Category:Wine news

Has wine with dinner been turned into binge drinking?

binge drinking

Please, neo-Prohibitonists: Stop these people before they binge drink again.

Yet another booze study characterizes responsible behavior as binge drinking

Another studying demonizing drinking showed up last week, replete with the flaws that have come to characterize these studies. The authors cherry-picked their study group, ignored relevant statistical data, and glossed over any socio-economic and demographic explanations for their conclusion. The result? Old people! Binge drinking!! Death!!!

The other thing that struck me about the study was its definition of binge drinking: four to five drinks in one sitting. In other words, drinking wine with dinner has become just as evil as frat boys chugging Everclear and men of a certain age pounding a six-pack after work and then passing out on the sofa.

My name is the Wine Curmudgeon, and I am a binge drinker.

On Saturday night, I had five glasses of wine with dinner. We had hard-cooked eggs in mustard sauce for a first course, followed by a mock cassoulet (turkey, sausage, a duck leg/thigh, and white beans) served with rice and a cabbage salad. I opened the $10 Pigmentum Gascon white blend with the eggs, which was a terrific pairing (the wine’s citrus fruit complementing the richness of the egg). I drank the fabulous 2011 Bonny Doon Bien Nacido syrah with the cassoulet, and it was an even better pairing – dark, earthy food with a dark, earthy wine.

So how did a full dinner eaten over two or three hours with five glasses of wine turn into binge drinking?

Your guess is as good as mine. The five-drink definition (four for women) comes from the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Binging is “a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men – in about 2 hours.”

Not coincidentally, that 0.08 number is the legal definition of drunk driving in 49 states. If it’s illegal to drive after five drinks, then it’s easy to call something binging. Or, conversely, let’s lower the legal blood alcohol level to 0.08 since the experts call that binge drinking.

And do not think this is an apologia for alcoholism and drunk driving. I know first-hand the horror and pain of each. Rather, it’s a plea for a measured, reasonable, and rational approach to solving the problems they cause.

That’s because drinking is not the problem. Abusing alcohol is the problem. Trying to shame responsible adults into stopping behavior that isn’t shameful won’t do much to stop alcohol abuse. Didn’t the neo-Prohibitonists learn anything from Prohibition? Hopefully, they’ll eventually figure this out. Until then, I’m happy to do my part to explain it to them.

Photo: “company dinner” by Rivard is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0 

More about neo-Prohibitionists, booze studies, and wine drinking:
Cigarettes, wine, and cancer
Drinking, scientific doom and gloom, and perspective
The CDC alcohol death study

Winebits 604: Three-tier lawsuit, organic wine, printer ink

three-tier lawsuitThis week’s wine news: Three-tier lawsuit over pricing reminds us that booze regulation isn’t gong away quickly. Plus, is organic the future of wine, and why does printer ink cost more than vintage Champagne?

No discounting: Total Wine, the national liquor store chain, can’t discount wine lower than the state of Massachusetts says it can, ruled the state’s highest court. The decision overturned a lower court judgment in favor of Total, which said the chain could charge lower prices, and that they didn’t violate state law. There’s almost no way to summarize the judgment for anyone who doesn’t have a law degree and is familiar with alcohol wholesalers; it’s enough to know that the ruling (the pricing laws are “not arbitrary and capricious or otherwise unreasonable”) reminds us that three-tier isn’t going away quickly, despite what many people think.

Organic wine: An Italian high-end producer says the future of quality wine is organic. “I think it’s important to go organic, because today, we need to be careful about what we eat and drink,” says Salvatore Ferragamo, whose family owns Tuscany’s Il Borro. Since the vines absorb what is found in the soil, and since that is transferred in varying amounts to the fruit and into the wine, organic makes the most sense.

Very pricey: Those of us who have always wondered why printer ink was so expensive will not be surprised to learn that it’s 10 times more expensive than vintage Champagne, widely regarded as some of the best wine in the word. A British consumer advocacy group says printer ink costs around £1,890 per litre (about US$2,400), compared to £1,417.50 per liter (about US$1,756) for vintage Champagne from luxury producer Dom Perignon. The consumer group also reported that printer was more expensive than crude oil.

Photo: “Antinori Wines at Berkmann Grand Cafe Wine Tasting” by Dominic Lockyer is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Winecast 37: Steve McIntosh, Winethropology

Steve McIntosh

Steve McIntosh

Steve McIntosh of Winethropology offers rare perspective on three of the of the most controversial developments in wine today.

Steve McIntosh’s view of the wine world comes from the middle of the country, which offers rare perspective. How many wine writers make do in a state when wine is not allowed to go on sale? His decade-old Winethropology blog offers solid reviews and incisive commentary about what’s going on these days.

