What a friend to man, the grape. For millennia it has gladdened the soul and fired romance, fueled sociability and ennobled our rituals. But the humble grape seed, so often overlooked, has greater sway than even the finest Pétrus, for it can make us appear more vital, more youthful, even more appealing.
This power should not be confused with the ability of wine, when consumed in sufficient quantities, to enhance the appearance of a member of the opposite sex. Nor should it be mistaken for the ability of a fifth glass of Merlot to make one believe he is dashing and irresistible. Rather, it is the power of vinotherapy, a process intended to reverse the ravages of time on our skin.
According to its disciples, vinotherapy is 10,000 times more effective than vitamin E at blocking the effects of toxins responsible for premature aging. In France, a country so beauty-conscious that it supports 10 times as many dermatologists per capita than England, this is big news. It also explains why I am lying on a table at Espace Bien-Être, the sleek spa at the Hotel Meurice in Paris, where Yvette, my attractive, young masseuse, is reciting the menu of Caudalie brand treatments.My choices include the Pulp Friction Massage to invigorate and moisturize the skin, the Crushed Cabernet Scrub to exfoliate the body, and the California Grape massage to gently soothe and relax. Once the assorted grape seed–based creams and oils are absorbed into my skin, I am assured, my biological clock will slow, and my collagen content will soar.
Of course, the notion that wine is as good for the body as it is for the soul is not new. In 1724 Dr. Peter Shaw, a British physician, proclaimed wine’s health-giving properties superior to water’s. More than a century later, Louis Pasteur opined, “Wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages.” But study of wine’s health-giving properties intensified in the 1990s with reports of the French Paradox, the discovery that despite a diet of croissants and snails dipped in garlic butter, Gauls enjoy high levels of cardiovascular health.
The answer to this conundrum, researchers have found, involves the Frenchman’s traditionally greater consumption of Cabernets, Merlots, Pinot Noirs, and other wines that are fermented with the grape skin and seeds; besides giving red wine its color, they also contain antioxidants that counteract the development of arterial plaque, thereby contributing to a healthier ticker.The idea that the grape could benefit the skin as well as the heart surfaced at about the same time, when researchers at the University of Bordeaux discovered that the seeds abounded in polyphenols, compounds capable of protecting the dermis from the damaging effects of sunlight, smoke, and pollution. According to Dr. Bruce Katz, director of Manhattan’s JUVA Skin & Laser Center, the grape-based treatments are especially valuable for men, whose thicker skin benefits far less from conventional creams. “This is especially true for men who work out a lot or who live in urban areas,” he says. “Both situations expose them to greater risk of oxidation and premature damage to the skin.”
Now comes the news that dark chocolate is also good for the heart, that, like wine, it protects against hardening of the arteries. There is no word yet on the benefits of a dark chocolate massage, but it is just a matter of time before someone offers one.