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Benefits and Tradition are in That Glass of Red Wine

The Fall is the season of grapes and wine: it is for this reason that this beautiful piece by Cookie Curci seems so apt to define the atmosphere of the Fall, as well as giving us some interesting info about all the goodness that can be found in a glass of red wine. Benefits of drinking red wine, Cookie says, and she is right: no one can tell you better than our elders how good and healthy having that glass with your meal is, and for how long such quintessentially Italian habit has been going on. Read on, and enjoy, maybe with a glass of delicious Italian red wine!

Family tales and benefits of drinking red wine

Red wine
The benefits of a glass of good wine are immense!

As we raised our glasses high, grandpa’s words sang out over the dining table, “Salute per chinto anno,” his deep, rich voice as hardy and pure as the red wine he held in his glass.

“Good luck, for a hundred years,” his dinner guests echoed back. I remember how my grandfather’s face beamed with pride at these joyous occasions and how our meal never began until each family member had repeated the traditional dinner toast and sipped from our small glasses of red wine.

The wine was always a part of our family’s holiday meal. And, like most Italian-American kids, I was introduced to its flavor, as well as its medicinal benefits, at an early age. As each family milestone occurred – baptisms, first holy communions, confirmations, birthdays, graduations, and marriages –another bottle of my grandpa’s homemade red wine was uncorked. Bottles were also poured on Sundays, holy days of obligation, and all national holidays: there was always cause for celebration in my grandfather’s house.

Grandpa believed that wine, in moderation, was a good thing. His opinion was later confirmed by a scientific study published in the US Journal of Biological Chemistry on Aug. 21, 1998. In the report, a team of researchers from Cornell University suggested that trans-resveratrol, a natural substance found in high concentration in red wine, could reduce the pain of arthritis by thwarting the activation of the gene cyclozygenase-2 (cox-2), which is suspected of creating the inflammation that causes arthritis pain.

But this is only one of the benefits of drinking red wine

It was a Sunday night in November 1991 that most TV viewers and wine drinkers learned of the benefits of red wine. The event was the airing of “The French Paradox” segment on 60 Minutes, which examined the French lifestyle.

While many French people eat incredible amounts of heart-stopping, artery-clogging, saturated fats, smoke cigarettes, and do not exercise, they have a very low heart attack rate. It is their moderate, daily consumption of red wine that gives the most likely reason for this phenomenon, which was named the French Paradox.

When this news came out, it unleashed a red wine mania, and the sales of red wine shot up by 40 percent. The Gallo wine company saw the sales of “hearty burgundy” soar 39 percent. Americans had discovered the benefits of a glass of red wine.

But this revelation was not news to me or to my grandparents, who lived by the rule: “a glass a day keeps the doctor away.”

Grandmothers and the benefits of red wine

Grandmother often put the benefits of red wine to good use as a medicinal cure. It was administered in moderation as a remedy for arthritis and to purify the blood, cure anemia, alleviate stomach cramps and prevent infection. During World War II, when cases of trench mouth and whooping cough reached epidemic levels in the United States, Grandmother administered rich red wine to each grandchild as a preventative mouthwash and gargle. The wine was also used as a remedy for cold sores or skin infections. Grandmother poured a little wine into a saucer and let it stand covered overnight. In the morning, she dabbed the wine on the sore. The reservatrol in red wine has been found to help block DNA syntheses, a process that must occur for the herpes virus to replicate itself. However, it has been discovered that a much greater concentration of reservatrol than that found in red wine is needed to cure the stubborn virus.

As a teenager, I recall the looks of astonishment on the faces of my non-Italian friends as they watched Father fill my dinner glass with wine. To those who objected, the father would simply say, “Wine is served in church at the communion rail, is it not? And it was served at the Last Supper.” End of discussion.

Father’s house was a peaceful one and a place where he felt happiest. He eliminated the extraneous and engaged in living a simple and satisfying lifestyle. His home was well-balanced, filled with the practical things he needed and the people he loved. He had his own quiet corner, to which he retreated after a robust meal. It was his belief that the soul sighs after eating a large, traditional dinner and that one should spend time in contemplation and reflection. Father reflected at least an hour after every meal– the sound of his contented snore vibrated through the house.

October has always been my favorite time of the year, when the air is brisk and leaves turn a vibrant rainbow of colors. Father looked forward to this Autumn month, too, but for a different reason. October is the traditional time of year for winemaking. It’s the transition month between Summer and Fall, a time when Father gathered his paraphernalia and ingredients for the making of his hearty red wine.

