You can feel good about toasting special occasions with a glass of bubbly, because the champagne that’s tickling your nose may be feeding your brain and relaxing your vascular system.
If you pick the right kind of champagne, that is.
Here’s how to choose champagne or sparkling wine that’s actually good for you…
HEARTS AND MINDS
The protective compounds that are found in certain champagnes are potent antioxidants called phenolics. They’re found in many fruits and vegetables—including grapes and the red wine made from them—as well as tea and cocoa. Phenolic-rich blueberries in particular have been shown to improve memory in people.
So researchers at the University of Reading in the UK decided to test phenolic-rich champagne. They had a group of aging rats run a maze with a food reward at the end. After learning the maze, some of the rats were given a daily diet that included champagne, while others got either nonalcoholic fruit juice or water spiked with alcohol. The amount of champagne, by body weight, was equivalent to a human drinking about a glass a day. Six weeks later, the rats ran the maze again. Result: The champagne drinkers remembered their way slightly better than the plain alcohol drinkers and significantly better than the juice drinkers.
We look forward to human studies to see if a champagne diet is actually a memory booster for you and me. But it turns out that champagne does have benefits that have been studied in people. This time, the interest was in heart health, because phenolics are known to be good for the cardiovascular system. The same group of British researchers gave human volunteers either a glass of champagne or alcohol-spiked fruit juice. Results: Several hours later, those who had quaffed champagne, compared with the alcohol-only crew, had blood vessels that were more flexible—in ways associated with lower blood pressure and heart health.
A TOAST TO YOUR HEALTH
So is champagne a health drink? It might share the health benefits of red wine…if it’s the right kind of champagne.
The type of champagne matters because only certain types are likely to have a significant concentration of phenolics, which are found primarily in the skins of red grapes.
So here’s a little lesson in champagne: The French, and others who copy their methods, use one or some combination of three kinds of grapes to make their signature beverage—chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. Chardonnay is a lovely grape, which makes the popular white wine named after it. But it’s white, so it has very low phenolic content. It’s used to make champagne that is blanc de blanc, literally “white from white.”
Pinot noir and pinot meunier, however, are quite bursting with phenolics. These grapes are used to make champagne that is blanc de noir, or “white from black.” In this method, the dark skins are removed after 24 hours or so, so that the resulting bubbly has a light tan or even pink tone. But that’s enough time for some of the phenolics to wander into the liquid.
So choose a champagne or sparkling wine made from pinot noir and/or pinot meunier grapes—a blanc de noir—and enjoy it without reservation…in moderation, of course.
And in case you’re wondering, you’ll get even more phenolics if you instead pour yourself and your guests a nice glass of…pinot noir wine. Compared with other red wines, it’s particularly rich in antioxidant phenolics of many kinds. Cabernet noir, Cabernet Franc and Petite Syrah are also phenolic-rich choices. To your health!