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I like a good full-bodied wine, but if I drink a glass of my favourite malbec, my stomach is tied in knots for about two days. For that reason, I stick primarily to white wines, which is fine; there are several I enjoy. During a recent trip to Spain, however, I spent eight days at a resort where a house-quality Rioja was served in a seemingly endless supply for two meals each day. I drank at least two glasses of this per meal for the duration and my stomach never felt better. I believe this wine was 100-per-cent tempranillo. Can you tell me what is different about this grape that makes it easy on my digestive system?


I'm no biochemist, Terry. Take this as speculative (and of course check with your doctor or nutritionist), but I'm guessing your problem has to do with tannins, which may be impeding your digestion.

The malbec grape is relatively high in tannins, which are astringent substances found in the skins and seeds of grapes as well as in oak, the wood used for most wine barrels. Tannins react with food proteins in a way that is believed to restrict the secretion of digestive enzymes. This can tie your stomach in knots, though not all bodies react the same way. My speculation is based in part on the fact that you have no problem with white wines, which, compared with reds, are very low in tannins. Tempranillo, a popular Spanish grape, has moderate tannin levels. (Caveat: Some Riojas, even those made from 100-per-cent tempranillo, are aged for long periods in oak casks, and they can absorb tannins from the wood.)

You may want to try other low-tannin reds to help confirm my hypothesis. Some examples: gamay (the grape of red Beaujolais), pinot noir (red Burgundy is made from pinot noir) and sangiovese, the main red grape of Chianti, which has a tannin level comparable to that of tempranillo.

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