A wine loving friend recently bounced off a question to me, that he is frequently bombarded with; why should one switch to wine when one is used to whisky and beer. His dilemma prompted me to pen this Article. When I formed the Delhi Wine Club three years ago, I was filled with passion and started with missionary zeal to convert as many whisky drinkers to wine as possible. It would have been more realistic goal for me to go to Mars during my lifetime! Mercifully, I changed track and set out to motivate the Gen Next to this finer form of drink while enjoying it with like minded people.
Before comparison, first the basic difference between the three beverages: Based on the alcohol content, raw materials and processing style there are three general categories; beer (3.5-7%), wine ( 7-14%) and liquor (above 40%) . Of course there are fortified wines and liqueurs that fall between 14-40% but that is a small section). Liquor or spirits include whisky, gin, vodka tequila and rum etc.
A standard drink of beer, wine or liquor contains about the same amount of alcohol, i.e., 12-20 gms. Several studies have shown that an intake of about 25-30 gm of alcohol in the form of any beverage improves the good cholesterol (HDL) and reduces the bad one (LDL). Each type is equally good for the heart and dementia. So there is a 3-way tie here.
But wine scores over the others due to its anti-aging properties, especially in the red wines due to the presence of anti-aging compounds called flavonoids in the skins, stems and pips. Studies have also shown that white wine is good for colds and lungs get stronger, a less-known feature that can actually help smokers who cannot kick the habit. Positive effects have been observed on cancer for men with no such benefits with beer or whisky. No wonder the demographic studies have shown that better educated and health conscious people all over the world are switching over to wine.
As a beverage wine is unique in that it has so many features like colour, bouquet, fruit, tannins, acidity, sweetness, body, aftertaste. Hundreds of grape varieties are used with different blends, each giving its own characteristics. Different areas, regions, styles of wine making put each wine label on almost a unique platform unlike any other beverage.
Wine as a lifestyle offers excitement that lasts the lifetime. One can explore several unknown wine-related frontiers. A Merlot form Chile is different from the one in California or St. Emillion. In Bordeaux the Chateaux next to the First Growth may not bring a fourth of the price due its different climat. In Piedmont, the famous Gaja Barbaresco wines fetch US $ 280 while the next door neighbour Casetta sells for under US $40. for a comparable bottle. In Burgundy, the two rows of vines, next to each other may belong to different producers and fetch very different prices. All this is because of the skill and style and philosophy of the winemaker which makes it so interesting for the consumer. Once you get wine-educated and train your palate to recognize these differences you can have the rest of your life of adventure ahead of you..
Food and wine are really made for each other, if matched properly; even Indain food. You may possibly love your kebabs with beer but not many would enjoy whisky or vodka with their meal. The other day a friend and and I decided on a working brunch with Indian style gobhi-parathas and egg-bhurji. We decided to split a bottle of chilled Babich 2003 Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough. The medium body, highly perfumed wine with floral notes and tropical fruit flavour was a bit off-dry. But it really made the parataha-bhurji sing, adding to the taste like no other beverage could. Imagine having it with beer or whisky!
A subtle difference in the three beverages is the ‘romance factor’ of wine. It has been well established that intake of alcohol increases the desire for sex in the same proportion as it decreases the performance. A bottle of wine split by a couple with food may take you to a romantic high but try it with a 6-pack or a pint of whisky and you will know what I mean.
Wine should not to be taken as an alcoholic beverage. Alcohol is there to give it various flavours. To get high or higher you may enjoy your liquor. Also, due to the slow intake of wine with food it is absorbed by the digestive system unlike whisky which makes the alcohol go straight into the bloodstream. In any case, beyond a certain limit all the alcohol beverages are bad for liver, BP etc and certainly, driving under their influence is dangerous to your well being-and others’.
The debate is an interesting one; enough to have Dr. Arthur Klatsky of San Francisco, a pioneer in conducting studies on Heart and Wine relationship speak on the topic, ‘Beverage Choice: Is Wine Better Than Beer or Spirits?’ during the 3rd International Heart and Health Summit being held in Napa, California from March 2-5, 2005. (www.winesummit.com). Incidentally Dr. Klatsky whom I met in Napa a couple of years ago is a healthy 90+ years young and has been having a glass of wine with dinner for over 30 years.
To summarize, I would tell my friend to ‘live and let live’ and ‘each to his own’. The benefits of wine over other alcoholic beverages are plenty but like a blue chip stock on one’s equity portfolio, it should be a major part of the alcoholic beverage portfolio for a solid and healthy lifestyle. I end with a few simple lines:
Whisky could be risky
Beer may be dear,
But wine sure is fine
And fine wine simply divine.
President, Delhi Wine Club
President, Indian Wine Academy