The Sirt Food Diet a book released in 2016 talks about a diet comprising food that activate Sirtuins. Sirtuins are proteins in the body which regulate metabolism and red wine is a part of the diet, it is speculated that singer Adele lost oodles by following the Sirt! Here are some pointers on wine and health.
Red Wine and Reservatrol
Red wine is often hailed as a healthy drink and that is true. Red wine contains the polyphone Reservatrol which is also found in peanuts and some berries and this reservatrol is what make the difference. As per a paper from the Oregon State University, Reservatrol which is found in grape skins is an antioxidant which absorbs free radicals and is known to help prevent coronary artery disease by increasing HDL Cholesterol (good cholesterol), helps mitigate risk of type 2 diabetes and help ease depression.
So is white wine not healthy?
Indeed it is, Tyrosols and Hyroxytyrosols both found in white wines are as per a research by the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry have been found to have similar effects on the improving cardiovascular health. A research says that European whites are found to be richer in both the antioxidants as mentioned above.
Wine and Weight!
On an average Cola has around 100 gms of sugar in a liter, packed juices over 100 gms and all dry wines less than 10 gms of sugar which make is around 2gms per glass that is less than half a tea-spoon as opposed to 5-6 in a serving of the above. Wine certainly doesn’t give you as many calories as other sugary drinks and sweet cocktails! Now speaking of role of wine in weight loss? Harvard Medical School endorses the Mediterranean diet for a healthy lifestyle which includes moderate wine consumption for long term benefits. As a per a co-authored study by researchers from three American universities , red wine helps burns fat , it is good news for people with weight issues.
Last words, moderate wine drinking constitute about 250 ml of 12% v/v wine per day for men and around 175 ml for ladies and anything over that will start another battle of keep your liver alive. Remember, one liver!
‘Country roads, take me home, to the place, I belong…. ’continuously played on my mind as we drove through sharp turns and hairpin bends in the region of Priorat, a 2 hour drive; down south from Barcelona. Priorat a wine region is like that buried treasure which was excavated and is now hogging the lime light and rightly so. I was on my first trip this summer only to leave happy high with my teeth stained with the big and bold reds. Not to forget my lunch with Alvaro Palacios at his winery in Gratallops drinking L’Ermita the most expensive wine from Spain and this one the 2014, going at a cool 800-1000 Euros a bottle.
Priorat lies in Tarragona, Southern Catalonia and it is flanked by Mont Sant mountain range in the North, the Figuera and the LLoar peaks in the west, Mollo mountains in the east and the south opens up to river Siurana. The region has a total area of around 17629 hectares of which only 1900 hectares is worked on by 576 grape growers. The terrer (terroir in French) with the highlight of Licorella, an easily breakable slate which forms the top soil is what the regions basks in. One of the only two DoCa s (highest ranked wine region) in Spain, Priorat’s wine making history actively began in the 12th century when the monks of the Carthusian order established their Priory in Scala Dei and ruled over seven villages, giving the region its name. These monks brought the knowledge of viticulture from the time in Provence France. Priorat wine continued to get popular and were exported all across Europe till Phylloxera struck in the 19th century. Vineyards were lost, the rugged terrain was then planted with nut trees, the region got depopulated and poverty beckoned! The good times are here and the region has seen a renaissance in the last 20 years. It being awarded the DoCa in 2006 was a major boost to the sheer quality of wines the terroir can produce.
95% of the wines made in the region are red with Garnacha or Grenache and Carinena or Carignan being the forerunners. Carignan gives wine body, coupled with astringency and high pigmentation and Garnacha is more suitable for fine, aromatic wines which are full bodied, have little colour and which are easily affected by oxygen. It is a popular grape variety for making “vins rancis” and “generosos” or old wines made using the solera method like in Jérez. In the last few years, other varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah have been introduced and have yielded good results. I witnessed it on tasting the Le Tercera 2014 from the house of Alvarez Duran of Porrera.
Priorat is divided into 12 villages and each with a different topography climatic influences and they are recognized by the term ‘Vi de Vila’ (village wines) and the rare ‘Vi de Finca’ (Single vineyard wine). The villages being, Bellmunt, Scaladei, Gratallops, El Lloars, El Morera, Poboleda, Porrera, Torroja, Villela Alta, Villela Baixa, Falset and Molar. Even ‘Torres’ a brand that is synonymous to Spanish wines in India have their winery in El Lloar and their Perpetual 2014 impressed.
