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Polyphenols produced during red wine ageing

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Over the past few years, it has been accepted that a moderate red wine consumption is a factor beneficial to human health. Indeed, people of France and Italy, the two major wine-producing European countries, eat a lot of fatty foods but suffer less from fatal heart strokes than people in North-America or in the northern regions of Europe, where wine is not consumed on a regular basis. For a time, ethanol was thought to be the “good” chemical species hiding behind what is known as the “French paradox”. Researchers now have turned their investigations towards a family of natural substances called “polyphenols”, which are only found in plants and are abundant in grapes. It is well known that these molecules behave as radical scavengers and antioxidants, and it has been demonstrated that they can protect cholesterol in the LDL species from oxidation, a process thought to be at the origin of many fatal heart attacks. However, taken one by one, it remains difficult to demonstrate which are the best polyphenols as far as their antioxidant activities are concerned. The main obstacle in that kind of research is not the design of the chemical and biological tests themselves, but surprisingly enough, the limited access to chemically pure and structurally elucidated polyphenolic compounds. In this article, particular attention will be paid to polyphenols of red wine made from Vitis vinifera cultivars. With respect to the “French paradox”, we address the following question: are wine polyphenolic compounds identical to those found in grapes (skin, pulp and seed), or are there biochemical modifications specifically taking place on the native flavonoids when a wine ages? Indeed, structural changes occur during wine conservation, and one of the most studied of those changes concerns red wine colour evolution, called “wine ageing”. As a wine ages, it has been demonstrated that the initially present grape pigments slowly turn into new more stable red pigments. That phenomenon goes on for weeks, months and years. Since grape and wine polyphenols are chemically distinct, their antioxidant activities cannot be the same. So, eating grapes might well lead to beneficial effects on human health, due to the variety and sometimes large amounts of their polyphenolic content. However, epidemiological surveys have focused on wines, not on grapes\ldots
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Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: Laboratoire de Chimie des Polyphénols, Université Louis Pasteur, Faculté de Chimie, 1 rue Blaise Pascal, 67 Strasbourg, France

Publication date: April 1, 1997

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