Category:A Featured Post

What the media didn’t tell you about the CDC alcohol death study

CDC binge drinkingThis is not a critique of the science in the Centers for Disease Control study that equated drinking wine with dinner as binge drinking. I’m not a doctor or researcher. I’m also not questioning the health, emotional, and social costs of alcoholism; I’ve attended too many funerals.

Rather, this is a critique (based on a story I wrote for the Wine Business International trade magazine) of the shoddy and slipshod reporting done by most of the media, wine and otherwise, when the study was released. That is something I am qualified to do after 35 years as a journalist.

Journalism, something that I love and have spent my professional life trying to do well, is in a sorry state. How the study was covered demonstrates this all too well. Too many news organizations, regardless of size or reputation, are lazy, sloppy, and willing to accept what someone says — be it the CDC, the government, or big business — without asking questions. And journalism is about asking questions. These days, though, it’s cheaper and easier and less offensive to advertisers if you re-write a news release, throw some hyperlinks in it, and call it reporting. Or rewrite what another news organization has already rewritten.

My reason for being, even in wine, is to try not to do that. Here are the questions the media didn’t ask when the CDC study was released:

• Where did the excessive drinking standard come from? Why is the standard eight drinks a week for women and 15 for men? In fact, these come from a 2006 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, and are based on the U.S. government’s dietary guidelines: “drink alcoholic beverages… in moderation, which is defined as no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men.” Which is not exactly the same thing as excessive drinking.

• Why does this study contradict what one eminent cardiologist told me “is a reasonable certainty, based on hundreds of studies over the past decade, that moderate drinking as part of the Mediterranean diet that includes fruits and vegetables, olive oil, and wine, will benefit cardiac health. It’s the difference between partying and wine with a meal.”

• Why now? Why is alcohol suddenly in the spotlight? Note that the CDC study came in the wake of the proposal by the National Transportation Safety Board to lower the blood alcohol limit for drunken driving by one-third.

• Why these solutions — higher taxes, fewer liquor licenses for stores and restaurants, and an end to wet-dry elections and state deregulation? Will these prevent alcoholism, or will they penalize responsible drinkers?

Mini-reviews 65: Taris, Gruet, Cabirau, Yalumba

reviews Taris, Gruet, Cabirau, YalumbaReviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.

?Chateau Taris 2012 ($6, purchased, 12.5%): This Trader Joe’s red Bordeaux, with some red fruit, some oak, and soft tannins, is worth exactly what it costs. Whether it’s worth buying is up to you; I’d just as soon spend a couple of dollars more for a more interesting wine.

?Gruet Brut Rose NV ($16, sample, 12%): This New Mexico bubbly, now labeled American, was disappointingly dull and not what it once was. Not much body, with muted red fruit and a hit of caramel.

? Domaine Cabirau Ros 2013 ($12, purchased, 13%): Not quite Hall of Fame quality wine, but another in what is a wonderfully long line of delicious and well made roses for around $10. From southern France, made with a grenache blend, with tarti strawberry fruit, lots of crispness, and even a touch of spice.

? Yalumba Riesling 2012 ($10, purchased, 12.6%): This vintage of the Hall of Fame Aussie white is missing something, which may be nothing more than old age from sitting in a warehouse for too long. Some lemon and a hint of petrol, but thin and not all that much fun on the back end.

Second annual five-day, $3 wine challenge

$3 wine challenge

You won’t need a pile of money to buy these wines.

In which the Wine Curmudgeon puts his money where his mouth is. Each night next week, I ?ll drink a $3 wine with dinner and attempt to answer the question: Can a wine drinker live on really cheap wine? Are the claims made by producers like Fred Franzia and the various anti-critics true, that most of us can ?t tell the difference and that it doesn ?t matter if we can?

Last year, when I did five $3 chardonnays, the results were mixed — mostly OK, but we expect more than OK from our cheap wine. This year, I’ll drink six merlots (yes, I know that’s one more than the days, but I’ll figure out the logistics). First, to do a red wine, and second, because merlot is the easiest red wine to make. It has fewer problems with tannins, and there shouldn’t be a problem finding quality fruit. All six wines were purchased in Dallas:

? Two-buck Chuck ($2.99, 12.5%), the Trader Joe ?s private label that was the first and remains the most famous of the very cheap wines. It ?s a California wine from the 2012 vintage.

? Three Wishes ($2.99, 12.5%), the Whole Foods private label. It carries an American appellation, which means it ?s non-vintage and at least three-quarters of the grapes used to make it were grown in the U.S.

? Winking Owl ($2.89, 12.5%) from Aldi but may be available elsewhere. Also American and non-vintage.

? Yosemite Road ($3.99, 12%), a private label for 7-Eleven. The label says red blend, and is probably close to merlot. Yes, it’s $1 more, but I haven’t reviewed a Yosemite Road in five years, and this seemed like a good time. Also American and non-vintage.

? Oak Leaf ($2.97, 12.5%), the Walmart private label. Also American and non-vintage.

? Southern Point ($2.39, 12.5%), the Walgreen’s private label, because I always tick off someone when I do a drug store wine. Also American and non-vintage.

I’m not doing HEB’s Cul-de-Sac this year, since it’s only available in Texas. I ?ll post the results of the challenge on Oct. 6, but you can keep up with the day-to-day action by following me on Twitter or checking out the Wine Curmudgeon Facebook page.

