How would you like to be on a diet that includes wine?
For centuries, cultures across the Mediterranean enjoyed wine. It would be consumed with a meal or socially.
Today, researchers have discovered that red wine is good for you and you’re encouraged to drink it (in moderation).
Keep reading to find out more about the Mediterranean Diet and wine.
Table of Contents
What Kind of Wine is OK on the Mediterranean Diet?
Red wine in moderation is just fine on the Mediterranean Diet. Moderation means a glass of red wine with dinner.
Wine has been a part of the Mediterranean culture for centuries. I flew with TAP Airlines from Lisbon to Newark and was shocked to find that a complimentary glass of wine was included with the meal. It’s simply a part of everyday life.
It should be no surprise to find it included in the Mediterranean Diet. A typical Mediterranean meal almost always includes a glass of red wine.
A glass of red wine with dinner is just fine. Now, if you keep refilling your glass just before it’s empty so you can say you only had one glass (Don’t make me name names!), that’s a different story.
Red Wine vs. White Wine
Why is red wine OK to consume and white wine seems to be ignored? That’s a very common question from white wine lovers who are starting out on the Mediterranean Diet.
In a word, polyphenols. These are chemicals that are similar to antioxidants. There are hundreds of types of polyphenols that occur naturally in plants, including grapes.
Polyphenols are in both red and white wines, but red wines carry much more polyphenols than white wines.
It has to do with how wine is produced.
White wines are produced by pressing the juice from the grape, which is then fermented.
Red wines are produced by crushing the grapes, but the juice and grape skins are fermented together. That’s how red wine becomes red. The bulk of polyphenols are in the skins of the grape, which gets transferred into red wine.
That doesn’t mean that you should completely exclude white wine on the Mediterranean Diet. White wine is great to have on hand for cooking, too. It’s a wonderful compliment to cooking fish and chicken.
Mediterranean Wine Grape Varieties
Why is it important to know the various grape varietals? When you’re shopping for wine, you don’t have to stick to Mediterranean producers.
There are great wines from Chile, Australia, and the U.S. that are produced from the same grape varietals that created the old-world European wines of the Mediterranean.
These grapes are usually referred to as Noble Grapes. Not because they’re royal or noble. It’s because they can be grown anywhere.
That’s why you see a Pinot Noir in Oregon (which are amazing, by the way) and a merlot in the far reaches of Argentina.
It’s important to know the main grapes used to produce wine so you can find something that fits your palette. The grapes are known for certain levels of acidity, tannins, sweetness, dryness.
Some types of wine grapes are known to have a higher concentration of polyphenols, making it a little healthier for you.
The Noble Grape Varieties
There’s not an official definition of what makes a noble grape. The generally accepted definition this: A noble grape is a grape that can be grown just about anywhere in the world and still be able to result in really good wine.
There also isn’t a definitive list of varieties of noble grapes. Some people will say there are 19 noble grapes, while others say 5 or 6. For the purposes of the Mediterranean Diet, we’ll focus on five noble grapes that are tied to the region.
Have you ever had a deep, bold dry wine? You’ve probably had cabernet sauvignon. It’s a rough, tough, and durable grape. That makes it very easy to grow just about anywhere.
“Friends don’t let friends drink merlot.”
Merlot has gotten a bad rap since the movie Sideways came out in 2004. To be honest, merlot has gotten a bad rap.
The blackbird (merlot in French) grape is similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, and a little less bold. It’s a bit lighter.
Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are the two grapes found in the Bordeaux region of France. They’re often blended together to make Bordeaux wine.
Syrah (Shiraz in Australia) is another dark bodied, bold wine. It’s known to add a little spiciness in addition to dark fruit flavors. It’s a dry red wine that can be a bit on the acidic side.
Pinot noir holds a special place in my heart. When I first moved to Oregon in 2006, I first landed in a town called Dundee. It was a tiny town of just a couple of stoplights.
Little did I know that I was living in one of the best places for Pinot Noir on the planet. I was fortunate enough to get to have a well-known vineyard practically in my backyard.
I got to explore the wonderful wineries in the region and made sure that when I moved 45 minutes north to Portland that I would make a regular stop to Dundee and surrounding areas.
What makes Pinot noir so special is that it is a high-maintenance grape. Think of a really high-maintenance girlfriend or boyfriend. Multply that by 10.
That’s Pinot noir.
Pinot noir has very thin skin, and it is very difficult to grow and turn into a beautiful wine. That’s why pinot noir is a bit more expensive than cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
The result of that hard work is undeniable. Pinot noir is a light, dry, fruity wine that is anjoyable at any time and with any meal.
Chardonnay often has an oaky flavor to it. Winemakers like to let the wine ferment in oak barrels, giving it the flavor.
Sauvignon Blanc produces a very dry white wine. Despite the dryness of the wine, it’s still fruity. Some will pick up peaches, lime, and apple flavors.
What About Dessert Wines?
