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Wines of France, Part 4


"In Europe we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and well being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary."
— Ernest Hemingway

Bunch of grapes


The health effects of wine (and alcohol in general) are the subject of considerable ongoing debate and study. In the USA, a boom in red wine consumption was touched off in the 1990s by 60 Minutes and other news reports on the French paradox.

It now seems clear that regular consumption of up to 1-2 drinks a day (1 standard drink is approximately equal to 5 oz, or 125 ml, of 13% wine) does reduce mortality, due to 10%-40% lower risk of coronary heart disease, for those over the age of 35 or so (see Alcohol consumption and health).

However, with larger amounts the effect is compensated by the increased rate of various alcohol-related diseases, primarily cancers of mouth, upper respiratory tract and ultimately cirrhosis of liver. Originally the effect was observed with red wine. Compounds known as polyphenols are found in larger amounts in red wine, and there is some evidence that these are especially beneficial.

Other studies have shown that similar beneficial effects can be obtained from drinking beer. It is unclear if this means that the only important ingredient is ethanol.

Sulfites (or sulphites) are compounds found in wine that act as a preservative — and can trigger a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction in a small percentage of consumers, primarily asthmatics. In the USA nearly all commercially produced wine is required to state on the label that it contains sulfites. In other countries they do not have to be declared on the label, leading to a common mistaken belief that only wine from the USA contains sulfites. Many consumers who have adverse reactions to wine — such as headaches or hangovers — blame added sulfites, but are probably reacting instead to naturally occurring histamines. The quantity of sulfites in a glass of wine is the same as a serving of dried apricots.


The French paradox is a name for the perceived paradox that people in France suffer relatively low incidences of coronary heart disease, despite their diet allegedly being rich in saturated fats. The term is often confused with the related but different notion of the Mediterranean diet.

It has been suggested that France's high red wine consumption is a primary factor in the trend. This theory was expounded in a 60 Minutes television broadcast in 1992. The program generated a large increase in North American demand for red wines from around the world. It is believed that the active ingredient in the red wine is resveratrol.

Resveratrol and other grape compounds have been positively linked to fighting cancer, heart disease, degenerative nerve disease and other ailments. Although many people wrongly assume that red grapes have the most health benefits, the fact is that grapes of all colors have comparable benefits. Red wine has health benefits not found in white wine because many of these compounds are found in the skins of the grapes and only red wine is fermented with the skins.

The medical causes of the French paradox are still not entirely clear, however. A number of studies have been made and some researchers are moving away from the theory that wine consumption is the primary cause.


Wineries in France are usually open from around 9 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. in the summer, while they close for a mid-day break — between noon or 12:30 p.m. to 2 or 3 p.m. — during the off-season. Most offer free wine tasting sessions (dégustation) without advance reservations, and sell wine by the bottle.

Keep in mind, if you plan to return with bottles of wine from your vacation, that there are limits on what may be brought into your home country duty-free — generally one bottle per passenger.

If you have the opportunity to do so, try to make a point of sampling the local cuisine in area restaurants near the vineyards, and ask for a recommendation as to which wine that is made in the same region would complement your dish. It is a wonderful way to acquire wine knowledge, and the local vintages will often be quite inexpensive.

Guided tours are available at many of the wineries, but usually by advance reservation. If you happen to be wandering around from vineyard to vineyard, you'll likely find them open and offering free tasting — but if you are planning to visit a particular winery, call ahead first for the hours and details on tours.


Besides French bread, France is famous for its wines. Happily, wines in France are extraordinarily cheap compared to their prices in America. You can purchase wine either in the supermarkets or in specialty wine shops. Supermarkets like Monoprix have a huge wine selection. Nicholas wine stores are abundant in and around Paris.

Wine prices start around €1 for table wine in a box. You probably don't want to buy that. Bottled red wines that are drinkable start at about €1.75-2.00 ($2.00 - 2.50 U.S.) and work their way up from there. If you are not interested in trying a bunch of €2 wines to find one you like, then try the mid-priced wines between €5.00-7.00. Wines in this price range will generally not disappoint you.

Sparkling white wines start at about €5.50-6.00 ($7 U.S.) and are quite drinkable and do not give you a hangover. Champagne starts at €10.00 ($12 U.S.) and is good even at this price.

In general you will find that bottles of wine are cheaper than a six pack of beer and about the same price as one liter of Coca-Cola.

Source: Alexandre Polozoff <>

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