Winemakers on the East Coast had to wait for good winemaking grapes like Malaga and Zinfandel to come in by rail car from California. But Santa Clara Valley winemakers, like Father, were lucky enough to have the plentiful grapes of the Napa and Almaden valleys practically in their backyards. They only had to drive in their pickups to local vineyards to buy boxes of the finest grapes. Some old-timers nurtured their own tiny grape vineyards for the express purpose of making their own red wine. Devoted winemakers, like Father, usually owned their own grape-crushers, while others rented or borrowed one each Fall. After the crush was finished, the juice was poured by funnel into huge oak barrels, which had been cured with sulfur smoke.

Here’s where the talent for good winemaking would come in. One mistake and the winemaker’s barrels would be filled with vinegar instead of wine. But, like Father, most winemakers had inherited their skills from the Old Country and rarely made a bad batch. My favorite memory of winemaking was how the family gathered together at the ranch house to help Father make the wine.

The hub of activity was usually in Grandmother’s kitchen, where the ladies were hard at work making pasta, sausages, ravioli, and hot tomato ketchup, in preparation for a grand October feast. The aroma of roasted bell peppers wafted through the air from Grandmother’s hot oven, filling our nostrils with their wonderful pungent smell. In the fall, the men in the family gathered in the cellar to cure the wine barrels and to help Father set up his winepress.

Some of the men helped father haul in the grapes, others set up the grape-crusher and some others cured the oak barrels. As a child, I remember hearing Papa and Nonna speak of the renowned vineyards of Brolio Castle, the baronial estate of the Ricasoli family, an area famed for its Chianti wine. It is said that wine has been made in this region of Italy since 1000 BC. It was this revered standard of Chianti that Father tried his best to clone.

red wines
Brolio Castle and Chianti Vineyards Ph. depositphotos/Malgorzata_Kistryn

“Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake,” advised Paul in the Bible. Wine has been around for thousands of years. Its benefits have been passed down from generation to generation. But only recently, thanks to modern medicine, we now have scientific proof that wine can aid digestion and wipe out bacteria better than bismuth salicylate (Pepto Bismol).

But all of this wouldn’t be any news to Grandma Isolina and Grandpa Antonio, who lived well into their 90s, enjoying a daily glass of homemade red wine.

The Benefits of Red Wine in our Diet

Both grandma and grandpa loved red wine. They had it with dinner and they included it in may recieps. Reserch has found that red wine may suppress one of the main chemical culprits in heart disease.

It is believed that red wine blocks a cellular compound thought to be a key factor in heart disease, a new study bolsters claims that red wine carries more health benefits than other alcoholic beverages.

Studies on red wine suggest that non-alcoholic extracts from red wine inhibit the formation of endothelin-1, a chemical that makes blood vessels constrict. Compounds that block endothelin-1 may reduce the formation of fatty streaks in blood vessels and decrease heart attack risks. If you’re headed to Italy, and you’re planning some wine tasting, make sure you know all the best wine regions.

By Cookie Curci

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4 years ago

My name is Silvano I came to the U.S. from Lazio as a LITTLE boy. I remember doing this in Italy and took it for granted but never forgot the rich history of this tradition. I’m glad Americans are realizing what we Italians knew all along. Salute to all.🍸🍾🍷

Bobby G Ratliff
4 years ago

Is it true that grape juice has the same benefits as wine?

Nonna, Besanonna
4 years ago

I, also, have great memories of picking grapes from the yards of my grandmother’s two 3 deckers which were inhabited by us, my aunts and uncles and cousins. Grapes were brought to the cellar, placed in a wooden tub and crushed with a big wooden wheel and the liquid stored in 6 huge barrels in her “wine room”!
Memories of sipping this when being sent home from school when not feeling well.!
There’s nothing like being Italian! MEDICINE… not tylenol or aspirin…RED WINE!

Frank Bettinelli
4 years ago

This article on “Making Red Wine”, brought back many fond memories of my helping my father,
and later my Italian in laws in making wine.
I remember going down to the cellar, of the 3 family tenement that we rented in the West End
of Boston, and using a rubber tube inserted into a barrel and sucking out some wine to start
the flow of wine into an empty gallon bottle. There were many times that the tube was left in the mouth accidentally……………just checking……………………ciao.