YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Drink | WINE

The Good News and the Silly News

May 21, 1997|MATT KRAMER

Wine writers' mailboxes are stuffed these days. The wine industry is helpfully sending us glowing tributes to the healthfulness of . . . wine.

The industry was jubilant when the mainstream press and even the government acknowledged wine's health benefits. (One of them is that wine--red or white--contains compounds that act as antioxidants, preventing the unhealthful oxidation of LDL cholesterol, the "bad" cholesterol.)

Make no mistake: The news is good. Reasonable, moderate consumption of wine does seem to be beneficial. But in putting out the word, the industry has been going a little overboard.

Consider this headline in a recent press release from the San Francisco-based Wine Institute: "Chocolate and Wine May Share Antioxidant Benefits."

This got my attention. I've been scarfing down chocolate with red wine for years. It always seemed like a predestined combination, like salt and French fries. But seriously, chocolate and red wine as a healthful food pairing?

The release was touting a paper by UC Davis professor Andrew Waterhouse, recently published in the British medical journal the Lancet (which has traditionally been receptive to unusual medical investigations). Waterhouse and his colleagues experimented with extracts of cocoa powder and discovered that the cocoa has an antioxidant effect similar to that of red wine. A 1 1/2-ounce piece of milk chocolate contains 205 milligrams of total phenolics (the antioxidant vehicle), and a glass of red wine contains 210 milligrams.

So what's in it for the wine industry? "The pleasant pairing of red wine and dark chocolate could have synergistic advantages beyond their complementary tastes," Waterhouse says.

Another wine and health triumph? Hardly. Because most chocolate also contains fat, sugar and caffeine, Waterhouse adds (regretfully, one suspects), "We certainly aren't suggesting that people start eating chocolate to prevent coronary heart disease."

So we're back to what we knew all along: A good bottle of wine--red or white--with dinner is good for life. No more, and certainly no less. The following wines are a joy in the glass and a tribute to health, both mental and physical.

*1994 Cain Vineyard and Winery "Cain Cuvee" ($18.95): You've had a strenuous, frustrating day and you're looking for a red wine to remind you why life is worth celebrating? The doctor is in. I prescribe the stunning 1994 Cain Cuvee. Simply put, this is a wine that can make the morose into lighthearted life-lovers. Good wine can do that.

As the name suggests, Cain Cuvee is a blend: Cabernet Sauvignon (74%), Cabernet Franc (15%), Merlot (9%) and Malbec (2%), all from Napa Valley vineyards. Every vintage of Cain Cuvee is different, because the blend changes (as it should) with the nature of every vintage.

As is well known, 1994 was a standout year for California red wines, and '94 Cain Cuvee adds to its luster. Unlike many red wine blends, whose labels talk a good game but rarely deliver the kind of focus and polish so often promised, this one really coheres; you can't pick it apart. You can't tell where the Cabernet Sauvignon ends and the Merlot begins. It's seamless, which is what an artfully blended wine should be.

Not the least of its attractions is the fact that the '94 Cain Cuvee is smooth enough to be rewarding drinking right now. Yet it has the depth, balance and structure to repay further aging, if you're so inclined. This is one of the most pleasing '94 reds on the market. Look for a street price as low as $15.95.


1995 Husch Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc "La Ribera Vineyards" ($9.50): Real consistency in wine literally comes from the ground up. Good winemaking is essential, of course, but in the end, it's the vineyard itself that makes for consistently distinctive wine.

This wine from Mendocino County's Husch Vineyards is a good example of what fidelity to site can achieve. It's the more striking because Husch has not been a model of consistent winemaking in the past. Many of its wines have proved variable. But Husch's Sauvignon Blanc is another matter, thanks in large part to where it's grown.

The 160-acre vineyard named La Ribera is in the tiny Sanel Valley, on the east bank of the Russian River between Hopland and Talmage. This unheralded district has a vocation for Sauvignon Blanc, as demonstrated year after year by the Sauvignon Blancs of Husch and its Sanel Valley neighbor Jepson Vineyards.

Husch's 1995 Sauvignon Blanc demonstrates Sanel Valley's distinction again. Ripe-tasting yet restrained, with a characteristic fig-like scent, this is Sauvignon Blanc at its most insinuating; it slides right down. Absent are the annoying grassy or acrid scents of Sauvignon Blancs from less ideal sites. This wine enhances all sorts of cheeses, fish dishes and vegetables such as asparagus.

The price, happily, is as persuasive as the wine. At $9.50 a bottle, it's a terrific dry white wine for the money.

Although Husch is reasonably well distributed, it's a small family winery. If you have difficulty finding the '95 Sauvignon Blanc, you can order directly from the winery at (800) 55-HUSCH.

Los Angeles Times Articles