Bottoms Up! Here's To The Red

HAPPY EATER

February 26, 1992|By ROB KASPER

When a friend of mine reads a restaurant wine list, he asks: "What kind of wine do we want, red or red?"

That approach pretty much sums up my feelings on the correct color of wine. While I will drink white wine, especially if it has bubbles, on the whole I would rather have red.

For years red was the unfashionable hue. Your beverages were supposed to be "white, bright and light." As someone who preferred his liquids turgid and heavy, I was decidedly out of step.

But recently it has become fashionable to drink red wine. Nationally, red wine sales are surging with one indicator, wine sales in supermarkets, jumping 44 percent from Nov. 18-Dec. 15, 1991, over the same period a year earlier. The Wine Institute, an industry trade group in San Francisco, released the figures.

Locally, restaurateur Steve George, co-owner of Haussner's, tells me an increasing number of his customers who once drank white wine with their meals now want a glass of red.

I call this the " '60 Minutes' effect." It started in November after the CBS television show "60 Minutes" aired a report called "The French Paradox." The report had interviews with medical researchers who spoke of a connection between the French diet and the nation's low rate of heart disease. The notable aspects of the diet were that the French ate fresh vegetables, homemade breads and regularly drank moderate amounts of red wine with their meals.

This was not new information. It had been established that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol, about two glasses of wine a day with meals, lowered the risk of heart disease in most adults. Moreover, the benefits of eating vegetables have been known by every kid who has been told by his mom to "eat your vegetables, they will give you shining eyes."

Yet lately researchers have been able to talk with more precision and with fancier terms.

In wine studies, for instance, a key term now is "resveratrol." As a spokeswomen for the Wine Institute explained it to me, this is the component that red wine has and most white wine doesn't. It comes from the grape skins. And the theory is that resveratrol is good for the heart.

I think another reason the " '60 Minutes' effect" happened is that the nation was ready to listen. The timing was right. After years of regarding food and drink as potential carcinogens or blockers of our precious arteries, we are again ready to believe that eating and drinking can be good for us.

When the "60 Minutes" segment came along and said the French enjoy themselves at the table and still have "tickers," the red wine run was on. In the four weeks after the show aired, red wine sales took off in America.

Like any fad, the rush to red wine has its problems. First of all, there is no guarantee it will work. Just because I have the French fondness for red wine doesn't mean that I will end up with a French heart. All kinds of factors, including where I live, how many sit-ups I do, and what kind of genes my parents have given me, figure into the healthy heart equation.

Secondly, I have never been a big fan of imitative eating. A few years ago when the fish-eating tribes of North America and their cholesterol levels were the cause celebre, I fought off the urge to eat like an Eskimo and swallow fish oil.

I also know that while a little red wine may be good for the heart, a lot isn't. When you go over the two-glasses-a-day limit, the equation shifts, and the wine does the body more harm than good.

Still, I like the idea of red wine's being in vogue. White wine ruled for years. As a matter of fact, white wine still dominates in the United States, accounting for almost eight out of every 10 bottles of wine sold in America.

But thanks to the " '60 Minutes' effect" red wine is showing up in unexpected places.

Not long ago, for instance, I went to a New York press lunch in a swank Manhattan restaurant that had "terra cotta" walls. I thought the walls were brown, but one of the women seated at my table, an editor of one of those beautiful house magazines, told me the correct term was "terra cotta."

As a veteran of these New York press luncheons, I knew that the majority of lunch eaters would be female. And I figured the dominant look of the luncheon beverages, whether they were glasses of sparkling water, club soda or wine, would be clear white.

I was half right. I was the only guy at the lunch. And as is my habit, I had a glass of red wine with lunch. But when I looked around the room, several other lunchers also were drinking the dark stuff.

Which gets to my real reason I like this red wine fad. After years of swilling in oblivion, I have finally become fashionable.

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