Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Health Benefits of Moderate Sherry Consumption

(From an article by Juan P Simo in the Diario de Jerez)

The Spanish Government’s minister of health, Ana Mato, is drafting a new “Ley de alcohol” (Alcohol Law) which contemplates the restriction of alcohol to minors even with permission from parents or guardians, the restriction of alcohol consumed by adults in the streets, and its promotion. If it proceeds through negotiations without dilution it will be pioneering legislation in Europe by integrating under the same legal umbrella all the laws concerning consumption, labelling and advertising. There will be serious fines for any infringement. The implications are very worrying as the similar “Loi Evin” in France has had profound detrimental effects.

The intention of the law is to curb under-age drinking and the annoying "botellones" or street drinking parties the young so love. As usual with politicians, they can see no difference between people drunk on beer and spirits and civilised wine drinking, so there will be no exceptions in the law for wine.

The Spanish bodegas will fight this tooth and nail as it ignores the positive benefits of drinking moderate amounts of wine and demonises its consumption, a part of the culture, as mere alcohol. Besides, alcohol consumption in Spain is steadily falling anyway. So now would be a good time to show the positive side of alcohol. The wines of Jerez have a long anecdotal - and almost certainly genuine - history of health-giving properties, and perhaps the following will convince any sceptic.

There was the miracle of Manuel Maria Gonzalez Gordon (1886-1980), author of the book known as the “Sherry Bible” ("Sherry" in the English edition) and director of Gonzalez Byass. As a child he was sick and the doctors gave him little chance of survival, but regular doses of Sherry saw him through and he lived a long, productive and healthy life to the ripe old age of 94. 

Another miracle was that of the King Alfonso XIII, who at only four years of age proved to be a sickly child with weakness and fever. Various things were administered to him at all hours: soups, milk and even Sherry, but the latter ensured his health and survival. Yet another was a soldier of the second squadron of the cavalry of Santiago who was in 1854 a wreck of a man, suffering from pneumonia. They tried everything till his doctor prescribed a biscuit steeped in dry Sherry to be taken every three hours. In three months he was fit enough to leave the clinic.

So, what are the benefits of drinking Sherry which are not already well known? Well, for example, does our minister know of the home remedy of “candie” (from the English “candy eggs”), a glass of sweet Sherry with an egg yolk which is infallible against the flu or a cold? Or “chiribitas” (from the English Sherry and Bitters)? Or a small glass of Sherry with two eggs to ward off anaemia? Or that Oloroso Rio Viejo kills flu bugs?

If all the foregoing were not enough, there are millions of reasons confirmed by educated people such as historians, doctors, researchers and health organisations, who over many centuries have come to the simple conclusion that moderate drinking of wine is beneficial to the health.  From the long-lived Noah onwards, everyone praised the virtues of wine. Saint Matthew advised his disciple Timothy to drink a little wine instead of water for the sake of his stomach ailments. Hipocrates recommended wine as the ideal remedy for “the fever of the combatant”, while Homer reckoned it gave one strength.

In the classical pharmacopoeia Sherry was known as “Vinum Xericum”, recognising its tonic and therapeutic properties. One of the great surgeons and politicians, Fermin Aranda, from Jerez, who performed the first open heart surgery in the world, and whose daughter Pilar ran an outstanding almacenista business, was quite right when he said that Sherry is life-giving wine as it contains iron, nitrogen and vitamins, and sufficient alcohol to cool any fever.

Louis Pasteur called wine the most healthy and hygienic drink, while Sir Alexander Fleming, discoverer of Penicillin reckoned that while his discovery could cure the sick, Sherry could resuscitate the dead. Another doctor, Jose Luis Ruiz Badanelli, put to bed the notion that Sherry, drunk even moderately, could cause cirrhosis of the liver. He was quite clear: “Sherry has surprising qualities: it doesn’t irritate the stomach with acidic compounds like tannins and tartrates as happens in other wines. It is a nourishing and powerful remedy which, when administered at the right time to the patient, strengthens the cardiac muscle and speeds up the metabolism.” Sherry was regarded as wholesome enough by the bodega workers that it occasionally made up for the lack of lunch. Columbus drank more Sherry than he ate food on his journey to the Americas.

The great bibliophile Jose de Soto Molina described Sherry as a “vivifying tonic par excellence”, while the great XIX century novelist Benito Perez Galdos also described it as “vivifying”, and many of his works are impregnated with his preoccupation for exalting the medicinal virtues of Sherry. In the more recent past, the Nobel prizewinning author Martin Rodall came to Jerez to support the work of the Estevez family in reducing the histamine content in Sherry, and praised the wine as a “healthy drink”. Severo Ochoa, another Nobel Laureate and one of Spain’s most distinguished scientists, never stopped praising the health-giving virtues of Sherry.

Another great protagonist of Sherry was Gregorio Marañon, a famous doctor and scientist from Madrid, who in his lecture to the Fiesta de la Vendimia in 1955, defended moderate consumption of Sherry. “Let us reject the supposed dangers of wine to health. My colleagues and I have seen some hundred thousand patients with all sorts of complaints, and very few of them were caused by excess of wine.” He maintained that wine- in moderation - is inoffensive and often useful, as long as we stay within our limits.

Sherry is a powerful anti-oxidant which combats cancer and ageing. The anti-oxidant properties of Sherry are 100 times more effective than vitamin C, and 25 times more effective than vitamin E. These anti-oxidants are known as polyphenols, and attack free radicals and the effects of ageing.

Longevity is a well-established trait in Jerez. Remember Manuel Maria Gonzalez Gordon who lived to 94 after the doctors had given up hope. His father Pedro Nolasco reached 97, and his father, GB founder Manuel Maria, recognised the role of Sherry in his recovery from childhood tuberculosis, dying at 75, an advanced age for his time. His great grandson, Mauricio died quite recently at the age of 90.

As a final point, let’s remember Manuel Salido de la Cal from Jaen, a businessman in the graphic arts, father of Antonio Salido Paz, founder of the Jerez football team, Jerez Industrial, who, in various interviews explained how he reached his centenary. “Every day I had a glass of wine before lunch: a glass of Oloroso to set myself up, and maybe one or two glasses of Fino. I feel terrific.”

So there we are; in Jerez someone who doesn’t recommend Sherry either doesn’t like it – or they are mad. You are probably convinced by now – or always were – but just in case, there follow some even more convincing footnotes:

*30-50% reduction of risk of death by heart attack with moderate consumption as against abstention.
*Reduces arterial pressure and thereby arterial sclerosis.
*Stimulates concentration, reduces stress and is helpful against Alzheimers.
*Moderate consumption has no effect on the digestive and nervous systems.
*Facilitates digestion and stimulates appetite without causing weight increase.
*Fights osteoporosis.
*Delays ageing.
*Lowers cholesterol.
*Acts as a mineral supplement.
*Reduces allergic reactions.

(Legal disclaimer: Please remember that while moderate consumption of wine/Sherry does have positive physical effects, not all doctors see things that way. This is not intended to persuade you to drink anything other than moderate quantities of Sherry.)

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