The Chemical Breakdown

By Chris Thorn
Published: August 31, 2011

A decent overview of the commonly misunderstood qualities in wine, we will explore these further over the comming days


written by: The Wine Girl - Wendy Freeman CSW, FWS

orginally posted

While doing a wine tasting this past evening and speaking to a few of the participants, it became apparent how much confusion exists regarding this mystifying little liquid with which we delightfully continue filling our glasses - Wine.

Sure, we love that warm, fuzzy happy feeling that the first…. and particularly the second glass may give us. But, beyond that, what other enviable properties can we find in there?


Rarely does a day go by that I don't encounter some confused shopper searching the wine aisles because their doctor recommended they begin drinking a glass of red wine a day.


We've come a long, glorious way from the once commonly prescribed “apple a day,” wouldn't you agree? So why is the Doc finally telling us to do something fun in the name of better health?!


The answer is, in part, the result of scientific findings on the anti-aging and immune boosting properties of Resveratrol.


Resveratrol, as commonly defined, is “a natural compound found in grapes, mulberries, peanuts and other plants or food products, especially red wine, that may protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease by acting as an antioxidant, antimutagen, and anti-inflammatory.”


Good enough for me to partake in a glass or two of wine for sure!
So which red wine is best? Research at the University of California at Davis determined that Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by Petit Syrah and Pinot Noir has the highest concentration of flavonoids - Resveratrol laden components.


Most novice wine drinkers may find these relatively dry wines a bit “bitter” for their taste. What I like to suggest to these future fellow appreciators and health enthusiasts - although this goes against all of the wine tasting rules we've learned - is to put the bottle in the fridge before drinking (did I write that out loud?!). The chill on the wine will soften the alcohol taste, the colder the wine the more the aromas and flavors are suppressed.


Additional confusion related to wine is the effect of sulfites. Sulfites are a naturally occurring by-product of the yeast metabolism during fermentation. Therefore, all wine contains sulfites. Some winemakers add more, some none.

 Sulfites are added because it is a preservative that prevents oxidation and bacterial spoilage. Time and again I hear someone blame the sulfites in red wine for their headache. Truth be known… red wine typically contains less sulfites than white wine, with sweet wines containing the most.

It is more likely that the tannins, or higher alcohol content in a wine, are to blame before the sulfites. To put it into perspective, dried fruit contains about ten times more sulfites than wine, so if your raisins aren't giving you a headache more than likely, the sulfites in your red wine are not the culprit.

We all know that when given the choice on our favorite fruits and vegetables we should opt for organic, but what about our wine, does it really make that much of a difference?

According to, “it is estimated that if a consumer avoids eating non-organically grown produce, pesticide exposure can be reduced by up to 80%.” Grapes were ranked 12th on the “Dirty Dozen” list of highest levels of pesticides detected on grocery store produce. I don't know about you, but I'll take my glass of wine minus the bug spray!

Organic wines are made from grapes that are grown in accordance to the principals of organic farming, which excludes the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. And back to our sulfite discussion, a word of caution, if a wine states “made with organically grown grapes” it can include added sulfites.

If labeled “Organic” and bearing the USDA organic seal it cannot have any added sulfites. Conclusion: organic grapes do not necessarily make organic wines!
So what is Biodynamic?
I heard it best described as “organic on steroids.” This is a process popularized in Europe for years and developed by Austrian Rudolf Steiner in 1929, which implements a practice to work with rather than against a farm's natural cycles.

“Biodynamics incorporates a quasi-religious practice to viticulture. It is based on the belief that if organic viticulture recognizes the entire planet as an ecosystem, where every action has repercussions that affect the entirety of that ecosystem, biodynamic viticulture expands that to view the entire universe as an ecosystem.”

A fabulous biodynamic wine I just discovered, which also received a 90 rating from Wine Spectator and has great aging potential, is Coyam by Emiliana from Chile. This Syrah, Carmenere, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre, Petit Verdot blend is well-balanced and big bodied with flavors of black fruits, spice, earth…and just a touch of vanilla ($38-$45).

I hope this clears up some of the questions that swirl as robustly around your glass as the essence of the wine in which you're delighting!

If you are interested in learning more about wine and the art of pairing it with the perfect dish join us Monday, September 19th at Warehouse No. 1 Restaurant for a private wine dinner.

Special guest Lea Jankowski of Frederick Wildman & Sons Wines will team up with the chef for an evening of wine pairing and much more. Call Dennis or Bronson today (318-322-3591) and sign up. Seats are limited!

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