Several years ago, while wine drinkers were basking in the glow of the landmark CBS-TV report, “The French Paradox,” which noted that the French ate more fat than Americans do, actually exercised less, and drank more wine per capita, yet dying in significantly fewer numbers and living longer, all probably due to healthier heart and vascular conditions. This cultural oddity proved to many who wanted it to be so, that the relationship between high living and death was non-existent.

Eating, drinking and being merry became okay again for Americans. After all, if the French could do it, why couldn’t we?

Turns out The French Paradox may actually be gene-oriented rather than lifestyle-oriented, and that Americans really are more at risk to die from heart issues due to obesity, higher fat diets, smoking and consuming massive amounts of beer, scotch and even wine. Bummer.

Science thought they were on to something by taking what the French had and giving it to us in pill form.

Right on the heels of that great/not great news roller coaster ride was the remarkable discovery of what a little-respected polyphenol, resveratrol, could accomplish. Resveratrol is a naturally occurring substance in the skins of grapes and because it is present from the time the grapes form, it finds its way into wines, particularly red wines and in particular even further, pinot noir.

Here we go again. Drink your way to health and a long life with wine. Damn the gym memberships, the expensive creams and the wacky claims made for little bottles of pills. How about a nice burgundy or something special from Oregon? That’s the way to achieve the Fountain of Youth, all thanks to resveratrol. Bottoms up.  

Using the tried and true New Orleans theory that anything worth doing is worth doing to excess, scientists figured that they could put more resveratrol into tablet form than what was being delivered in liquid fermented form.

That sort of journey requires more lab studies, and early results demonstrated that resveratrol was linked to extending the life spans of fruit flies and tropical killifish. So far, so good, assuming you fit into one of those genuses.

Once the drug studies moved on to higher forms, like mammals, scientists confirmed that disease rates declined. Not on as steep a curve as original studies indicated, but there was a trend. Yet the animals in this study did not live longer.

Whoops. What’s the point of proving less disease with more resveratrol, but then dying at the same rate at the same time as the control group who was not taking the increased dose?

According to Dipak Das, researcher at the University of Connecticut’s Cardiovascular Research Center, “Resveratrol is so powerful it can activate stem-cell survival, but why is it not extending lifespan by improving the survivability of genes?”

Lest you think Das missed da’ boat, he reviewed more than 100 studies on resveratrol, which included numerous nutritional supplements and the effects of wine. Other research efforts have been funded by Big Pharma (there’s major money in drugs that can extend life, as you can well imagine) and have also headed smack into the same brick wall. Resveratrol is really promising, but solid results showing an extension of life cannot be demonstrated.  

In effect, as regards to putting resveratrol into everyone’s medicine cabinet for the reason of longer life, science is still at the starting point, awaiting a reason to fire the pistol and begin the race.

In all fairness to resveratrol, there is substantial evidence that the polyphenol can lower the risk of deadly diseases, such as diabetes, heart failure and some types of cancer. That type of knowledge is not small potatoes. Those diseases are bad things and we now have a substance that demonstrates time and time again that it is effective in lowering the risk of humans to contract them.

What cannot be proven, at least not yet in a controlled scientific way, is that by taking resveratrol, life is extended. Darn! The point of minimizing the effects of bad disease is, hopefully, gaining longer life. So far, no good news.

Drink Your Wine. It’s Good for You

Can’t say that this news offsets the disappointing news of the previous story, but some reasonably enterprising, not necessarily sane, people in Michigan are making asparagus wine.

It just sounds awful, but I will withhold judgment until I have the opportunity to taste some. Then I will, without question, come to the same conclusion.

Kellie Fox of Fox Barn Market and Winery in Shelby, Michigan, which is in the heart of that state’s Asparagus Belt (who knew?) received a tub of mashed asparagus. How does such a thing happen? What kind of friends would consider that an appropriate gift?

She noted it smelled awful, even after adding water, sugar and yeast. What made her do that? Okay, yes, she does make a lot of fruit wines from cherries, peaches and pears, but it is a pretty big leap from sweet fruits to sour asparagus. Besides, many wineries in some parts of California have spent at least one generation to get away from the green, asparagus quality which damned them to low sales and low prices.      

Now there’s a winemaker in Michigan embracing all those characteristics that the general public has literally turned their collective noses up at. Even the executive director of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Council, John Bakker, said, “I’d like to get a bottle – at least to keep it on my counter. I love asparagus, but I don’t know if I’d drink it.”

Then, realizing what he had said, he added, “Well, I might try it.”

When you can’t get the guy whose job it is to move asparagus in the marketplace in any way possible to have some enthusiasm for a new application, you, as a manufacturer, have a problem.

Fox has committed to having an asparagus wine float (no, not a fountain drink. That would be ridiculous) in the National Asparagus Festival parade. You are now thinking that Morgan City’s Shrimp and Petroleum Festival does not sound so strange any more. Fox will be selling half-bottles of her asparagus wine for $16, and expects to sell out the current supply of less than 300 bottles.

Ms. Fox, please keep in mind that you can pretty much sell anything once.