Albeit the differences in the meso-climates, one of the few elements that helps the region to ripen the big reds and retain the flavours is the long ripening season caused by the diurnal temperature variance of more than 25 degree Celsius with night temperatures dropping to 12 and the morning racing to 40. The second being the bush-trained viticulture happening on tortuous and rocky terrain based on schist soils with many vineyards going at an incline of 60 degrees and hence the need of terracing. And lastly the low yield which can be as low as 300 Gms a vine is a result of old vines and poor soils thus yielding concentrated fruit and commanding a price.
I really hope to see Priorat wines in India soon, but price could be a deterrent. A certain ray of hope is Torres banking on its brand awareness to create a category. Until then on your next visit to Barcelona, take a day trip to Priorat amidst the ravines, rivers, steep vineyards and a lot of wines. If not for anything else, Spain better retain Catalunya for the mighty Priorat!
15 REDS from Priorat to try -
La Tercera 2014 – Alvarez Duran – Porrera
Finca Dofi 2014 – Alvaro Palacios – Gratallops
Petit Mas Sinen 2013 – Cellar Burgos Porta – Poboleda
1270 a vuit 2009 – Celler Hidalgo Albert – Poboleda
Los Torrents 2012 – Celler Pasanau – La Morera de Montsant
Porrera Vi de Vila 2014 - Celler Vall Llach – Porrera
Font de la Figuera 2014 – Clos Figueras – Gratallops
Clos Galena – Clos Galena – El Molar
Ferrer Bobet 2014 – Ferrer Bobet – Falset
GV5 2010 – Gratavinum – Gratallops
Mas Mallola – Marco Abella – Porrera
Cirerets 2014 – Mas Alta – La Vilella Alta
Doix 2013 – Mas Doix – Poboleda
L’expressio Del Priorat 2016 – Vinitum – Poboleda
Les Brugueres 2014 - La Conreria – Escaladei
I may have already stirred up a hornet’s nest with the title! With only 4% of Californian wine production, Napa provided 27% of economic impact. One of the smallest ‘world class’ wine regions of the world, Napa is 8 kms broad and 48 kms long and around 58 kms from the coast. The highest vineyard areas like the Howell Mountain are around 750m above sea level; however 85% of the plantation is on the valley floor. 45000 acres in all which is 1/6th of that of Bordeaux! The tipping point for the Napa or the American wine industry came in with one historic event on 24th May 1976 wherein Californian reds and whites were pitched against top Bordeaux and Burgundy wines and the American trounced in both reds and whites; Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in the Red and Chateau Montelena with its Chardonnay. I was fortunate to partake in their 40th anniversary celebration week, of course with tasting of their winner blend.
What makes Napa Special?
Cabernet Sauvignon it is, Cabernet forms 12% of California’s production but 40% of Napa’s and yielding 55% revenues. The others are Chardonnay, Merlot, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Petite-Sirah, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir. Needless to say the soils and the diversity play a role in the final nuance of the wines, it is also the weather. Napa has a Mediterranean climate, less than 2% of the world land mass has it where most of the rain occurs in winter giving it a dry warm growing season with diurnal temperature shifts leading to big and bold grapes. After all of these nature’s endowments the onus thoroughly lies on the keeper’s of the industry to come together make wine which is consistent and high in quality and Napa vintners are just managing to do that. Lastly, the role of wine tourism and hospitality in the regions as a subset of marketing can’t be ignored one bit. As Robert Mondavi once said, ‘We want to raise the art of living well.’ Try booking a room in Napa and you shall know.
Napa Valley was the first AVA to be recognized in California in 1981 and since then 16 nested AVAs have been identified. The Northern most Calistoga, Diamond and Spring mountain districts and the Howell mountains, Rutherford, Oakville and St Helena on the valley floor and Chiles valley district up in the Vaca ranges. And further South are the Yountville, Stag’s Leap District and the Oak Knoll regions. The Mt Vedeer, Atlas Peak lie in the Mayacamas and the Vaca ranges respectively. Coombvilles, Tiny Wild Horse Valley and Los Carneros lie in the southern reaches, the Carneros regions also extends in to Sonoma and is known for its Pinot Noirs due to the Maritime influence. The AVAs define regions but unlike the European PDO’s they give a free hand to the winery to express creativity and experiment. For instance The Paraduxx, a Zinfandel blend in 1994 from Duckhorn vineyards a Merlot powerhouse created quite a stir. Proprietary red wine they call it.
