Treasures of the Greek Land: Greek wine

Treasures of the Greek Land: Greek wine
What do you prefer, white of red wine? Do you usually have a glass with your meal or one to calm down in the evening? Whatever your choice might be, wine is perhaps the most beneficial alcoholic beverage for your body.
However, do not be dazzled by the high prices and the impressive bottles of foreign brands, our little country has always been making wines rich in flavor, body and smell. Something that can be scientifically proven, as you will further read.

How is wine made?

Wine is made by fermenting grape juice; grapes are gathered, crashed and placed in buckets or tanks to ferment. Natural grape sugars are turned into alcohol by fermentation, either naturally or by adding yeast to control the process. The crashed grapes are pressed, so that the skin and whatever sediment is removed.

Whether the grapes are pressed before or after fermentation, along with the color of the grapes used, determines the type of wine produced. In order to make white wine, the grapes are subjected to pressing prior to fermentation. On the contrary, when red wine is to produce, grapes are let to ferment before that.

After this, the wine is put into stainless steel or oak barrels in order to age until bottling.

What does wine provide?

The main phenolic compounds in grapes and wine are flavonoids (catechin, flavonols, anthocyanins, and polymers) and non-flavonoid compounds (1).  Grape cultivar, the employed method, climate condition and soil composition affect both wine composition and phenolic compound concentration (1, 2) significantly. In addition, it appears that the contact duration between the skin and grape juice prior to fermentation might affect flavonoid concentration in the wine (1, 2).

So, the main distinction between red and white wine is the color of grapes used, along with whether the grape juice is fermented with or without skins. Red wine is rich in tanins and resveratrol due to the fact  that grape skins and seeds are also being fermented (1); these compounds are also present in white wine, but in lower concentrations (2).

Nevertheless, both types of wine have similar nutritional profiles per glass (148 ml): they provide between 121 and 125 calories, 4 grams of carbohydrates, manganese, potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, iron, riboflavin, phosphorus, niacin, calcium, vitamin K, and zinc. In comparison to white wine, red wine provides more manganese, potassium, iron, riboflavin, and niacin.

Grape varietals and wine origin 

In order to make wine many different varietals are used, e.g. Pinot Gris, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon). While red varietals are used to make red wine, white wine can be produced from either red or white grapes. For instance, French champagne is made of the red Pinot Noir grape.

Among wine making countries France, Italy, Spain, Chile, South Africa, Australia, US California, and (in the least part) Greece stand out. While most regions cultivate several varietals, some places are famous for one or two, e.g. Napa Valley Chardonnay, Spanish Tempranillo, and South African Chenin Blanc.

Likewise, the Greek varietals are often distinctive of region of origin (4, 5). Some of the more popular are Agiorgitiko (from southern Greece), Asyrtiko (from Santorini), Krasato (from Rapsani), Liatiko and Kotsifali (from Crete), Mantilaria (from Aegean islands), Maurodafni (from Patra, and Kefalonia), Moschato and Moschofilero (from Mantinia, and south Peloponissos), Debina (from Goumenissa), Xinomauro (from Naousa, Goumenissa, Amyntaio, and Rapsani), Roditis (from Patra, Macedonia, and Thessalia), Rompola (from Kefalonia, and central Greece), Savatiano (from Attica, and central Greece), and Sideritis (from Peloponisos, and Evia).

What is so special about Greek wine? #greekwines

Greek wines are richer in phenolic compounds compared to the ones of other countries, with the exception of quercetin and epicatechin, that are more abundant in Canadian wines. As it regards phenolic content of wines, winemaking countries, in ascending order (increasing phenol content), were as follows: Spain<Canada<Hungary<Greece<France<Japan<Portugal (4).

Recent study proves that the main phenolic compounds in Greek wines are anthocyanins and flavonols (5). Using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) to analyze both red and white Greek wine composition, it was found that their phenolic content constitutes of gallic acid, cathechin, hydroxytyrosol, caffeic acid, vanillic acid, syringic acid, epicatechin, p-coumaric acid, ferrulic acid, and quercetin (6). It appears that red wine is richer in these compounds compared to the white one (5, 6).

However, French wine has much more Κ+ ions than Greek and Spanish ones. On the contrary, Greek wine has twice as much Na+ ions, compared to French or Spanish wine; as a result it’s more beneficial for your health (4). Bear in mind that the major active-transport system, known as Na+K+ ATPase (which exports Na+ from the cell and imports K+ into it), as well as carrier systems for glucose and amino acids require Na+ as energy source. In addition, Greek wines have higher Ca2+ and Mg2+ when compared to wines from Hungary, France or Spain; a quality attributed to soil composition (4). As regards Fe3+ and Cu2+ content, their higher concentration in wine is in fact a disadvantage that results in a hazy and cloudy product (4). It also appears that wines from southern Greece are milder, more flavored and of greater acceptance, than the ones produced in the north.

How does wine affect your health?

Many studies underline the beneficial health effects of both red and white wine, and other types of alcohol. More specifically, it is proven that moderate alcohol consumption is related to a 25-40% decline in the risk of cardiovascular disease (7), as well as improves blood cholesterol levels (8), and reduces risk of degenerative neural diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases (9, 10). In a recent research, those who drank small to moderate amounts of alcohol had lower risk of death from heart disease or stroke, compared to those who drank beer or other alcoholic beverages (11). Likewise, drinking wine helps to reduce risk of osteoarthritis (12) and of lung cancer (13).

Is red wine more beneficial to health than white wine?

Red wine is the alleged secret behind the French paradox; while their nutrition is full in saturated fat, they have low heart disease risk. Possibly due to red wine effect in cardiovascular health (14), that results in a 30% decline in the risk of dying from heart disease (15). A property attributed to wine compounds having antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects (16). Similarly, it is proven that drinking 1 or 2 glasses of red wine per day, for 4 weeks, increases HDL cholesterol levels by 11-16% (17).

Several studies indicate that red wine consumption may be helpful in decelerating age related mental decline (18), due to resveratrol antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects (19). Resveratrol seems to be able to prevent beta-amyloid plaque formation in the brain, which determines Alzheimer’s disease (20).

Resveratrol is also tested as a potential (standalone) nutritional supplement for relieving joint pains (21), improving insulin sensitivity (22, 23), and activating genes that prevent age related diseases (24).

Do not overindulge

In order to be beneficial, alcohol must be consumed in moderation. World Health Organization recommends that alcohol should be limited to 2 drinks daily for 5 times a week (25). Drinking more alcohol might result in organ failure, addiction, brain damage (25), and immune system decline (26).

In all, a glass of fine red wine is good for your heart and immune health, either accompanying a meal or at the end of long day. As long as you do not overindulge yourself, there’s always tomorrow.

By George Milessis Msc – Licensed dietitian and nutrition ambassador of MyGreekHeart (


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