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News of the vine

Organic wineries, the benefits of vino, regions to watch



A few wine news tidbits for cocktail party fodder ...

Going Green

When I toured organic wine-centric Mendocino County, Calif., it fascinated me that many people live "off the grid," surviving blissfully without the luxury of electricity running to their homes. It stirs the environmentalist in me, and it's pleasing to say that more wineries are getting the gist of green responsibility. Stoller Vineyards in Oregon just finished building a state-of-the-art winery, complete with solar panels, a gravity-fed wine pumping system, rainwater collection and a comprehensive plan for reusing wastewater.

Owner Bill Stoller says, "I was born on this property and spent much of my life here. The goal is to leave it better than we found it, something for our grandchildren to enjoy. We intend to maximize the quality of wine we produce while minimizing the facility's ecological footprint."

On the other side of the pond, a winery in Spain's Rioja region, Bodegas Martínez Laorden, just launched similar initiatives. Now if only the whole world would embrace these philosophies, all our grandkids might have a chance to enjoy the earth.

Red Wine Keeps Getting Better For You

For more than 10 years, research has indicated that moderate consumption of red wine (definition: two glasses per day, not five) improves your heart health. The protection has been attributed to antioxidants called flavonoids found in the skin and seeds of red grapes. Flavonoids reduce the risk of heart disease in three ways: 1. lowering bad cholesterol; 2. boosting good cholesterol; and 3. reducing blood clotting.

But recently, researchers have found that red wine may be beneficial to more than just your heart. One study found that resveratrol, one of the most potent flavonoids, may inhibit tumor development in some cancers. And, a French study uncovered that mice given resveratrol were able to endure exercise twice as long as others.

And here's the best news: In November, researchers at the Harvard Medical School and the National Institute on Aging reported resveratrol offsets the bad effects of a high-calorie diet in mice, significantly extending their lifespan. You mean I could eat all the brie, sausage and chocolate I want, stay trim and live to drink more? There is a God.

As for the best wine medicine, University of California at Davis tested a variety of wines to determine which types have the highest concentrations of flavonoids. They concluded that the flav fave is cabernet sauvignon, followed closely by petite syrah and pinot noir. Both merlot and red zinfandel have fewer flavonoids than their more potent brethren. White wine had significantly smaller amounts than the red wine varieties. Drink up!

Up and Coming

Paso Robles, a wine region south of San Francisco and north of Los Angeles, is getting some love these days. Home to more than 170 wineries and more than 40 grape varieties, the region's weather is warm and hospitable to fruit such as cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and syrah. Similarly, Lake County, a smaller, lesser-known wine area northeast of Napa and Sonoma, boasts some decidedly inexpensive cabernets, zinfandels and other hot-climate grapes such as viognier and sauvignon blanc. Look for them on a label near you.

Another wine region gaining respect is New York state, with appellations such as Long Island and Finger Lakes that grow fantastic riesling, pinot noir and syrah. These wines are still difficult to find outside of New York, but that's likely to change in the near future.

Recommended Wines

Simonsig 2006 Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch (South Africa) SW = 3. $11. Dry for a chenin blanc, with bright grapefruit, lime and orange flavors. It has an odd aftertaste, but you taste beyond that. 3.5 stars

Guenoc 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Lake County SW = 1. $14. Bright cherry, raspberry, tinged with oaky vanilla. Nice acidity makes this wine great for drinking with food. 3.5 stars

Sweetness (SW) rating is out of 10, 10 being pure sugar. Star rating is out of 5, 5 being wine nirvana.

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