Chardonnay to target diabetes (updated)

  • Friday 13 December 2002

Researchers in France's Languedoc region have created a white wine with nearly all the health benefits of red, the
New Scientist reports. And it could signal the start of a new generation of wines that help tackle specific medical conditions.

Paradoxe Blanc, a Vins de Pays d'Oc Chardonnay, takes its name from the so-called 'French Paradox', a phenomenon whereby the French, who eat more saturated fat than their neighbours in the rest of Europe, suffer lower rates of heart attack and cardiovascular disease.

Many now believe it's the nation's habit of drinking red wine with meals that gives protection, thanks in part to red wine's high polyphenol content. Red wine's antioxidant polyphenols have been found to block production of a natural chemical - endothelin-1 - which causes blood vessels to constrict, so increasing blood pressure and risk of heart problems.

But it is people with diabetes who are most likely to benefit from the new creation, says Dr Pierre-Louis Teissedre, who led the original research at the University of Montpellier.

According to Dr Teissedre, the wine was developed as an antioxidant for diabetics, since their bodies are less effective at dealing with the oxidative stress we are subjected to (as a side effect of natural metabolic processes). It could be the start of a new generation of 'functional' wines, Dr Teissedre suggested - enriched with chemicals and for moderate consumption.

Tests on diabetic rats showed that the 100% Chardonnay restored antioxidant levels close to normal, even if all the alcohol was removed. So far, though, there is no evidence that the new wine can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease or offer a cure for diabetes.

The polyphenol-enriched Chardonnay was created by adopting red winemaking methods. By prolonging contact with grape skins – where polyphenols are concentrated – the researchers were able to raise polyphenol content fourfold. Red wines already have prolonged contact with grape skins, since they get their colour from the pigment stored there.

Chardonnay grapes from the Languedoc's Aude region were selected for polyphenol levels higher than typical. They were then crushed and the whole mixture softened for six days and heated to higher than usual temperatures. Domaine Virginie-Castel, near Beziers, is currently marketing the wine, though it is not yet available in the UK.

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