Wine: A little less of what we fancy

Wine is good for you, in moderation.

Wine is good for you, in moderation.

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Christine Austin puts the large glasses away and offers some tips on how you can reduce your own wine stocks.

I had my regular health MOT recently and there was the inevitable question: “How much do you drink?” It was easy in the days when I had a wine-friendly GP who used to whisk me to the front of the surgery queue just so she could find out what she should drink at her next dinner party. I just used to reply that I drank less than she did and everything was OK.

Now I have a new GP and there is no such rapport so the questions have to be answered seriously, but to be quite honest I really don’t know. If I go out to do a morning’s tasting, when I spit everything out, then I have drunk nothing, yet I am sure that some alcohol is absorbed as I slurp my way through 100 wines. I certainly wouldn’t drive after such a big tasting. At the end of the day I drink plenty of water and several mugs of tea, but with dinner I will probably have a glass of wine. The trouble with drinking at home is portion size. In a restaurant they are quite specific. Many restaurants serve 175ml as a standard glass with 250ml as large. If you want to keep to government health advice women should not consume more than two to three units per day, which is just one 175ml glass, at 13 per cent alcohol. Men are allowed a little more but only another small glassful. Confusingly the box on the back of many supermarket bottles declaring the units inside uses a 125ml glass as standard.

But my glasses at home are much bigger than the ones in restaurants and if I open a nice bottle of Chablis and have some grilled fish and a lettuce leaf on the plate, I will be tempted to pour a generous glassful. But it is not just alcohol that is the danger, there are calories in that glass. As a rough guide, a 750ml bottle of wine contains around 750 calories which can destroy any attempt I am making to lose weight. January is the month when I attempt the impossible, which is to get into the pair of slightly too-small trousers that have hung in the wardrobe since I bought them.

So with a nod to the current trend of making January a “dryathon” month, I have decided to use my smaller tasting glasses at mealtimes, rather than the big Riedel glasses – just for a while, to recalibrate my pouring arm. And I have extended my dry Mondays to a second day of the week, on a flexible basis depending on who else is in the house to share a supper with. If this resolve lasts more than a fortnight I shall let you know, but combined with a touch more exercise I hope I shall see the excess pounds melt away.

Meanwhile, despite all the fuss about the harm that alcohol can do, various research programmes have declared that it is good for general health. Apart from the major “French Paradox” results 20 years ago which saw red wine being adopted almost as a health drink around the world, there have been several other studies into the benefits of drinking wine. Apparently moderate alcohol intake can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, lengthen your life, improve libido, decrease the chance of dementia and even lower the chance of diabetes, all of which seem to have turned it into a modern-day snake oil. There is even new research that suggests very light alcohol consumption during pregnancy will result in your child being better behaved. It all comes down to flavenoids, naturally occurring substances found in all kinds of vegetables, but particularly in red grape skins which apparently protect the arteries and the heart from furring up.

The point about wine research is that it is well funded by the drinks industry while any research programmes into the positive effects of eating, sleeping and exercising well don’t attract the same funding, so I have decided to add a serious dose of common sense to all these results. The overwhelming evidence is that wine, particularly red is good for general health, but whether that is because it gives a general glow of well-being or acts as a medicine I shall leave to the experts. Like all good things in life, there can be too much of a good thing, so the occasional day off drinking doesn’t do any harm.

Meanwhile since there is so much conflicting advice about drinking, I have decided to create my own Good Life Diet. For this you need to take a day off work, throw away all vitamin pills and health supplements and resolve to eat, drink and exercise properly, including a glass of red wine per day and generally stick to quality instead of quantity. Also, ignore any articles detailing which foods are better than others. Like buses, there will be another fad along in a minute.

With that in mind, now is a good time to review your wine stocks. Go through the racks with the same degree of ruthlessness that you normally reserve for your partner’s collection of old clothes. Wines that arrived as raffle prizes are invariably ones you would not even think of buying, so why waste your time and liver condition by drinking them? Equally, if a wine has been sitting in the rack for over a year, without the chance that it might improve, pull the cork and taste it, then decide to cook with it or pour it away. Light white wines, usually under £8 a bottle, have very little chance of improving, so dust them off and check them out. Cheapish reds won’t go downhill so rapidly, but they certainly don’t improve enormously. There are always lots of local events such as school raffles or church bazaars who will be delighted to receive your cast-offs. Most wine merchants will have sales soon so make sure you have room for a few new bottles.

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