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November 14, 2019

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TCM prescribes Languedoc as a remedy

Shanghai Daily has long enlightened readers with the wisdom and benefits of Chinese culture. This week the paper introduces how Traditional Chinese Medicine uses special medicinal ingredients into classic dishes. While precious few links between ancient Chinese doctors and grape wines exist, there’s a long history of doctors prescribing rice wines and liquors for ailments. One of the fundamental premises of TCM is to prevent or cure bodily imbalances. Here are a few intriguing conceptual parallels between TCM and the world of wine.

Health professionals have prescribed wines for millenniums. The earliest accounts of wine benefitting health were found on Sumerian and Egyptian tablets dating back to 2300 BC. These ancient tablets provide recipes for medicines made with wine and are some of the oldest documented man-made medicines. The belief that wine is beneficial to human health almost certainly predates the Sumerian and Egyptian tablets but we’d yet to find archeological evidence.

The Greeks changed the art and superstition of medicine into more of a science with wine playing a key role. The father of medicine, Hippocrates proscribed wine as a daily health drink to be enjoyed with food and also used it as medicine for digestive ailments and as well as a disinfectant for wounds.

Roman physicians also used wine for medicinal purposes and promoted the beverage as a healthy addition to one’s diet. In the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, Catholic monks were among the healthiest people in no small part because of their daily intake of wine. One of the giants of modern medicine, Louis Pasteur described wine as, “the healthiest and most health-giving of drinks.”

A fundamental principle of Traditional Chinese Medicine is balance. When assessing the quality of wines, an essential quality is balance. For instance, in a white wine we desire a fundamental balance between fruit and acidity. Newcomers often favor more fruit while old wine fogies like myself crave acidity. Both preferences are acceptable, as long as they are balanced by their counterpart. In reds, we look for a balance between fruit and tannins as well as acidity or freshness. As in white wines, the components should be in perfect balance. Sounds a lot like Traditional Chinese Medicine, right?

The concept of harmony brings the art of balance to new levels. Harmony is when all the parts are not only balanced but, when combined, they create greater pleasure or beauty. In the wine world as elsewhere the ideal of harmony may be a bit esoteric and also subjective, but when achieved most of us can appreciate it and revel in its beauty even if we don’t fully understand it. But I guess that’s part of harmony’s beauty, it’s somewhat ineffable yet undeniably pleasurable. One way to describe harmony in a wine is when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, when the myriad of aromatic, taste and textural qualities combine to make a symphony of pleasurable sensations.

What and how you eat is of critical importance in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Western medicine has only recently emphasized the importance of food as a central influence on one’s health and wellbeing, while TCM from its earliest roots has emphasized the important of a proper diet. Chinese doctors prescribe specific ingredients to achieve harmony, something not that dissimilar to the way Western wine lovers pair wines and foods to achieve the best results.

The fundamental relationship between the yin and yang applies to both.

In terms of health benefits, reservation-rich red wines have traditionally received the most attention, and lovers of white and sparkling wines often felt left out. However, over the past few years there’s growing evidence that white and sparkling wines may be equally healthy.

A study by the University of Connecticut School of Medicine found that the tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol antioxidants in white wines are similar to those in olive oil.

A study by the University of Barcelona indicated that white and sparkling wines may well have greater anti-aging and weight-loss properties than red wines. Some whites and sparklers that boast obvious health benefits come from the south of France.


Located in the Midi region in the south of France, the expansive region of Languedoc AC is renowned for making a range of affordable red wines. Whites and sparklers account for less than 20 percent of production yet their popularity is growing. In Languedoc, healthy, reasonably-priced and delicious white and sparkling wines are made from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier varieties.

Wines from Languedoc are still under-represented in the China market, but two producers of note have wines in Shanghai and elsewhere.

One is top sparkling wine producer Antech from Limoux. Their Brut Nature Blanquette de Limoux, Cuvee Tradition Blanquette de Limoux Brut and Cuvee Eugenie Cremant de Limoux Brut Millesime are all top-quality sparkling that won’t bust your budget. While savoring these bubblies, it’s also fun to note that Limoux was making sparkling wines nearly a century before Champagne.

For still white Languedoc wines, three good producers with wines readily available in Shanghai are Gerard Bertrand, Les Jamelles and Robert Skalli.

Varieties: In addition to a host of red grapes, important white varieties in Languedoc include: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier.

Key term: Balance in wine talk is used to describe wines featuring important components like fruit, acidity, tannins and alcohol all working in concord.


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