150 years of Napa Valley
Napa just like Sonoma was established much later than its southern Californian neighbours. George Yount, founder of the Yountville a town now in Napa city was the first to plant commercial vineyards in late 1830s, It was only after the independence of California from Mexico in 1850 and the Gold Rush during the same period that saw San Francisco’s population surge from a meager 200 in 1846 to 36000 by 1852 thus bringing in wine know-how. The first renaissance came when the vintners got Vitis vinifera vines in the 1860s, until then they were mission vines used by missionaries to make wine for the church. Charles Krug opened the first commercial winery in 1861; the same was bought by the Mondavi family in 1943. The rail connection then helped Napa ship wines out to Francisco and help get tourists to Napa. You must have heard of Napa Valley wine train as a must do when in Napa!! The industry prospered and evolved. Gustave Niebaum a wealthy Finnish trader in 1879 opened Inglenook a French Chateau style winery and was the first to sell wine in bottles. Inglenook wines attracted global attention and put Napa on the global map for the first time. The same era Crabb planted 400 grape varieties in the famous To Kalon (means ‘the beautiful’ in Greek) vineyards, today parts of the same are owned by Robert Mondavi winery, Opus One and a wine grower Andy Beckstoffer.
Phylloxera, Earthquake, the Volstead act, the great depression, world war …..
First phylloxera decimated Napa completely by the 1890s and any hope of recovery was only thrashed by the San Francisco earthquake which destroyed 30 Mn gallons of wine and then the Volstead act eased the last nail in the coffin , brought in the American prohibition which lasted till 1933. The convalescence was during depression and then the world war kept Napa bed-ridden. During this time some wine cos continued the show some with Wine Bricks during prohibition and some by pioneering initiatives post repeal. Mondavi, George Latour of Beaulieu vineyards and John Daniel of Inglenook led the pack as they formed the Napa Valley association in 1944.
Mondavi, Judgment of Paris ……
In 1965 Robert Mondavi moved away from the family biz to start his own the Robert Mondavi winery in Oakville and ever since he made attention grabbing wines and moreover his marketing techniques, his cellar door hospitality etc made Mondavi the face of California. It only took the aforementioned tasting in Paris also made into a movie, the Bottle Shock to drive home the point for Napa. There has been no looking back for Napa ever since as they stand at over 500 wineries most of which are family owned and producing fewer than 10000 cases per annum.
Napa is an hour’s drive up north from San Francisco and if you are an oenophile then you better not miss it and the other way of looking at it as American political commentator and comedian Bill Maher puts it ‘New Rule: The Napa Valley is Disneyland for alcoholics. Be honest, you're not visiting wineries in four days because you're an oenophile, you're doing it because you're a drunk. It's the only place in America where you can pass out in a stranger's house and it's okay, because it's a B&B and you paid for it.’
‘All the Gold in California ‘ sang the Gatlin bros in 1979, it was the time when American wines were seeing a renaissance and garnering global confidence with California leading the way just like it does today. With 90% of US wine production and 90% of US wine exports California is a goldmine contributing over $25 bn in retail sales in the US only, whilst capturing a 60% market share which include foreign and other domestic wines.
California – Back in time.
With 49 of 58 counties growing grapes, 231000 hectares of vineyards, 4100 wineries, wine is certainly a statewide industry for California. It all started in the 1700s when the Spanish missionaries began growing grapes and making wines for religious services in Southern California and slowly it stretched along the coast northwards till Sonoma. In the 1830’s first Sonoma and then Napa, two top regions of the US wine scene began making wines. 1857 saw the opening of Beuna Vista in Sonoma and 1861 Charles Krug opened the first commercial winery in Napa. The historic Gold rush led to a 150% growth in vineyard area , it was a result of immigration which in turn got in wine expertise. America was drinking all the way to the 1900’s until prohibition struck and California lost 94% of its vineyards.
Resurrection began in 1933 post repeal and E&J Gallo, the world’s largest winery today set shop then. The next few decades the industry limped but moved up. Only in the 60’s that it gathered pace as stalwarts like Robert Mondavi showed confidence in the industry and opened a winery in Napa, the first major one to open post prohibition. He led by example and endeavored to name wines by grape varietals which became a new world norm and his oaked Sauvignon blanc which he called the Fume Blanc (smoked white) became synonymous for a Sauvignon.
Quality wine making had arrived in California and it showed in the momentous ‘Judgment of Paris’. The increased demand 1980s and 90s saw push for quality and of course the number of wineries grew at a rapid pace. In a bid to take control the US government demarcated 50 areas as American Viticultural Area (AVA) based on growing conditions, soil and history. Today there are around 230 AVA’s in the US and around 136 in California. The turn of the millennium saw mushrooming of wineries, from 1000 in late nineties to around 4100 as of today in California and it produces 250 million 9 liter cases of wine.
