Health Summit brought prominent scholars in the field from around the world to Walla Walla, Washington. Doctors, health professionals, winemakers and connoisseurs heard experts present laboratory research and human studies that point to the beneficial effects of responsible, moderate wine-drinking on the heart and other vital organs. We liked what we heard.

While there was heated debate about what might account for the variety of benefits observed - from improved vascular health, decreased death and mortality rates from heart disease and the somewhat unexpected benefits in liver health and diabetes, among others - wine's salutary effects appear convincing. To account for the phenomena, many researchers remain revved for resveratrol, a natural plant chemical substance found primarily in grape skins. Because grapes skins remain in contact with crushed red wine grape pulp in red wine-making, red wines have higher average concentrations of resveratrol than white or rosé wines. Other presenters discussed alcohol itself as the suspect agent not only in wine but in other beverages, too. Still others are convinced compounds known as polyphenols, such as procyanidins in red wines, account for the healthful effects observed.

We liked the attitude of Gary Figgins, founder of Leonetti Cellar, best of all: Just drink the wine. Or, we might add for those who don't or can't imbibe, enjoy a handful of red grapes or another food source of these phytonutrients such as dark chocolate, peanuts and certain berries.

Audience and speakers alike were honored by the presence of Serge Renaud, the University of Bordeaux professor and researcher whose life work illuminated not only the French Paradox but also the heart-healthy benefits of a Mediterranean dietary lifestyle.

Our medical appreciation for wine's effects on health has mushroomed since Morley Safer's first 60 Minutes broadcast about the French Paradox in 1991. As revealing as this conference was, the future holds many discoveries yet to be unveiled and debated. In the meantime, ladies, find your favorite daily five-ounce pour and guys, you can have two. Thems the breaks.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wine and Health

How should we view the latest news about red wine's potential health benefits - as myth or medicine? Once our WinewomenPSP correspondent takes the pulse of medical experts and researchers on this latest controversy, we'll report back to you.

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times devoted nearly its entire Health section to the questions and controversies surrounding red wine and resveratrol's suspected role in disease prevention to its anti-aging potential. You might get a kick out of their whatever-happened-to piece about the ultimate fate of anti-aging gurus, how long they lived and what did them in. (Hint: Jack LaLanne comes out on top.)

If you want to see where the hullabaloo about the French Paradox began, check out the three video installments of CBS News' 60 Minutes, from the first segment in 1991 to the latest dish on resveratrol's anti-aging powers this past January.

We'll give you the skinny in a few days. In the meantime, enjoy a glass of wine or a fistful of juicy red grapes. Salute!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Wet & Wild: Surf's Up at Esmeralda

Boards and wetsuits weren't de rigeur for our June 26th Surf's Up bash at Renaissance Esmeralda's sleek CAVA restaurant, but that didn't keep a few lassies from pouring themselves into Neoprene-tight summer sheaths – all for the cause, of course. Yikes.

It was all good as we celebrated summer with a quartet of refreshing wines paired with Executive Chef Greg Picard's seafood extravaganza. In the barrel with Step into Liquid and Riding Giants on the flat screen, we feasted on sweet cracked crab, made-to-order seafood risotto, salads, sushi and a sumptuous array of hard-to-resist specialty dishes. Our June charity United Way never had it so good.

Four wines that not only paired well with seafood but also presented distinctly different choices whetted a wide range of tastes. Many started off with A to Z's Oregon Rosé made from 100% Sangiovese. Its fresh and strawberry-scented flavors with a bit of spice on the finish brought complexity to sheer refreshment and drinkability. We spotted a few rosé converts at first sip of this affordably wow wine.

Two whites netted Neptune's feast on their own terms. A Chilean Sauvignon Blanc by Montes, Leyda Vineyards gave Chef's ceviche a racy run with hints of lime, green papaya and bracing food-friendly acidity. Those who preferred a rounder, softer white with muted tropical fruit and sleek-textured medium body found a perfect palate-pleaser in Oregon's Pinot Blanc from Bethel Heights.

Red wine devotees heeded the call of King's Ridge Pinot Noir with its cheery color and clarity. The cherry-scented Oregon Pinot delivered a fruity-floral nose and easy-drinking versatility beyond fish to pork, chicken and lightly grilled veggies. We gave thumbs us to adventurists who bagged the one-wine approach and rode in on all four liquids. The quartet has been spotted at LA Wine Company and A to Z Rosé at Jensen's.

In the corner, a few bliss-seekers took advantage of chair massage by Spa Esmeralda's Carlos. If you haven't experienced a massage by Carlos, it's quite possible you haven't lived. Call 760.836.1265 to book your special WinewomenPSP spa offer, valid into December. Bring more Zen into your life during these rough and tumble times.

We hope Surf's Up under the stars turned you on to four fab wine choices for your next dinner party. Dump the red-with-meat-white-with-fish mantra and take off instead with fresh varietals and wines from exotic locales to rip into the pleasure zone. Tell us how you liked our quartet and Esmeralda's no-holds-barred seafood buffet. As the mercury climbs higher this summer, you'll catch us chilling at Spa Esmeralda and cooling down at CAVA's elegant poolside venue. Carlos, Patricia and the wet-noodle spa wizards are calling your name.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Vacation Wines

Wine memories are especially sweet when you discover a winner while on vacation. Once home you might hunt down that wine, relishing the chance to savor it once more and relive a special part of your vacation experience.

We discovered such a wine a few years back at the Ahwahnee, the historic hotel right smack in the middle of Yosemite Valley. Wanting something truly special and memorable after a great hike, we chose an exotic-sounding Petite Sirah by Jeff Runquist, a producer unknown to us at the time.

Runquist was winemaker at J. Lohr winery before setting out on his own. We shoulda known as their Cabernet Sauvignon has long been a favorite house wine.

Grapes for Runquist's varietal Sangiovese, Barbera and Z, the winery's flagship Zinfandel flourish in Amador County, the heart of Gold Rush country. Runquist also sources grapes for Pinot Noir from Carneros, Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles and Petite Sirah from an island in the Sacramento River delta.

We were hooked by the Petite's deep color, powerful aromatics and bold flavors bursting with smoky, rich black fruits. When we told our friends at LA Wine Company about our find, they told us how much they liked Runquist's Barbera. The hunt was on.

Since that Yosemite visit, we've tried many other Runquist wines — they don't disappoint. Wine critics share our enthusiasm, attested by the gold rush of medals racked up by their expanding wine portfolio. Runquist wines will always be special and worth seeking out anytime we venture into a wine shop with a deep collection of California gems. Can't wait to find their Primitivo.

On a visit to Yosemite last month, we were saddened to find no trace of Runquist's Petite Sirah on the Ahwahnee's wine list. Sure, we saw some great wines but not the powerhouse etched in our memories. As though in consolation, the wine list had progressive elements with descriptions of key varietals to help Yosemite's peripatetic diners pair wines to the majestic dining room's food. Progress, we suppose.

Let us know about wines you discover this summer on vacation. Will it be a racy Vermentino on a romantic terrace off the coast of Sardegna or an unlikely gem from your favorite So Cal getaway? Hold on to hope as you attempt to track down your finds – after all, we're in wine-happy California. You just might find that glorious wine in an unexpected place and revisit a special time with every sip.