Benefits and Tradition are in That Glass of Red Wine

As we raised our glasses high, grandpa's words sang out over the dining table, "Salute' per chinto anno," his deep, rich voice as hardy and pure as the red wine he held in his glass.

"Good luck, for a hundred years," his dinner guests echoed back. I remember how my grandfather's face beamed with pride at these joyous occasions and how our meal never began until each family member had repeated the traditional dinner toast and sipped from our small glasses of red wine.

Wine was always a part of our family's holiday meal. And, like most Italian-American kids, I was introduced to its flavor, as well as its medicinal benefits, at an early age. As each family milestone occurred--baptisms, first holy communions, confirmations, birthdays, graduations and marriages--another bottle of my grandpa's homemade red wine was uncorked. Bottles were also poured on Sundays, holy days of obligation and all national holidays--there was always cause for celebration in my grandfather's house.

Grandpa believed that wine, in moderation, was a good thing. His opinion was later confirmed by a scientific study published in the U.S. Journal of Biological Chemistry on Aug. 21, 1998. In the report, a team of researchers from Cornell University suggested that trans-reservatrol, a natural substance found in high concentration in red wine, could reduce the pain of arthritis by thwarting the activation of the gene cyclozygenase-2 (cox-2), which is suspected of creating the inflammation that causes arthritis pain.

 

But this is only one of the benefits of red wine.

It was a Sunday night in November 1991 that most TV viewers and wine drinkers learned of the benefits of red wine. The event was the airing of "The French Paradox" segment on 60 Minutes, which examined the French lifestyle.

While many French people eat incredible amounts of heart-stopping, artery-clogging, saturated fats, and smoke cigarettes and don't exercise, they have a very low heart attack rate. It is their moderate and daily consumption of red wine that gives the most likely reason for this phenomenon, which was coined the French Paradox.

When this news came out, it unleashed a red wine mania and the sales of red wine shot up by 40 percent. The Gallo wine company saw the sales of "hearty burgundy" soar 39 percent. Americans had discovered the benefits of a glass of red wine.

But this revelation was not news to me or to my grandparents, who lived by the rule: "A glass a day keeps the doctor away."

Grandmother often put the benefits of red wine to good use as a medicinal cure. It was administered in moderation as a remedy for arthritis and to purify the blood, cure anemia, alleviate stomach cramps and prevent infection. During World War II, when cases of trench mouth and whooping cough reached epidemic levels in the United States, Grandmother administered the rich red wine to each grandchild as a preventative mouthwash and gargle. Wine was also used as a remedy for cold sores or skin infections. Grandmother poured a little wine into a saucer and let it stand covered over night. In the morning, she dabbed the wine on the sore. The reservatrol in red wine has been found to help block DNA syntheses, a process that must occur for the herpes virus to replicate itself. However, it has been discovered that a much greater concentration of reservatrol than that found in red wine is needed to cure the stubborn virus.

As a teenager, I recall the looks of astonishment on the faces of my non-Italian friends as they watched Father fill my dinner glass with wine. To those who objected, father would simply say, "Wine is served in church at the communion rail, is it not? And it was served at the Last Supper." End of discussion. Father's house was a peaceful one and a place where he felt happiest. He el iminated the extraneous and engaged in living a simple and satisfying lifestyle. His home was well-balanced, filled with the practical things he needed and the people he loved. He had his own quiet corner, to which he retreated after a robust meal. It was his belief that the soul sighs after eating a large, traditional dinner and that one should spend time in contemplation and reflection. Father reflected at least an hour after every meal--the sound of his contented snore vibrated though the house.

October has always been my favorite time of the year, when the air is brisk and leaves turn a vibrant rainbow of colors. Father looked forward to this autumn month, too, but for a different reason. October is the traditional time of year for winemaking. It's the transition month between summer and fall, a time when father gathered his paraphernalia and ingredients for the making of his hearty red wine.

Winemakers on the East Coast had to wait for good winemaking grapes like Malaga and Zinfandel to come in by rail car from California. But Santa Clara Valley winemakers, like Father, were lucky enough to have the plentiful grapes of the Napa and Almaden valleys practically in their backyards. They only had to drive in their pickups to local vineyards to buy boxes of the finest grapes. Some old-timers nurtured their own tiny grape vineyards for the express purpose of making their own red wine.

Devoted winemakers, like Father, usually owned their own grape-crushers, while others rented or borrowed one each fall. After the crush was finished, the juice was poured by funnel into the huge oak barrels, which had been cured with sulfur smoke.

Here's where the talent for good winemaking would come in. One mistake and the winemaker's barrels would be filled with vinegar instead of wine. But, like Father, most winemakers had inherited their skills from the Old Country and rarely made a bad batch.

My favorite memory of winemaking was how the family gathered together at the ranch house to help father make the wine. The hub of activity was usually in Grandmother's kitchen, where the ladies were hard at work making pastas, sausages, raviolis and hot tomato ketchup, in preparation for a grand October feast. The aroma of roasted bell peppers wafted through the air from Grandmother's hot oven, filling our nostrils with their wonderful pungent smell. In the fall, the men in the family gathered in the cellar to cure the wine barrels and to help father set up his winepress. Some of the men helped father haul in the grapes; others set up the grape-crusher and some others cured the oak barrels. As a child, I remember hearing Papa and Nonna speak of the renowned vineyards of Brolio Castle, the baronial estate of the Ricasoli family, an area famed for its Chianti wine. It is said that wine has been made in this region of Italy since 1000 C.E. It was this revered standard of Chianti that father tried his best to clone.

"Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake," advised Paul in the Bible. Wine has been around for thousands of years. Its benefits have been passed down from generation to generation. But only recently, thanks to modern medicine, we now have scientific proof that wine can aid digestion and wipe out bacteria better than bismuth salicylate (Pepto Bismol).

But all of this wouldn't be any news to Grandma Isolina and Grandpa Antonio, who lived well into their 90s, enjoying a daily glass of homemade red wine.

The Benefits of Red Wine in our Diet:

Both grandma and grandpa loved red wine. They had it with dinner and they included it in may recieps. Reserch has found that Red wine may suppress one of the main chemical culprits in heart disease.

It is believed that Red wine blocks a cellular compound thought to be a key factor in heart disease, a new study bolsters claims that red wine carries more health benefits than other alcoholic beverages.

Studies on red wine suggests that non-alcoholic extracts from red wine inhibit the formation of endothelin-1, a chemical that makes blood vessels constrict. Compounds that block endothelin-1 may reduce the formation of fatty streaks in blood vessels and decrease heart attack risks.

 

By Cookie Curci

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