Recipe: Cherries in Red Wine Vanilla Syrup
So now we all know what my grandmother always knew: Red wine is a medicine, albeit a really delicious, intoxicating one. When my father was a kid, she’d administer it to him by the tablespoon like cod liver oil. When I was young, my sister and I got handed little glasses of red wine mixed with 7Up to drink with dinner, “to aid digestion.” And my grandmother used it herself to chase away her demons, not always with the best results, but her mental state aside, she lived to be 99, and I do believe red wine must have had something to do with it. (And she still had very smooth olive skin.)
The secret health ingredient in red wine turns out to be something called resveratrol, a substance found in all wine but in much higher concentrations in most reds. Many serious studies seem to indicate that resveratrol could be a key to longevity. I’ve even read some studies that have found that resveratrol might have the power to hinder fat storage and reduce the number of fat cells in your body. Now, that just seems too good to be true, and we’ll have to wait for a definitive answer on it, but science is moving to declare resveratrol a possible life-extending elixir. Unbelievable. Seems it may be able to accomplish this amazing feat by switching the body’s resources from fertility to tissue maintenance. This improved tissue maintenance is thought to extend life by cutting down on the degenerative diseases of aging. Can you believe it?
Red wines that get prolonged grape skin contact in the winemaking process have especially high levels of resveratrol, and reds from areas with relatively high humidity tend to be loaded with it. Pinot Noir has a very high level. I wanted to know the amounts of this wonder ingredient in Southern Italian reds, and I found a study conducted at the University of Foggia in Puglia that tested a handful of Southern Italian monovarietal wines. The report is a bit confusing, since it’s written in high scientific language in addition to being translated from Italian rather ineptly, but I could figure out that the study’s purpose was to compare resveratrol levels in Aglianico, Piedirosso, and Nerello Mascalese grapes, all native Southern Italian red wine grape varietals. What the test showed was that the resveratrol level in the Aglianico and Piedirosso, although starting out relatively high, declined after a time in maceration, while the level in the Nerello Mascalese grapes kept increasing with prolonged maceration. Curious.
Nerello Mascalese is a Sicilian grape grown around Catania and widely used in Etna Rosso DOC. As it turns out, Etna Rosso can be really wonderful, so you really need to drink it. Try Tenuta della Terre Nere Etna Rosso. This is a dark, herby, lush red, a great wine for nicely charred summer meats such as lamb grilled with rosemary, or rib eye grilled and then drizzled with Sicilian olive oil.
And try this delicious, easy dessert. It’s a great way to gain a little more quality time for your body, since cherries and red wine both contain resveratrol:
Cherries in Red Wine Vanilla Syrup
¼ cup sugar
½ Madagascar vanilla bean, split
2 short strips orange zest
2 cups red wine (a fruity, non-oaky type is best)
4 cups cherries, the pits left in
A few sprigs fresh basil, the leaves lightly chopped
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, vanilla, orange zest, and wine. Boil over medium high heat until reduced by about three fourths. Let cool until just slightly warm (it will thicken as it cools).
Put the cherries in a large serving bowl, and pour the wine reduction over them, stirring a few times. Let stand, stirring once or twice, about an hour. Stir in the basil right before serving.