We talked about three of the most controversial developments of the current wine business: the Tennessee Supreme Court case, and whether it will really upend the the three-tier system; premiumization and the role Big Wine and consolidation have played in foisting it on us; and whether the rose boom will turn into a permanent part of wine. Steve is a lot more cynical about rose’s future than I am.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 11 minutes long and takes up 4.3 megabytes. The sound quality is almost excellent; I’ve finally figured out most of the quirks in Skype’s new recording feature.

Winebits 663: Cooper’s Hawk, Australian Prosecco, robot bartenders

cooper's hawk

Drinky has a colleague — the robotic bartender at a Prague night club.

This week’s wine news: The Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants chain has a new investor. Plus, the Italians tell the Aussies to stop using the name Prosecco, and robot bartenders debut

July 23 update: Ares management is making an investment in Cooper’s Hawk, reports Nation’s Restaurant News, but not necessarily buying it. The best part of the update: The Ares statement, which includes the phrase “disruptive restaurant concept and lifestyle brand.” How 21st century-speak can you get?

Lots and lots of money: Tim McEnery’s more than unique idea has apparently paid off. His Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants chain has reportedly been sold, says Nations Restaurant News. The price is $700 million for the 35-location company, paid for by the Ares Management private equity firm. At a time when the restaurant and wine businesses are flat, Cooper’s Hawk recorded an almost 17 percent growth in sales between 2017 and 2018, and its annual per store sales have increased each of the past three years. Those are amazing numbers for a company that is part wine bar, part restaurant, and part wine club, a concept that almost no one but McEnery thought would work.

A bubbly battle: Australian producers have been making a Prosecco-style sparkling wine for years, and they have called it Prosecco for as long as they have made it. This has infuriated the Italians and the European Union, which have signed trade deals with much of the rest of the world to stop that sort of thing from happening. That’s why we can’t call California sparkling wine Prosecco or Champagne, and why the Europeans can’t call a smoked pork product Virginia ham. In the most recent tussle, the EU wants the Aussies to stop using the word Prosecco as part of a $100 billion trade agreement currently being negotiated. The EU says “prosecco” is a geographical indication for a type of wine produced in northern Italy, rather than a grape variety; the Aussies are having none of it.

It will never get bored: Prague’s Karlovy Lazne Music Club has installed a robotic bartender to mix cocktails. Customers use touchscreen terminals to order from among 16 mixed drinks. The bartender — two robotic pincher arms, modeled after those used in car factories — stands on a small stage in a corner of the room, below a mass of liquor bottles, and can make 80 drinks an hour. The Reuters report doesn’t mention if the pincher arms can sympathize as customers complain about their spouses, job, or kids.

Dallas men, an attorney and a sommelier, win U.S. Open wine tasting championship

U.S. Open wine tastingU.S. Open wine tasting winners will lead U.S. team at world championships in France

This year, the winning team at the U.S. Open wine tasting championships scored 101 points. That’s one more point than the U.S. team scored in the 2016 world championships, when it finished a best-ever third.

So does this mean Dallas residents Taylor Robertson and Jacob Fergus, the winning team, have discovered the secret to blind tasting?

Not exactly.

“To be honest, we weren’t sure how we did when we saw the wines,” says Robertson, 34, a Dallas attorney who worked in the restaurant business before going to law school — but who never lost his appreciation for wine. “The wines this year were much more difficult than last year, and we were worried about how we did.”

This year’s wines included a South African chenin blanc, a Portuguese touriga nacional, and a French white grenache – hardly the sort of thing you’ll see on most wine lists.

But no need to worry, apparently. Tournament director John Viljus called their performance a very strong one, and is optimistic about the U.S. team’s chances at the 2019 world event this October in France. Belgium won the 2018 world competition, followed by Finland and France. Robertson and Fergus will be joined by Gwendolyn Alley and Sue Hill, who finished second in thee U.S. competition with 92 points.

Last weekend, a dozen two-person teams blind tasted six red and six white wines, getting points for correctly identifying the wine’s producer, its varietal, vintage, and region. They had just eight minutes to taste each wine, something Robertson says presented one of the tournament’s biggest challenges. At some point, tasting fatigue sets in, and it becomes more difficult to tell which wine is which.

They key to winning, says Fergus, who works at Savor Gastropub at Dallas’ Klyde Warren Park, was understanding the difference between the U.S, Open tasting format, which is more open ended, and the way blind tasting works for wine certification programs like master sommelier, which focuses on identifying specific wines.

And as for the world competition?

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” says Fergus. And why not, with a score like that?

 

What’s next for three-tier after the Supreme Court’s Tennessee retailer decision?

