Our beloved … Wine!

Everything you have ever wanted to know about this marvelous drink

In this first post, I will be discussing two different perspectives that try to explain why we drink wine. In the following post, I will be giving you an insight into the health benefits of drinking wine.

First of all… what is wine?

Wine is a beverage made from fermented grapes. The origins of it are still mysterious, but there is archaeological evidence indicating that the first winery was in Armenia, about 6100 years BC. However, wine production may have started around 8000 BC.

Why do we drink wine?

Since ancient times, in various cultures and religious, there has been a strong belief that alcohol offers important health benefits”

(Vidalvur et al, 2006: 217)

There are two different perspectives that explain why we drink wine: an evolutionary perspective and a social perspective.

Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

Evolutionary Perspective

The benefits of moderate wine consumption are not limited to humans. Other animals also seem to benefit from the beverage, such as fruit flies. Yes, you read it correctly. According to Tattersall & DeSalle, when flies were exposed to small amounts of alcohol, they lived longer and had more offspring. The reason for this is not clear, but “the scent of ethanol is an important factor in guiding flies toward sources of fruit, meaning that alcohol plays an important role in their economic lives — and in other aspects of their existences, too ( …) ”(Tatersall & DeSalle, 2015: 25). However, the animals that most resemble humans are the Soricidae. These are small mammals that love to consume flower nectar.

Flower nectar ferments and has about 3.8g of alcohol in its final ‘composition’ (the same quantity is also present in one beer!). Therefore, it can be inferred “that from the beginning of primate history there may have been both an occasional predilection for the products of fermentation and a mechanism for processing alcohol. Humans exhibit this primate heritage in their physiology: by some reckonings, about a tenth of the human liver’s processing capacity is slanted toward breaking down alcohol via the production of such enzymes as alcohol dehydrogenases ”(Tatersall & DeSalle, 2015: 28). Not to mention the fact that howler monkeys, common in Central America, consumed the equivalent of ten bar drinks through tucumã (fruit popular in Central America). In an experiment, scientists observed that the primates were ‘too enthusiastic’ in the forest: “the sheer exuberant enthusiasm of a particular howler in a forest in Panama aroused scientists’ suspicions that it might be drunk. These suspicions were quickly confirmed ”(Tatersall & DeSalle, 2015: 28). One explanation that explains why primates ‘enjoy’ the taste of alcohol is that the animals’ ancestral fruit-based diet used to be high in alcohol: “ethanol plumes”, emanating from fruit, can be useful to keen-nosed primates for locating sources of food as they are to fruit flies, and Dudley suggested that early fruit-eating monkeys and hominoids were attracted to ripe fruit by alcoholic aroma ”(Tatersall & DeSalle, 2015: 28).

Alcohol turns out to be a better indicator of the amount of sugar in a fruit: the higher the energy content (at a glucose level), the higher the alcohol present. It can be said that alcohol was formerly an asset since food was not constantly present. Therefore, even with a diet based on vegetables and proteins, “such sustained — if muted ancestral exposure may partly explain how modern humans have come from their modest physiological ability to detoxify alcohol, although a molecular fortune coincidence is also involved (…). Apparently, a tiny DNA change in the last common ancestor of modern after humans appeared in the production of an enzyme that is super efficient in breaking down the ethanol molecule. In light of this finding, it is perhaps less surprising that humans are attracted to ethanol than that after not more actively seeking out fermenting fruit ”(Tatersall & DeSalle, 2015: 30).

Social Perspective

Wine consumption can be analyzed from an evolutionary perspective, but it can also be analyzed from utilitarian, symbolic and experimental perspectives. At the utilitarian level, wine consumption is related to how much the consumer is interconnected with and appreciate the product. In addition, “it was also suggested that sensory cues are likely to be nonverbal and affective rather than reducible to words – a factor which is particularly relevant to wine consumption, where sensation rather than language may frame the drinker’s engagement with the product” (Solomon (1990) in Chartes, 2006: 134). Wine not only turns out to be a cost-effective choice for the consumer but also has a strong social, cultural and symbolic aspect in its consumption.

Culture is an important point that influences wine consumption in the world. An Italian individual (or who has lived in Italy for a long time) is more likely to consume more wine than an individual in Iceland. It is important to notice that the ‘cultural’ consumption of wine shows to be beneficial to health: countries with the highest wine consumption have the lowest chance of death from cardiovascular disease (Check Figure 1!) Some religions, such as Christianity and Islam, encourage the consumption of wine by their followers. However, the opposite can also happen: in Sweden, for example, the government has increased taxation on alcoholic beverages precisely to reduce its consumption by the population. Moreover, Chinese and Japanese individuals do not have the habit of consuming alcohol. These two populations tend to have a high intolerance to alcohol. Having said that, we can see that there are external factors that lead individuals to consume more or less alcohol.

The consumption of wine can also be encouraged by economic, social and cultural aspects (Check out figure 2!)
Looking at a utilitarian level – how much utility/benefit a product offers to an individual – it is possible to note that wine ends up being consumed due to its cost (high, low), taste (dry, sweet), and quality (brand). At a social level, consumption is associated with experience: it can be associated with initiation rituals and “thus, for instance, a drink can be utilized as a marker for the division of work and private time, and for group boundaries. – who is in and who is out ”(Charters, 2006: 142). Also, it can be linked values: wine is considered a more ‘feminine’ drink ”so women should consume more and is also related to the higher classes” (Demossier, 2004). Thus, the consumption of wine not only defines who we are and it differentiates us from others, but it also works as a way of socializing. (Charters, 2006: 144)
The consumption of wine, therefore, goes beyond evolutionary reasons and it has a strong social component. However, it is important to know that wine can have an impact on people’s health. On the following days, I will be posting about the health consequences of consuming this beloved, old and marvelous drink.

Figure 1. Wine consumption and Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)
Figure 2.

References:

Charters, Steve. 2006. Wine and Society: The Social and Cultural Context of a Drink. Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, London.

Demossier, M. (2004) Contemporary lifestyles: the case of wine. InCulinary Taste; Consumer Behaviour in the International RestaurantSector (ed. by D. Sloan), pp. 93–108. Elsevier Butterworth Heine-mann, London.

Tattersall, I; Desalle, R. 2015.  A Natural History of Wine. Yale University Press.

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