By Dr. Victor S. Sierpina

The old Billy Joel song posed the dynamic of choosing the right color of wine. This has long been debated with oenophiles, those that study and love wines, each with strong opinions, including how to pair wines with foods. The classic alignment is white wines with salads, chicken and fish dishes, even desserts. Reds are traditionally recommended for heartier fare such as soups, stews, roasts, red meat, aromatic cheeses, and so on.

Like food, the appreciation of wine incorporates aromas providing character, flavor, mouth feel, and a sense of appreciation or distaste. Most chefs and even snooty sommeliers agree that the best wine for you is the one that you actually like. The vintage, age, color, bouquet, type of grape, and all the other complexities of wine should never stand in the way of your enjoying a glass of wine that you personally enjoy.

Here is a little history. Wine, like many fermented products, was discovered as a way to preserve the harvest of fresh fruits in the pre-refrigeration era. By letting grapes ferment and slowly turn their sugars into alcohol, the final product could endure in a barrel or bottle for months and even years. Oenology, the science and study of wines and wine making, evolved over millennia and grape cultivation and wine making is now a major worldwide industry.

What are the health benefits to this fermented fruit of the vine? Both the anti-inflammatory food pyramid and the Mediterranean diet includes a modest amount of wine in their recommendations. Some studies suggest that red wine is healthier because of its resveratrol content. Resveratrol is an antioxidant that occurs in higher amounts in red wines and may help reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Other studies have shown, however, that it is not just red wine that confers health benefit, but any type of alcohol, white wine, beer, and liquor. These others in moderate amounts confer health benefits likely from their effects on blood clotting factors like platelets among other factors.

According to Dr. Andrew Weil, about 70 percent of wine drinkers choose red varieties over white. I am a fan of both, preferring dry whites like Sauvignon Blanc and juicy, aromatic reds like Pinot Noir. The following reds have the highest resveratrol content and these would be the healthiest choices. Here are some recommendations from his website www.drweil.com

• Pinot Noir: It consistently has the highest concentrations of resveratrol, especially if the grapes come from cool, rainy climates (Oregon, Washington, Central California Coast, New Zealand)

• Cabernets, merlots and Syrahs: Cabernet is made from tannat grapes, merlot is made from blue grapes, and Syrah is flavored with black currants, but all contain high levels of procyanidins which promote heart and arterial health.

Resveratrol is also available from berries, especially blueberries so you don’t have to be a drinker to gain the berry/grape benefits. In fact, if you do not drink, it is probably not worth it to start for the modest health benefit. Limiting your intake to one or two glasses a day is optimal for healthy consumption. All things in moderation for your good health!

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.