Again this year, all the wines but the Two-buck Chuck are made by The Wine Group, one of the Big Six and whose brands include Cupcake. And none of them have a screwcap, which I can’t even begin to understand. Why would anyone want to pay more for the tool that opens the wine than the wine itself?

Wine of the week: Domaine du Tariquet Classic 2013

Domaine du Tariquet Classic 2013How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee, Tariquet ($10, purchased, 10.5%), to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light and I marvel at how refreshing this Gascon wine is when it has no right to be.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise, and wonder at the citrus flavors and at the tropical fruit (pineapple?) in this vintage.

I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith, trusting Tariquet every year to make something extraordinary from ordinary colombard and ugni blanc.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints and after I tasted too much grocery store wine, so depressing and so much alike. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death. Or at least until the next vintage.

With sincere apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her Sonnets from the Portuguese 43, with the hope she had a sense of humor and is not spinning in her grave, plotting revenge.

Winebits 352: Red wine, wine brands, three-tier

wine news red wine ? Bring on the red wine: Americans, apparently, drink more red wine than white. This is not news, though for some reason a writer at the Washington Post who doesn’t write about wine (and there seem to be so many of them) thinks it is. Red wine has traditionally outsold white, but a white, chardonnay, remains the best selling wine in the U.S. The people at the Post have one of the best wine writers in the world working for them; I don’t know why they insist on pretending to be experts when there is a real expert at hand. One other thing, as long as I’m being cranky: Given that online retailing accounts for just 5 percent of U.S. wine sales, is a survey from an on-line retailer a better source than Nielsen or the Wine Institute?

? Bring on the new brands: One of the great mysteries in the wine business is how many wines actually exist. It’s also a mystery why it’s a mystery, since wine is regulated and this should not be difficult to determine. But it is, and the best guess has been about 15,000, which includes different varietals but not different vintages. Turns out that may be just a fraction of the total, according to Ship Compliant, a company that helps wineries through the maze of regulation. It found that the federal government approved 93,000 labels in 2013. However, since that could include changes to old labels or old wine given a new name, as well as wines that were proposed but never made it to market, there probably aren’t 93,000 wines available for sale. Which, given the size of the Great Wall of Wine, is no doubt a good thing.

? Bring on the lawyers: The Wine Curmudgeon notes this item not because he expects anyone to understand it unless they are a liquor law attorney with a large staff, but to remind the world, again, of the pointlessness of the three-tier system unless you are a distributor or attorney. It details a court case in which a distributor is suing a producer even though the producer followed the letter of the law. Or something like that. Regardless of the outcome, it will make no difference to anyone who buys wine. Incidentally, this is a jury trial. I can only shake my head in sympathy for those poor jurors, and hope they have lots of wine at home for afterwards. Update: Hours — literally — after I posted this, the suit was settled. No doubt they were terrified the jury would laugh at them, go home, and open a beer.

Image courtesy of Houston Press food blog, using a Creative Commons license

Expensive wine 67: Brandborg Pinot Noir Estate 2012

Brandborg pinot noirOne of the controversies amusing the Winestream Media, which allows its members to toss cyber-objects at each other, is the state of expensive pinot noir. It’s convoluted beyond description; for our purposes, it’s enough to know that some of my colleagues are throwing a hissy fit because other of my colleagues want to drink pinot noir that doesn’t taste like cabernet sauvignon. Sommelier Rajat Parr seems to be particularly disliked for advocating this kind of pinot noir, and I admire his thick skin.

The Wine Curmudgeon, of course, could care less about what his colleagues drink. Or argue about. Which is one of the differences between us.

Rather, I mention the controversy because the vitriol has gotten to the point where wines like the Brandborg ($38, sample, 12.8%) are dismissed because they don’t fit the current style. In this, the Brandborg is part of the resurgence in traditional pinot noir — which, oddly, I’ve noted here in several recent reviews, including this one and this one, without realizing it.

The Brandborg is quite nicely done, being both a varietally correct Oregon pinot and a wine with much more going on that just varietal correctness. It’s even big enough (though still balanced) that it needs food. Look for low alcohol, more fruit than a red Burgundy (black cherry?), and minerality, as well as a wine that’s still young and not quite all together. It’s going to get more complex and taste even better over the next couple of years, and offers fine value even at its price.

Winecast 22: Jerry Lockspeiser, wine guru

Jerry LockspeiserJerry Lockspeiser has done many things during his wine career in the United Kingdom — producer, negociant, consultant, salesman, and writer. Through much of it, his focus on been on cheap wine and what Lockspeiser calls the normal wine drinker; those of us who want to buy a bottle to have with dinner and who don’t want to mess with any of wine’s foolishness.

The biggest lesson in wine over the past decade? That consumers discovered “they didn’t need to pay a lot of money for a good drink,” he said. That’s preaching the gospel, no?

Lockspeiser and I talked about:

? The improved quality of cheap wine, and that the improvement was led by the Australians and Californians.

? Why the wine business insists on selling expensive wine and trading up perfectly happy wine drinkers. Hint: It’s about money.

? How winespeak is one of the biggest problems facing consumers, and why the wine business doesn’t understand the problem.

? Some of the best advice I’ve seen for negotiating the Great Wall of Wine at the grocery store (yes, they have it in Britain, too), including tips on pricing.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 16 minutes long and takes up almost 8 megabytes. The sound quality is very good, with only a couple of squeaks and hisses even though Lockspeiser was in London. Skype — the unofficial VoIP provider for the blog — was in exceptionally fine form.