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Randall Murray: The world of wine

Beloved beverage has bevy of tales

POSTED: January 11, 2017 1:00 a.m.

As I prowl the swamp that is the internet, I stumble on the occasional odd but interesting fact about the world of wine.

The first is an interesting bit of pre-American history I meant to dole out for Thanksgiving but forgot. You know how it is when you get to, ahem, a certain age, “getting lucky” means going into the garage and remembering why you went there.

Many tales of the Pilgrims struggling to survive, then being helped by the cordial Native Americans, show or tell of the raising of wine glasses to toast their first feast of giving thanks. Delete that.

Those good sturdy folks who emigrated from England in search of religious freedom — and to escape the occasional scolding spouse — carried barrels of beer aboard ship. Once ashore in what is today Massachusetts, the Pilgrims ordered the ship’s crew to offload the barrels that survived the trip. Get lost, said the crew, or something along those lines. We’re going back and we need the beer for the return trip. See ya!

There was no wine and they lacked the basic ingredients to make beer. So what did the Pilgrims drink that day (and many other days, too)? Hard cider made from the apples that grew in the region.

As one historian put it, “Cider was very, very popular in Europe, and they were lucky; several varieties of apples are native to America.”

Alcohol: Good or bad?

As Shakespeare might have put it: Is wine consumption good or bad? That is the question. The answer is simple — yes and no.

Alcohol is a drug, probably the most abused and overused drug in the world. Take too much, you suffer short term and long term.

But many legitimate scientific studies have shown moderate daily consumption of wine, primarily red wine, can produce healthful benefits.

Research conducted recently by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and the University of Cambridge showed people who consume about two large glasses of wine daily showed a reduced risk for ischemic stroke, the most common form of stroke. That reduced risk ranged from 9 percent to 12 percent.

Those research programs also showed heavier consumption of alcohol can increase the risk of stroke.

The nose knows

You’ve seen it at parties, wine tastings and social gatherings. The wino who swirls the wine in the glass, then sticks his or her beak below the rim and takes a large, satisfying sniff.

Is that simple snobbery or is there a good reason to do that?

There is a good reason, and here it is. A glass of wine can contain thousands of chemical components that contribute to what are called aroma — technically the smell produced only by the grape or grapes used in making the wine. The components also contribute to the bouquet, which includes all other elements resulting from the production of the wine such as oak, for example.

Swirling the wine in the glass gets all those good smelly things active, which conducts more of the aroma/bouquet to the nose. A good healthy sniff will tell you if the wine smells as it should, or if it has seen better days.

Why sulfites?

If you’ve been hanging around wine as long as I have, you may remember a couple of decades ago when wine labels did not scream, “CONTAINS SULFITES!” I remember students in my wine classes in Pennsylvania demanding to know why wine makers suddenly began dumping these dangerous chemicals into their wine.

The answer, I told them, is they did not. Sulfites occur naturally as a result of the process of fermentation, which occurs when yeast consumes sugar, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. The labels were a result of our nanny government bending to the pressure of health zealots, many of whom did not know all that much about sulfites except they are bad for you.

If you are allergic to sulfites, be aware just about any beverage made through fermentation will contain some measure of them. In the interest of full disclosure, some big wine producers do add more sulfites as preservatives to enable their mass-produced stuff to last longer. Most wineries, however, do not add sulfites. 

Just sayin.’

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at murrwine@aol.com. His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.



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