California – Geography
With a 1300 km coastline, California boasts of one of the longest coastlines of the world adjacent to a wine growing region. This proximity to the sea is what makes the region special. The cool oceanic breeze helps to cool the inland regions and this influence can well be seen over 25 kms inland, as result the nights are cool and the morning warm thus extending the ripening seasons and yielding good quality fruit. The warm inland air meeting the ocean breeze is also responsible for the fog which covers many of the regions including the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Broadly California is divided into 6 macro-growing regions and they are further broken up into AVAs. Below are the 6 regions with some popular AVA’s they comprise
North Coast (54 AVAs)
Mendocino County, Los Carneros, Napa Valley (18 AVAs), Sonoma County (18 AVAs)
Central Coast (41 AVAs)
Livermore Valley, Paso Robles, San Louis Obispo, Santa Barbara (of Sideways fame), San Francisco Bay
Southern California (11 AVAs)
Los Angeles, San Diego, Temecula, Malibu Coast
Inland Valleys (18 AVAs)
Lodi the most famous of the regions and is the fastest growing in the state. It is known for its Zinfandel.
Sierra Foothills (6 AVAs)
Situated inland the region was the epicenter of the Gold Rush. The El Dorado county is known for its Old Vine Zinfandel.
The northern most region, home to the ‘Lost Coast’. Manton Valley is one of the better known sub-areas.
Wine styles and grapes
California is endowed with 2800 different soil types and varied geography comprising mountains, valleys, deserts, and coasts, and this allows a myriad grape varieties and wine styles. California grows around 110 different grape varieties. In reds Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir lead the pack with Zinfandel being their signature red. In white the kind of whites, Chardonnay rules the roost followed by a surprise, Pinot Grigio and then the Sauvignon Blanc. Riesling and Moscato are gaining feet well too. If you were to stereotype Californian wines, they stand for big and bold reds, opulent and tropical whites and lush and perfumed roses.
California is the heart of America’s wine, so if you are anywhere in California you know you are close to wines. I was one of the 21 million tourists who visit Californian wine country each year, I ended up Happy High. As late Mr. Robert Mondavi declared, ‘Wine has been a part of civilized life for some seven thousand years. It is the only beverage that feeds the body, soul and spirit of man and at the same time stimulates the mind.’
With Thailand comes to mind beers; Singha and Chang. Did you know that there is a wine culture that began to emerge in Thailand at the turn of the millennium!! And at the forefront of this wine movement is Siam Winery which was found in 1986 by Late Chalerm Yoovidhya. The winery is located 30 miles south of Bangkok and they began with Spy a wine based cooler to kickstart the culture and to familiarize the Thai population who were happy with their beer and their local rice based wine/beer like drink Sato. Siam Winery moved to more serious wine when they started Monsoon Valley wines in 2002 and set-up their vineyards 2 hrs south of their winery in the seaside town of Hua Hin. They currently have around 300 acres planted in there.
Located at 12.5 N, Thailand on paper just like India doesn’t fall in the 30-50 degree belt making it a no-go zone for grape cultivation! These are as they call it new- latitude wines and they are adapting with late ripening, high acid grape varieties which can brave the sun and still shine bright in the bottle. In whites the Siam winery does Colombard, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Muscat and in reds they do Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Dornfelder. They even use local varieties like Pokdum and Malaga blanc and have created hybrids like the very inky Rondo which dyes your teeth but is wonderfully refreshing.
Siam winery’s premium wine brand Monsoon Valley is run by German Winemaker Kathrin Puff and assisted by Suppached Sasomsin from Thailand who had trained to be a winemaker in France. Suppached led us through a tasting of various varietals from different barrels, barriques and tanks. ‘At Siam we are experimenting and trying to get the best out of what our land has to offer. We export to over 12 countries and people are slowly taking acceptance to our wine which is evident in the honors we are receiving at international wine competitions. The climate here many a times can let you down with ph levels, ripening etc and hence we blend our grapes to showcase great wines. We tasted the crisp Columbard, an aromatic rose, a toasty Shiraz from the casks and many more varietals under trials. The Monsoon Valley has their Classic, Premium and Flagship wines which include Still Sparkling and Fortifies wines.
Our winery tour replete with tastings and a walk around lasted about two hours and it would be a more fruitful visit during harvest time, January- March where one can see the entire winemaking process. They also host vineyard tours in Hua Hin which I understood are touristier with great views from the deck, a Thai restaurant, Elephant rides and more. We couldn’t visit it due to paucity of time. Next time the Hua Hin vineyards and their Chaoya Phrya floating vineyards are on cards!
Siam winery not only does local wines but is also a major bottler and importer of various international wines from across the globe. We are glad our first tryst with Thai wines began with such an iconic brand and we hope to see them in India soon, given that India loves their green and red curries. One last trivia to surprise you, we certainly were, the energy drink Red Bull was also founded by the man who founded the Siam winery!
To Thai Wines… Chiyo!!