by Tim Atkin

A Fruity Number

I know we’ve just come through the silly season, when tales of killer chipmunks and dolphin sign language deputise for what’s normally classed as news in the British media, but even I was surprised by two wine-related stories that appeared while I was on holiday. If they’d been published on 1 April, they would have made plausible April Fools.

Both yarns originated in Italy, which tells you one of two things: either the Italians are unusually interested in wine at this time of the year, or even less happens there than here during August. But then I read the stories again. They were partly about wine, but also about classic, year-round Italian preoccupations: namely, money and sex.

The first covered the possible use of wine as collateral for bank loans. It sounds like a plausible idea: a cash-strapped wine producer offers to lodge a few dozen cases of Barolo or Chianti Classico with his bank manager while he works out a way to pay the interest on a loan. The idea even has the backing of the Italian agriculture minister and the chairman of the Banca Popolare di Vicenza. But it won’t work, for a simple reason: wineries that owe the banks lots of cash tend to be those that can’t sell their wine at a decent price. And the reason for that? It’s invariably crap.

The second tale is even more bizarre. Doctors at the University of Florence have published a “scientific study” about the link between female sexuality and red wine consumption. And the place they chose to do so? The British Medical Journal or its Italian equivalent, perhaps? Er, not quite. Their findings, or maybe fumblings, appeared in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, which sounds like the sort of thing Silvio Berlusconi subscribes to. “What do you mean it hurts? It’s good for you.”

The researchers interviewed 800 women between the ages of 18 and 50, asking them to fill in a questionnaire to determine their Female Sexual Function Index. Who says romance is on its last legs in Italy, eh? Depending on how the women responded to the 19 questions – “Do you like ageing lotharios with permatans and toupés?” was presumably not among them – the researchers rated their “sexual functioning”.

Their findings weren’t terribly exciting, especially if you imagine what normally appears between the covers of the Journal of Sexual Medicine. In a sentence, women who consume an average of two glasses of red wine a day (but no more, to rule out the drunken slappers) scored more highly than those who drink less than one glass, and the teetotallers. Why is this? Does red wine increase blood flow to, and therefore pleasure in, vital areas of the body? It’s a possibility, although I reckon the Female Sexual Function Index merely confirms what I already suspect: moderate wine drinkers of both sexes have more fun.

Whether you credit either of these stories doesn’t really matter, because it gives me an excuse to recommend four great Italian reds. In order of price, I’d like to steer you towards the savoury, rasping, plum-skin-like 2006 Barbera d’Asti, Gaetane Carron (£6.99, 14%, Marks & Spencer); the vibrant, youthful, fruit-packed 2006 Masi Campofiorin IGT (£7.49, 13%, Tesco); the stylish, yet serious, food-seeking 2005 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano San Colombaio (£10.99, 13.5%, Sainsbury’s) and the dark, juicy, blackberry and black cherry-scented 2007 Dolcetto d’Alba, Giovanni Rosso (£13.20, 13.5%, Berry Brothers,

Will any of these wines make you go weak at the knees if you’re a woman? And what about us blokes? Will our libidos stiffen after a glass of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano? They may or may not, but there’s more chance of that happening than your bank manager accepting wine as collateral.

Originally published in The Observer

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