DRINKING WINE IS GOOD FOR YOU, or so some doctors and statistical analysts believe. That was the primary message gotten across during "A Symposium on Wine, Health and Society" held recently in Washington and sponsored by the Wine Insitute and the Winegrowers of California.
More specifically, scientific evidence suggests that moderate consumption of wine increases life expectancy by reducing incidents of coronary heart disease and allowing increased bodily absorption of certain minerals in everyday food -- namely, iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus -- and some vitamins. Although extensive controlled studies have yet to be done, it seems that in general the effects of some wine on men and women of all legal ages are salubrious.
That is, however, far from a blanket recommendation to pull out the corks. Those who should not drink wine, or anything containing alcohol, include alcoholics, teen-agers and pregnant women. Caveats abound for the rest of the population as well. For instance:
*People who are problem drinkers may think that they can drink wine and not suffer the consequences. Yet wine still is alcoholic and may prove just as troublesome to the drinker as whiskey did.
*Moderate consumption turns into abuse with amazing ease. Although experts disagree on exact quantities, it is roughly agreed that "moderate" means between four and 12 ounces of wine, or roughly two glasses a day. After two drinks, the line on the graph of coronary risk turns and heads for the ceiling.
*Those two glasses of wine should be consumed with meals. That keeps the blood sugar down and assists in the absorption of nutrients.
*It is impossible to eat enough to counter the effects of too much alcohol.
*Sulphur, an almost universal ingredient used to stabilize wine, can cause violent reactions in wine drinkers allergic even to small amounts of sulphur.
There were some pleasant surprises as well:
*Nonalcoholic wine, a relatively new product, also assists in the body's absorption of nutrients, although no one knows exactly why.
*Obesity and diabetes can in some cases be resisted with "dry" wine (low in residual sugar), which relaxes the drinker and reduces the compulsion to eat.
*Wine can benefit older people. According to Dr. Robert Kastenbaum, director of Adult Development and Aging at Arizona State University, a 1985 survey showed that wine served in geriatric facilities improved patient morale, appetite and sociability. It did not lead to alcohol abuse, and in some cases combated it by providing a common environment for moderate alcohol use. A majority of hospitals in the 65 largest metropolitan areas in the United States now serve wine with meals.
"To serve wine," said Kastenbaum, "requires a different way of looking at patients. Wine means comforting, caring and continuity in human life."