Tennessee retailer decisionDon’t make too many bets three-tier will open up after the Tennessee retailer decision; we’ve been down that road before

The cyber-ether has been awash with confident pronouncements since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Tennessee retailer decision, which struck down a law that limited who could own a liquor store in that state. Many predicted the beginning of the end of the antiquated and restrictive three-tier system that regulates alcohol sales in the U.S.: “Consumers could benefit from Supreme Court ruling,” “Supreme Court hands retailers a big win,” and so on. One of the smartest people in the wine business even said we should see these pro-consumer changes quickly.

Don’t bet on it.

I’ve spent the three weeks since the Tennessee retailer decision interviewing attorneys who practice liquor law, analysts, and other knowledgeable people. And their consensus, almost to the syllable: The Tennessee retailer decision may be a big deal at the moment, but don’t expect much to change about three-tier — and it’s not going to get easier for us to buy wine.

“I don’t see this ruling going much farther,” says Tucker Herndon, an attorney in Nashville who is the office managing partner of Burr & Forman LLP. “I don’t think it’s going to open the floodgates, and I don’t think it’s going to give us a regulatory system without a lot of limitations.”

The Supreme Court ruling said Tennessee couldn’t impose a residency requirement on liquor store owners because such a requirement didn’t promote the public health and safety. All it did, said the ruling, was shield local retailers from competition from national and regional chains. In fact, residency laws are common in in the retail booze business for just that reason, and we’ve had one in Texas in one form or another for years.

The 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition, allows the states to regulate alcohol sales as long as the states are promoting the public health and safety. Hence, the Tennessee law ran afoul of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which says states can’t favor their residents ahead of people from other states unless there is a very good reason, like public health and safety.

Nothing new about this test

Hence, what seems to a litmus test for the three-tier system. But the attorneys I talked to said that public health and safety has always been a litmus test, and it’s a long way from the Tennessee retailer decision to Internet wine sales. That’s what many analysts are predicting in the wake of the decision: That we will be able to buy wine from any retailer anywhere in the country with the click of a computer mouse.

The attorneys and analysts cited three reasons for their pessimism:

First, the decision didn’t really do anything but overturn a bad law that even the state of Tennessee didn’t think much of. The state attorney general didn’t appeal the lower court ruling; the state’s liquor retailer trade group did because the attorney general didn’t think the law was defensible.

Second, says Herndon, the decision is about retailer residency – nothing more. That someone doesn’t need to be a Tennessee resident to get a retail liquor license to open a store in Tennessee doesn’t mean that someone who doesn’t live in Tennessee can get a license to open a store outside of Tennessee. It’s a subtle difference, perhaps, but an important one. He says the state can almost certainly show that it’s protecting the public health and safety by requiring anyone who has a Tennessee retail license to use that license for a store in Tennessee.

Third, says Lou Bright, the former generral counsel for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, it’s a long legal journey from this ruling to Internet wine sales. Three-tier mandates that consumers can only buy from retailers and restaurants, while retailers and restaurants must buy from wholesalers and they can’t buy from producers. And producers must, save for one small exception, sell only to wholesalers.

Bright says Tennessee was about who can get a retail license, and not about retailers selling wine directly to consumers. When the court carved out the small, direct shipping exception in 2005, it didn’t address the mechanics of the three-tier system and the role of wholesalers. And, he says, this ruling didn’t, either.

Photo: “Moot Courtroom” by College of William & Mary Law Library is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Winebits 602: Texas wine, legal weed, wine gadgets

Texas wineThis week’s wine news: Fredericksburg’s Cabernet Grill honored for its commitment to Texas wine, plus trouble in legal weed land and do we really need more wine gadgets?

True to its roots: Fredericksburg’s Cabernet Grill has been named one of “America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants” by Wine Enthusiast magazine for the second year in a row. It’s an honor much deserved – chef-owner Ross Burtwell has had an all Texas wine list for years, and long before drink local was hip and trendy. The list has 145 wines from 45 wineries, demonstrating that local wine pairs with local food. That’s something I’ve been able to enjoy during several visits to the Hill Country.

Trouble in legal weed land: Constellation Brands, which sold off its cheap wine brands to pursue a future selling legal weed, lost more than $800 million on its investment in the first quarter of this year. The story in the link, from Shanken News Daily, tries to put the high in that low, as trade news reporting often does, but one question remains: Does Constellation understand what it got itself into? The bizspeak in the article doesn’t help with that much, and it wouldn’t reassure me if I was a Constellation shareholder.

No more gadgets: David Cobbold, writing on Les 5 du Vin, repeats a warning the Wine Curmudgeon has uttered many times: Buying wine instead of gadgets is the best investment almost every time. Cobbold reviews a wine aerator, and his conclusion: Buy good wine, and don’t “worry about useless and expensive gadgets like this!” It’s a sentiment marketers ignore at their own risk; the number of gadget emails I get has seemingly proliferated as wine sales flatten.

Photo: “2014-11-19 Grape Juice Bar 010” by spyjournal is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0