Drinking red wine really can supplement a healthy lifestyle. Choose wisely and you could help ease your way to that elusive 100 Club, says Lee Osborne

Had a hard day at the office, stress levels going through the roof? Before you reach for your usual glass of Merlot think again! For there is a wine called Madiran that will not only taste delicious, but could raise your life expectancy in the process. Seriously. Madiran, the tiny wine appellation located in Gers, in the Gascony region of South Western France, is home to what scientists believe to be the world’s healthiest red wines.

Whilst research has revealed that drinking wine in moderation does have health benefits, after all our Gallic cousins have consumed wine with every meal for centuries, certain red wines are more beneficial than others. But why is this so?

The answer lies in the way the grapes are fermented in the winery. In the case of Madiran, the fermentation process of the native tannat grape is a lengthy one where the grape seeds are soaked for longer. This results in high levels of procyanidins and antioxidants, which in turn boost cardio-protection. Antioxidants are important for preventing your body from allowing free radicals to damage your cells. Free radicals are formed in your body as a residual effect, during the chemical process of oxidation, which is necessary for cell formation. The stronger the grape used in the process of making wine, as is the case with tannat, the higher the likelihood of increased resveratrol and antioxidant benefit.

One man who has devoted much of his working life trying to uncovering the myths of the wines of the Gers region and their heart preserving properties is Professor Roger Corder, a pharmacologist and Professor of Experimental Therapeutics at the William Harvey Research Institute at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. He was drawn to the region by a puzzle that has long had doctors scratching their heads: why is it that the French eat a diet with comparable levels of fat to ours, and have similar levels of blood cholesterol, yet four Britons die of heart disease for every one Frenchman?

Doctors traditionally put this so-called ‘French Paradox’ down to something present in red wine, but not in white, that protected the heart. But Corder was eager to delve deeper. If red wine is protective, why does it work better in some parts of France than others? The Gers region has twice the French national average of men aged 90 or above.

When he analysed the wines of the Gers, Corder found that they contained high levels of a plant chemical (or polyphenol) called procyanadin. This was partly thanks to the area’s native tannat grapes, and partly down to the region’s rustic production techniques.

Whilst championing the wines of Madiran, Corder is also rather fond of hearty reds from the ancient Muristella grape native to Sardinia.  Most notably those from Cantina del Mandrolisai, a winery based in Sorgono in the centre of the island. Sardinia’s population is made up of an exceptionally high number of centenarians. So if you happen to be holidaying there this summer you’ll know which cellar door to head to.

Quite ‘heart’ to come by Madiran is still relatively unknown and unfashionable in the UK and not as easily accessible as a Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. But if you track it down your heart will thank you for it one day. If all else fails Malbec or Pinot Noir are next in line to help preserve your heart.

(listed by grape variety, origin, ideal food pairing)

Madiran – South West France/Uruguay/California Central Coast

Food match: Cassoulet, Magret of duck, Fromage de Brebis (sheeps cheese)

Malbec – Cahors – South West France/Argentina

Food match: Steak with ceps or porcini mushrooms

Pinot Noir – Burgundy, France/Washington State, USA

Food match: Beef Bourguignon; Ahi Tuna, Salmon

Madiran, although relatively expensive in restaurants, is a fine accompaniment to a meal and would not be outshone by a Bordeaux red of the same price bracket.

Antidote Wine Bar, 12a Newburgh Street, London  W1F 7RR; antidotewinebar.com

H&H drank: Clos Baste, 2007, AOC Madiran, 100% Tannat, £52.50

Comptoir Gascon, 63 Charterhouse St, London EC1M 6HJ; comptoirgascon.com

H&H drank: Madiran – Château Aydie, Laplace, 2006 100% Tannat, £38.50

Want to avoid the restaurant mark up? Then buy here…

Château Barrejat, Madiran, Tradition, 2007; £7.95, stonevine.co.uk

Plénitude 2006, Madiran; £17.99, cellarandkitchen.adnams.co.uk

Corder, in his research, found that after only two weeks of a daily glass of procyanidin rich red wine, positive support for cardiovascular health was observed. It was found to improve the function of the lining of the blood vessels and protected against atherosclerosis, the thickening of the artery wall. So bottoms up!