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  • Jancis Robinson
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  • Jancis Robinson
8 Dec 2006

Those of you who have been kind enough to follow this site for more than four years may remember the announcement of the winner of the 2002 Geoffrey Roberts Award entitled Do high altitude wines hold the key to a longer life? (Details of the winner of the 2006 Geoffrey Roberts Award and how to apply for the 2007 Geoffrey Roberts Award will be published soon.)

We gave this annual travel bursary to Professor Roger Corder to go to Nuoro in Sardinia and study why there was a cluster of centenarians there and what sort of wines were produced there. This elicited an enormous response on the site and spurred this eminent Professor of Experimental Therapeutics based at London's Wililam Harvey Research Institute to continue his researches into the therapeutic properties of red wine.


Oz Clarke's publisher Adrian Webster came to the reception we held to celebrate Professor Corder's Geoffrey Roberts Award and the eventual result is the most fascinating book The Wine Diet (£9.99 Sphere) which has just been serialised in The Daily Telegraph here in Britain. This was backed up by an article in Nature published last week. The publishers had been intending to hold back copies until the formal publication date of Jan 4 but have been so overwhelmed by the response to all this publicity that copies were released to booksellers and Amazon yesterday.


I have seen the book and can heartily recommend it to anyone with an interest in wine. If I tell you that all I have had time to do so far is skim it for a couple of minutes and already learnt a quite amazing amount (eg  the effect of acidity on tannin, and that if you didn't want to drink red wine to prolong your life, you could eat walnuts instead – huh!). The book is clearly written and well laid out and contains such solid, useful information – so much meatier than previous similar works.


Professor Corder's principal discovery concerns the life-prolonging importance of procyanidins, a sort of polyphenol fouind in red wine (yes of course I quickly checked that there was an entry on them in the OCW3 – too short alas). It just so happens that most of his practical research took place in Sardinia and south west France so some commentators have wrongly assumed that Old World wines are better for you than New World ones. Because the article in Nature focussed on wines in the Gers, the good old Plaimont co-op has seized upon this as a useful marketing opportunity but apparently a wide range of reds from all over the world are good for us, notably those made with extended fermentations and/or macerations.  

Of course similar claims have been made for resveratrol, but Professor Corder points out that to benefit from sufficient quantities of it, we would have to consume seriously unhealthy quantities of wine.


The good professor has measured the procyanidin content in a surprisingly wide range of wines and rates them all one to five hearts (which look rather prettier than stars on the page). He doesn't specify vintages but he does specify producers and bottlings so I suppose we just assume that the procyanidin content doesn't vary too much with the year.


To get all this great detail you will just have to buy the book. Here's the relevant link to who are selling it for just £6.59.


Compare and contrast with the following email received in the last few days from someone who teaches wine classes in North America:


"I wonder if you could offer some advice for a student of mine. She has just started the Sommelier Diploma with me and about two weeks prior to the start, found out she was pregnant. She didn't foresee a problem as we spit all the wines during the daily tastings.

Her obstetrician has now told her flat out that even though she is spitting the wines the amount that is absorbed could have a negative impact. If I am not mistaken, you were pregnant during your MW studies so I was wondering if you might be able share a word or two on the subject. On average, we taste 12 to 18 wines per session and the class runs one day per week for 23 weeks."