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  • Eh, Paisano! Pour the Wine
    Benefits and Tradition are in a Glass of Red Wine
    Part 1 of 2: Health Benefits of Red Wine

    Italian Memories

    by Cookie Curci

    As we raised our glasses high, Nonno's words sang out over the dining table, "Salute' per cento 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. 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 U.S. 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 cyclooxygenase-2 (cox-2), which is suspected of creating the inflammation that causes arthritis pain.

    But this is only one of the benefits of 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, and smoke cigarettes and don't exercise, they have a very low heart attack rate. It is their moderate and daily consumption of red wine that gives the most likely reason for this phenomenon, which was coined 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." 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 the rich red wine to each grandchild as a preventative mouthwash and gargle. 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 over night. In the morning, she dabbed the wine on the sore. The resveratrol 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 resveratrol 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, 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 though the house.

    Part 2: The October Tradition of Winemaking

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