Wine: good for the brain?

Wine is good for us, at least as long as we consume it in reasonable amounts.

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This simple statement, known intuitively for centuries and the subject of extensive research for the past quarter-century or so, seems to be about as close to settled science as, say, climate change or evolution, to name a couple of other controversial realms of scientific inquiry.

The idea that wine is neither neutral nor actively bad for one’s health hit the headlines back in 1991, when CBS 60 Minutes commentator Morley Safer presented a report on “The French Paradox,” the unexpected reality that French people tend to eat lots of delicious cheese and other fatty delights, yet suffer fewer heart attacks or other cardiovascular diseases than Americans. The secret, according to scientists quoted in Safer’s interview, seems to be that the French also consume a lot of red wine, which apparently has a beneficial effect on heart and circulatory health.

Morley Safer

CBS 60 Minutes commentator Morley Safer unveiled The French Paradox in 1991.

In the ensuing years, there’s been one study after another, it seems, all of them generally yielding similar results: Wine is good for us, as long as we don’t overdo it. (And, of course, always keeping in mind that wine isn’t medicine, and shouldn’t be viewed as such. It’s simply one of many enjoyable ingredients in a happy, healthy lifestyle.)

By and large, most wine-and-health studies have focused on heart and cardiovascular health. Last autumn, though, a study by the Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas took a different tack. Using MRIs to peek into the brains of 13 Master Sommeliers – perhaps the ultimate wine experts – they found unusually “enhanced volume” – thick, healthy tissue – in the portions of the brain associated with smell and memory. This might signal an increased resistance to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, the scientists said.

You can read the full, lengthy study online at this link. It’s heavy going, but if, like me, you’d just as soon jump to the end and read the conclusions, here you go!

This study identified enhanced structural and functional patterns in the olfactory network of sommeliers. These findings are consistent with the learning they undergo in achieving the status of Master Sommelier. Furthermore, the volume of a region of the brain involved in olfactory memory was associated with experience, suggesting that the continued training results in morphological changes of the brain. These results speak to the plasticity of the adult brain in response to sensory expertise. Future research into therapeutic sensory-cognitive training in individuals at risk from neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, which impact the same regions of the limbic system and entorhinal cortex, might provide an important clinical application of these results.

No, we can’t all be Master Sommeliers. It’s been my privilege to work with a few in training, and I can tell you that it’s a long, hard, but rewarding grind. But next time you enjoy a glass of wine, take a few moments to ponder it thoughtfully and think about it deeply. I figure it can’t hurt!


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Wine Focus for May: Wines of Austria

There’s still time to participate in our Wine Focus for April 2017: Wines of Australia, but as we near the month’s end, we’re ready, too, to jump into our topic for May, Wines of Austria.

To join in our discussion and tasting across the land Down Under, click Wine Focus for April 2017: Wines of Australia and bring your Australian comments, questions and tasting notes! Meanwhile, though it’s not too early to start thinking about such uniquely Austrian grapes as Grüner Veltliner, Zweigelt, not to mention Austria’s own take on world-favorite Riesling, in Wine Focus for May 2017, Wines of Austria

I’ll get us started with two good Austrian wines in today’s tastings. Hermann Moser’s entry-level Grüner Veltliner is nicknamed “The Spark” because it is intended as an introduction to GV, a wine that will spark your interest and get you started with appreciating and wanting to experience more of this iconic Austrian variety. Markus Huber’s Zweigelt (“Tsvy-gelt”) is a relatively modern grape, an early 20th century cross between Austria’s Blaufränkish (a.k.a. Lemberger) and Sankt Laurent.


Today’s Tasting Reports

Hermann Moser 2015 Kremstal Grüner Veltliner “Per Due” “The Spark” ($16)

Hermann Moser

This clear, light straw-colored wine shows surprisingly bold and aromatic scents for a GV, perhaps hinting at the wine maker’s placement of “The Spark” bottling as an introduction to wine lovers unfamiliar with the grape. It’s pleasant, though, with luscious aromas of peach and melon and perhaps a floral back note of gardenia. It’s rather full-bodied on the palate, but crisp, zippy acidity holds it in balance and positions it as an excellent food wine. Stone fruit and tangy citrus come together in the flavor, with that classic “stony” minerality so typical of Austrian whites showing up alongside the fruit in a very long finish. A gentle 12% makes the decision to have a second glass, or possibly a third, an easy one. U.S. importer: Boutique Wine Collection, Philadelphia, Pa. (April 18, 2017)

FOOD MATCH: It would go well with mild freshwater fish, and it’s also excellent with eggs, green vegetables and cheese. An asparagus and goat-cheese frittata made an ideal match. The winery also offers an extensive range of pairing suggestions: “It will go well with Asian food—anything from Vietnamese to Thai to spicy Chinese flavors. You can also try it with seafood or bitter greens and salads. It is versatile and will also complement pork tenderloin, or a dish where the wine’s acidity can cut through salt and fat, such as smoked ham.”

WHEN TO DRINK: Its good balance and zippy acidity should hold it for a while, and the sturdy metal screw cap is also protective. Still, it’s a wine to be enjoyed fresh and young, so I’d drink it up over the next year or two, then watch for more recent vintages.

This wine is a good value in the middle teens; shows a $14 average U.S. retail.

Here’s a fact sheet from importer Boutique Wines.

Find vendors and compare prices for Hermann Moser Kremstal Grüner Veltliner “Per Due” “The Spark”on


Markus Huber 2013 Niederösterreich Zweigelt ($20)

Markus Huber

Dark garnet, shading to a clear edge. Tart black cherry and cranberry aromas lead into a bright black-fruit flavor structured by zippy, mouth-watering acidity. Soft tannins join in on the palate, and the characteristic Austrian “stony” minerality lingers with tart cherries and a lemon-squirt of citrus in a very long finish. U.S. importer: Broadbent Selections Inc., Sonoma, Calif. (April 26, 2017)

FOOD MATCH: A very good companion with the garlicky flavors of eggplant imam bayildi, cooked with tomatoes and lots of onion and garlic. It would work well, too, with lighter red meat, burgers or pork.

WHEN TO DRINK: It’s not an ager, but its protective screw cap should keep it sound for several years.

My $20 local price was out of control. reports a $15 average U.S. retail, so shop around if you can.

Here’s a winery fact sheet in English on the 2013 Zweigelt. For more information about the Huber winery, see this page on the importer’s web site.

Check prices and find vendors for Markus Huber Niederösterreich Zweigelt on


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