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Culinary Curiosities: Why on Feb. 18 we Celebrate Drinking Wine

Ok, now that Dry January (also known as “Dranuary,” an effort to eliminate drinking which may have been excessive during the previous festivity-packed months) is in the rear-view mirror, February is looking up. National Drink Wine Day (February 18) is right on time. Perfectly poised to celebrate success or failure on Valentine’s Day, it’s also ideally situated for you to give a bottle of your favorite vintage to a friend on Random Act of Kindness Day (February 17) and pop a cork the following evening.  

The origins of this little-known holiday are shrouded in mystery, rather like the beginnings of wine-making itself. While the earliest evidence of fermented grapes used for wine can be traced back nearly 8,000 years, National Wine Drinking Day probably began somewhere in the 2000s. Nevertheless, it gives us an excuse—ahem, historical precedent—to celebrate drinking wine. No need to wait for May 6 (Sauvignon Blanc Day) or August 18 (Pinot Noir Day) or National Wine Day (May 25), which does not specify the quaffing. Best to imbibe the variety of your choosing on February 18. And if your New Year’s resolution to be more healthy is still in effect, or if you are ready to revive it, drinking wine can help—really.

Don’t take my word for it. The Mayo Clinic offers that drinking a moderate amount of wine every day could have health benefits. Keep in mind, however, that common sense applies: No drinking and driving, avoid alcohol during pregnancy, check with your doctor if you are taking medications and, most importantly, remember moderation. What does moderate drinking look like? The American Heart Association suggests one or two four-ounce glasses a day.  

So, what might a modest tipple do for you? Some studies indicate a glass or two of wine could help raise your HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Heart health may be improved due to greater protection for blood vessels, less risk of blood clots and lowered blood pressure. By inhibiting plaque formation in blood vessels that could lead to dementia, you could maintain better brain function. Moderated blood sugar levels may decrease risk of developing type II diabetes. Some studies even suggest that compounds in wine slow the growth of fat cells and may turn passive “white fat” into more energy-efficient “beige fat.”

How does wine do it all? It’s the polyphenols. Polyphenols are micronutrients with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties. They’re found in grape skins and may be one reason why red wine, which is in contact with the skins longer, has a greater concentration of the health-boosting nutrients. Many studies have focused on the benefits of the polyphenol resveratrol (or as some wishfully call it, “reverse-it-all”) in the last decade or so. Skeptics point out that many studies have been conducted on mice, not humans, and often the dosages of resveratrol are massive—not what you would get from a glass or two.

While I hope the scientists continue their research, it could also be that part of what makes drinking wine healthy is drinking it with food and friends. Dan Buettner, in his 2008 book, "The Blue Zones," about health and longevity, endorses a daily glass of wine paired with food and company.  What better way to celebrate, de-stress and relax, than with a good meal and a few laughs?  

There are many ways to consider celebrating the holiday. Take a class.  Host a tasting or a dinner. Cook with wine and try a new recipe (as old-time comediene and celebrated drinker, W.C. Fields said, “I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food”). Buy a bottle and support your favorite vineyard. And, of course, drink some wine. Preferably with friends. And if they don’t like wine, you can remind them that February 18 is also Eat Ice Cream For Breakfast Day. 

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