Vine and wine

"The groaning presses foam with floods of wine Here are the vines in early flower descried, Here grapes discolour'd on the sunnyside, And there in autumn's richest purple dyed... "

(The Odyssey of Homer, by Alexander Pope)

IN AGES past, the vine was a source of pride and wealth. A few thousand years after the first vineyards in Persia and Asia Minor, Egyptian pharaohs valued it enough to have viniculture and winemaking depicted on pyramid walls. The Old Testament God thunders "... there shall be no grapes on the vine..." at a people who seriously displeased him.

Aesop's fox lusts for out-of-reach grapes, and the playwright, Aristophanes, had one of his characters exclaim, "Oh! Venerated goddess, who givest us our grapes... "

The great wines of Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, Loire and Tuscany are as much a testament to local geography as to centuries-old farming and winemaking skills. More than any other fresh fruit, grapes draw out the character of local climate, soil and water, and minute variations in these can make all the difference between a vintage wine and a vino. No wonder grape cultivators tend to be the most neurotic of horticulturists.

The world's favourite fresh fruit, which can be green, red or blue-black, turns into a raisin when carefully dried, a fact first noted by the Egyptians around 1000 B.C. Raisin production on a giant scale began serendipitously when, during the heat wave of 1876 A.D., the entire grape crop of California's San Joaquin valley withered on the vine.

California now produces nearly half of the world's raisins. The fruit seeds yield edible oil and soap substitutes when processed. Fresh grapes are an excellent source of Vitamin C. With 100 gm providing around 70 calories, they are nutritious without being energy-dense. Grape juice, especially the purple variety, is rich in antioxidant flavonoids that protect blood vessels by preventing the oxidation of LDLs ("bad cholesterol").

A diet rich in fresh fruit in general also lowers the risk for cancer. While grape juice is richer in flavonoids than red wine, the spirit scores over it in one respect: it increases the blood levels of HDLs ("good cholesterol") too. A diet rich in fresh grapes also lessens the chances of blood clots forming in arteries, thereby lowering the risk of heart attacks. Raisins contain around 250 calories per 100 gm, and they are rich in iron, selenium, potassium and dietary fibre. Because they absorb water in the gut, they have a mild laxative effect.


Recommended for you