Several weeks back I wrote a column about the possible links between wine consumption and headaches, which I used as an opportunity to contemplate the inverse: the underlying links between wine consumption and health.

To continue the conversation, I’d like to explore how wine might complement specific dietary regimens that place a premium on health. In contemporary Western society, a variety of such diets – vegan, gluten-free, caveman, the list goes on – have become bewilderingly common. First, some historical perspective:

As far as we know, wine was first produced more than 8,000 years ago, in areas we rarely consider now to be central to wine culture: Armenia, the Caucasus, then later, China, Phoenicia, Iran and elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean. The wines of these ancient cultures (likely aromatized, sweet, aggressively doctored), drunk with their respective cuisines, were a far cry from the matches we moderns shortsightedly call “classic”: Barolo and truffles, Rhône with a roast, Muscadet with oysters, riesling and Vietnamese take-out, cabernet with a ribeye.

Nothing we think of as “classic” really is. Everything shifts, detaches, reforms. And since wine is a part of cuisine, when cuisine – not just the food we eat, but how we eat it – changes, wine does too. Or should, or can. What was wine? What is wine? How does wine respond to the other changes in our culture, our cooking, our understanding, our desire?

Cuisine has changed dramatically over time – revolutions wrought long ago by trade and migration, and more recently by canning, refrigeration and industrial agriculture – and wines have been produced differently in response.

But we find ourselves, right now, in another era of radical transition. What’s driving it is not so much industry or commerce as it is information. With cross-cultural fertilization occurring instantaneously, a beguiling variety of ideas is available to all of us, quantum style.

The refinement of international transportation and commerce lets us rather easily buy whatever we know to exist.

What we eat used to be determined by the limiting forces of season, climate, geography, family, tradition. Northern Italian cuisine relies on butter and cream much more than the olive oil of that country’s South, for powerful reasons. But now, whether we live in Verona or Naples, Trenton or Napa, we have as much connection to one given fat as to another. I know as much about coconut oil and ghee as I do about olive oil.

We can do whatever the hell we want. Our cuisine becomes more borrowed and more shared, more experimental and untethered.

It seems that the meals we (and our ancestors) used to eat were more about integration, amalgamation, a blurring of edges. One plate held various components that were expected to enter the eater’s mouth more or less simultaneously.

Intense, full-bodied sauces predominated, spreading their comforting glaze over everything on the plate. Things were baked inside of other things. All was expected to come together.

The wines for these meals were themselves sumptuous and seamless, their synthesis deepened by close companionship with oak barrels and many years of aging.

Look at how we eat now. Many small plates, each a study in precision, distinction and singularity of flavors. A micro-green here, a pickled seed there, a wisp of smoky spice beneath. The intensity in a successful contemporary dish comes from each ingredient heightened, rather than from a cooking process that subsumes the parts into the whole.

And now, for many reasonably wealthy Westerners, eating is increasingly about supporting health. We understand the dangers (to self, society, other creatures, planet, often all at once) of excessive simple sugars, rampant pesticide use, mass-slaughtering of animals, insufficient vegetable nutrients. Because we can afford to, both financially and psychologically, we pay attention to the effects of particular foods on our own physiological and emotional states.

Let’s call the variety of dietary disciplines to which many Westerners now willingly submit one form or another of attentive eating. Whether vegan, dairy-free, raw or Paleo, attention is being paid. “Attentive” should not imply “better.” I’m not suggesting that a restrictive diet is (or is not) more righteous, nutritive or otherwise correct than an omnivorous one.

But once people start paying attention to what they eat, and start saying “I eat a lot of this and I don’t eat that,” the culture changes. Beyond the practical effects – challenges at Thanksgiving, not to mention every night at dinner if your family members or other companions don’t share your precise perspective – the emotional as well as physiological state of your eating shifts. If your orientation toward wine doesn’t adjust as well, you’ve stopped paying attention.

I’m not saying you should quit your favorite Vino Nobile di Montepulciano or malbec or pinot grigio just because supper is a deconstructed Caesar salad or vegan banh mi. But do consider how the wine you drink could reflect what you’re looking for in your food.

In my column on headaches, I suggested finding out more about the possible additives and environmental effects of cheap, mass-produced wines. So, that’s one thing: If your concerns about the environmental effects of industrial meat production have led you to vegetarianism, for example, stop drinking corporate wines that have similar ecological outcomes.

More fundamental than philosophical alignment, though, is what the flavor profiles of your preferred cuisine ask for. Our Armenian forefathers did not have this luxury. They cooked what they could cook, and they made rudimentary wine, which was intended primarily for spiritual purposes; maybe some people got to drink it with supper, but not likely.

It might be worthwhile for someone to name 10 wines perfect for a Paleo diet, as long as the rationale for the listings were provided. Or perhaps go at it from a different angle: Valpolicella is a lovely wine for tomato-based pasta sauces; how might Valpolicella be incorporated into a gluten-free diet?

I’d prefer to make a few simple observations: The way most of us eat today is lighter, more varied and more supple than the way we used to eat. Flavors are more delineated, and more of us are familiar with a wider variety of herbs, spices and other ingredients; therefore the dishes we actually turn out are more complex, and reflect more cross-cultural influences.

We want to emerge from our meals feeling energized and more alive, not sunk into the leaden stupor brought on by a combined large protein and large carbohydrate.

For such eating, whether it excludes animal products or emphasizes them, whether it trades stove heat for pickling or operates entirely out of a fire pit, the most suitable wines will be lighter and more supple than the “great” wines of past generations. Flavors will be clean, the wines’ characters almost translucent in their ability to express directly. Suppleness and delineation are the name of the game; power and impressiveness are out.

As always, the best guides to particular wines are informed shopkeepers and restaurant servers. But you may want to mention my (somewhat well-informed but also somewhat arbitrary) shortcuts to help them guide you:

• Soil type in which the vines grew: granitic or volcanic?

• Fermentation process: cement-tank, native yeasts?

Aging process: More cement, stainless steel, or large used oak (new oak has the greatest effect on wine flavor, while the effect from oak that has held wine of previous vintages is either minimal or neutral; also, the larger the vessel, the less wine is in contact with the oak and therefore the less its effect).

• Weight: alcohol 12.5 percent or lower?

• Whites to consider: chenin blanc, riesling, Tuscan vermentino, Chablis.

• Reds to consider: gamay, cool-climate syrah, blaufränkisch, refosco.

• Other color to consider: orange (white wines made as if they’re reds; column forthcoming).

• Regions to consider: Friuli, southwestern France, Basque Spain, Sicily, Beaujolais.

• Obnoxious but useful rule: no cabernet sauvignon; yes cabernet franc.

• Fail-safe: brut nature (sparkling wine with no sugar added).

The foods you choose to eat reflect the world you wish to inhabit, and maybe help create. Your wines are next.

Joe Appel is the wine buyer at Rosemont Market. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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