Dessert wines are great to have every now and again. They can be a wonderful compliment after a long meal or with a meat and cheese plate.
The top dessert wines include port wines from Oporto, Portugal. There are also the sweet sherries and Pedro Ximénez wines of Jerez de la Frontera in southern Spain.
Wine Parings and Mediterranean Food
When I was growing up, I always heard that if you’re having something heavy like beef or pasta and tomato sauce, you must have red wine. If you’re having fish, then white wine is necessary.
Wines are really tasted when you can pick up on the acidity and sweetness. You’ll find that most red wines are dry, leaving your mouth a little sticky. Since red wine leaves the skins on, you get the tannins that are in the seeds and the skins.
The tannins are was causes the wines to be dry. White wines still have tannins, it’s just not as much as red wine. Those wines tend to be a bit sweeter.
You’ve seen the wine tasters that somehow pull cherries, blackberries, and fresh cut grass out of thin air. I don’t know about you, but I don’t get that. I just get wine.
Now, when I have a bit of dark chocolate followed by a sip of red wine, the flavors of the wine come out. I highly recommend this, by the way.
That’s what makes wine pairings so important. The food brings out the flavors of wine and the wine brings out the flavors of food.
The truth is that you can get too caught up in the rules of wine. There really aren’t rules. You can have a glass of a wine you love with a meal you love, and ideally, with people you love.
Here are some general pairing guidelines that you can use when you’re looking for a nice compliment to a meal.
If you’re going to have a meal with earthy flavors like root vegetables or mushrooms, go with a Pinot Noir. The wine has a full body but it’s light at the same time.
A rich or fatty seafood dish pairs perfectly with a Chardonnay. The fat of the seafood and the smoothness of the wine are fabulous together.
Lighter seafood dishes go very well with an Albariño or Pinot Grigio.
A big, bold dish needs a bigger, bolder wine. Cabernet Sauvignon is the wine of choice red meat dishes like lamb or beef.
You can always play it safe by having a wine from the same region as your meal. For example, an old-world recipe from Northern Italy has been paired with Northern Italian wines for centuries. You can’t possibly go wrong.
Mediterranean Diet Wine List
There’s a secret to good wine. You don’t need to spend a fortune on it to enjoy it. I make it a point to find the best bargains I can for under $15. These are some of the surprises and good wines that I discovered and enjoyed immensely.
Portugal is usually known for its port wines, but did you know that the country has a thriving wine region? In the Douro Valley, wonderful red wines are produced.
This wine really surprised me. It’s an affordable wine that’s turned into a soft wine with bold flavor.
Col di Sasso
This Cabernet Sauvignon from Italy is bold, but it’s not too dry and obnoxious. It’s a smooth, cherry flavor that you can really enjoy.
Montecillo Rioja Crianza
This amazing wine is full of dark cherry and berry notes. I’m not B.S.’ing you. These flavors really stand out, which is why this wine made the list.
Sokol Blosser Rose of Pinot Noir
Sokol Blosser Winery has long been one of my favorite wineries on the planet. They have incredible pinot noir wines, but there’s one wine that stands out above all others.
It’s the Rose of Pinot Noir. It’s a fruity, flavorful wine that is a perfect compliment to any meal in the summer months. Try it with grilled fruit. It will knock you out with incredible flavors.
In the northwest corner of Spain is Galicia. This is a thriving wine region that not many people have explored yet.
A nice Albariño wine by Kentia is fruity and perfect on a warm summer evening. It’s also a great compliment to any seafood dish or cheese platter.
French and Spanish Wines
It’s easy to identify an American or Italian wine because they’re identified by the grape. That’s why you’ll see Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir listed front and center on the label.
If you’re buying a French or Spanish wine, the headliner on the bottle isn’t the grape, but the region. You need to know which grapes are found in those regions.
For example, in the famed La Rioja wine region of Spain, the dominant grape is Tempranillo. That’s often blended with Garnacha to make La Rioja wine.
Pinot noir is a grape commonly associated with the Burgundy region of France. The Cotes du Rhone region is home to roughly 22 grape varieties blended to make up the popular wines of that area.
This list isn’t exhaustive be any means. It’s enough to get you going. The fun part about wine is that no two wines are the same. The climate, weather, and winemaker have to work in unison to make a great wine.
Try out different wines from different regions for yourself and see what you like. You may find that you hate pinot noir but love merlot.
There’s no right or wrong here.
Can You Have Wine on the Mediterranean Diet?
Yes, you can have red wine on the Mediterranean diet as long as you enjoy yourself and do it in moderation. Keep it to a glass a day.
The world of wine can be a bit pompous and intimidating. This guide is meant to give you an in-depth view of the wines of the Mediterranean to start with while trying to cut through the silliness.
Wine is really meant to be accessible and for everyone. It’s meant to be enjoyed with a wonderful meal. On the Mediterranean Diet, it’s the perfect complement to a great tasting meal.
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