By Rick Riozza

One of the special features you’ll find in any given issue of the popular wine publication Wine Spectator is the “news/food & travel/people/collecting” section called simply “GrapeVine”. It’s always a quick read and often brings those of us, who snoop around wine and stuff, up to speed.

In a column therein, writer Lexi Williams titled her piece “Five Wine and Health Myths, Debunked”. It’s been a while since our resident wine doctor (that’ll be me with my J.D. degree) has offered his two cents in any valued discussion; so we thought we’d also explore these wine and health myths that keep circulating in an out every decade:

A Glass of Wine is a Good Sleep Aid: I have more than a few friends who are in the habit of enjoying a glass of wine just before bed. In this sense, I’m referring to sleep and not the more rigorous nighttime activity. At night, there’s no question that drinking wine can make you feel sleepy.

Williams writes, “Thanks to alcohol’s sedative effects, a tipple before hitting the hay will help you fall asleep faster, and there is even evidence that some wine grapes contain high amounts of the sleep aid melatonin.”

But as many of us find, that sleep is less likely to be restful and restorative. Personally, at home, I find that the latest time I can enjoy a glass of wine is around 9pm. If I drink sometime thereafter and fall asleep, chances are I’ll awake around 1am or so and will have to try to go back to sleep. It’s an odd time to catch up on one’s reading but there you go.

A published journal study in 2015 confirmed that after a wine-tinged deep sleep event, sleep disruption and awake time will probably follow.

Alcohol Kills Brain Cells: We’ve always heard that one and it’s pretty dramatic. Ethanol (the kind of alcohol found in wine) can be harmful to body cells, but fortunately our body has ways of processing it before permanent damage can occur. Williams writes, “Heavy drinking can damage dendrites, which are parts of nerve cells, or neurons that carry messages within the brain.” It’s believed that the damage is reversible.

Of course, the bad news is that with prolonged heavy drinking all bets are off; it’s risky living, so proceed with absolute caution.

Sulfites Cause Headaches and Hangovers: Sulfites are always getting hit in the consumer wine game. We know they’re naturally occurring in the wine making process and most winemakers also add supplemental sulfites to help protect against spoilage. Sulfites are frequently blamed for headaches and hangovers.

Williams writes, “According to the FDA, only 1% of the population is sensitive to sulfites, meaning those folks so sensitive may experience skin irritation, stomach pain and asthmatic symptoms. These are signs of an allergic reaction not a hangover.” The FDA goes on to state that with the reported problems, it’s really the amount of wine consumed in the body, and, dehydration issues.

I’ve covered many organic and bio-sustainable wines and wineries in this column. Most wine folks report they feel a lot better when enjoying the minimal invasive wine process. I believe it’s the pesticides and toxic herbicides that cause the health problems, which is why we like the organic and sustainability wine making.

Red Wine is Healthier than White Wine: This is a subject that proves too many people have too much time on their hand. Of course we know grapes and wine provide proven health benefits with all the polyphenols and resveratrol and the like in the skins and about the wine. Can’t red wine and white wine drinkers all just get along?–who has to be better?

It’s always been the adage that red wine is good for the body, and white wine is good for the head. Champagne and all its bubbles is one great stimulant; and I’ll do a Sauv Blanc at the end of a wine trade tasting when I need some invigorating energy. While enjoying some guitar practice in the evening, if I wish to get into some lively and innovative playing, a white wine will do; if I’m going for more the mellow tone, please pour me a red.

Men and Women React the Same to Alcohol: Williams offers: “A women standing 5-feet, 9-inches and weighing 160 pounds should be able to process three glasses of wine consumed over a three-hour period identically to a man of the same proportions, right?


What about those days when the swashbucklers of old, campaigning aboard the buccaneer galleons, swigged down pints of Caribbean rum. I’m certain there were many different levels of drunkenness about the crew. So why would we ever think men and women would share the same sensibilities when drinking?

Williams confirms “that alcohol affects women and men differently. This is why the USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend up to two drinks a day for men and up to only one for women.

“We’ve all been told that body size plays a big role in the way alcohol affects us, and this is true. But it also has to do with our chemical makeup, which differs between men and women.

“Women have less alcohol dehydrogenase activity than men, meaning they’re unable to process the same amount of alcohol before it reaches the bloodstream. This means women generally grow more intoxicated more quickly than men.”

We men actually know this already; for come St. Valentine’s Day, candy is dandy—but liquor is quicker! (in the best sense of course!) Cheers!