The past year was a salubrious one for red-wine drinkers. Not only did researchers announce that resveratrol (found in vin rouge) could help you live longer—or at least help lab mice run farther on treadmills—but a study conducted by Iriti Marcello at the University of Milan discovered the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin in several varieties of red-wine grapes. While it’s hardly news that uncorking a bottle of red is a great way to unwind, it may be more than just the alcohol that mellows the mind. Melatonin made a big splash as a supplement in health-food stores a few years back when Newsweek called it “the all-natural nightcap” and research suggested it could do everything from slow the aging process to protect the immune system. But Dr. Alfred Lewy, an expert on sleep at Oregon Health and Science University, tempers the hype. The hormone, which is released by a tiny gland in the brain and triggered by darkness, definitely helps to set the “body clock” or “circadian rhythm,” he says, “but there is only anecdotal evidence that it may, as a side effect, help with relaxation.” If you want to conduct your own “study,” two varieties of grape—the noble Nebbiolo and the more common Croatina—prove to be especially loaded. Jeremy Parzen of Vino Italian Wine and Spirits offers recommendations for a moderately priced wine made from each grape:
Carema le Tabbie 2001, Orsolani ($30).
While Barolos and Barbarescos need at least a few years to soften (i.e., lose some of their tannic taste), this wild-berry-flavored wine is “already drinking very well.”
Gutturnio 2004, La Stoppa ($18).
A blend of Barbera and Bonarda, Gutturnio comes both still and sparkling. It’s got an old-fashioned “barnyard” aroma and is great with pizza. “It smells like cow chips,” says Parzen, “and that’s a good thing.”