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

Wine business history: The more things change, the more they stay the same

wine business historyIn the wine business, history repeats itself – and we know what premiumization, overpriced wine, and consolidation mean for consumers

Premiumization, overpriced wine, and consolidation are nothing new in the wine business. Go back 80 years, and wine business history is eerily familiar. In this, some of the earliest and most influential wine critics, including Leon Adams and Frank Schoonmaker, warned the industry about the mistakes it was making.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t quote Winston Churchill here: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Premiumization

Schoonmaker was a wine importer and wine writer whose 1930s’ “The Complete Wine Book” might have been the first attempt to explain wine to the U.S. consumer. In 1947, in a piece for Gourmet magazine, Schoonmaker lamented what sounds a lot like what we’re seeing now:

And in the past five years we have hardly seen any real vin ordinaire (by which I mean a common, inexpensive table wine) sold in America. The humble gallon jug virtually disappeared in 1943 from our wine merchants’ shelves; instead, the undistinguished reds and whites from the mass production areas of California appeared in fancy dress at a fancy price, and elaborate advertising campaigns were launched to convince us that bottles which we used to buy reluctantly for 60 cents were suddenly worth $1.50 and were being sold us as a special favor.

In other words, $15 wine is the new $8 wine.

Overpriced wine

Adams was perhaps even more influential in his time (the end of Prohibition to the 1960s or so) than Robert Parker was in his heyday. He is usually given credit for pushing the California wine business into the 20th century; he advocated for regional wine long before there was much of it; he helped start the Wine Institute; and he wrote several of the most important wine books in U.S. history.

He also had no use for over-priced wine, and regularly urged California producers to make wine that most of us could afford:

They should be as cheap as milk. High price wines are not for daily consumption with meals. Real wine drinkers know this; most Americans still don’t.

How spooky is that quote, that it’s still so relevant today?

Consolidation

Adams also saw the dangers of too few wineries producing too much of the country’s wine, something he first warned about shortly after World War II. He explained this in a 1974 interview:

The point was mine, and I think it has stuck to this day, that the little wineries should be encouraged to exist. The larger the number of small wineries that operate in the United States, the safer the big wineries are from attack, legislative attack in particular. If the wine industry ever fell into the hands of only a few major factors, the wine industry and the whole cause of wine would be in trouble. It would be endangered. … The big wineries have never agreed with me about the need to foster the small wineries. … My purpose is to encourage the use of wine, to introduce the use of table wine, which local wineries can do. Moreover, it’s especially to the advantage of California to thus expand the wine market, because with the ideal grape-growing climate of this state, California wines will always be the best buys.”

I wonder: How many of the biggest California producers have ever read that?

Photo courtesy of Sedimentality blog using a Creative Commons license

Ask the WC 20: White Bordeaux, crossing state lines, lower alcohol

white bordeauxThis edition of Ask the WC: Where to find affordable white Bordeaux, plus crossing state lines with illegal wine, and the lower alcohol trend

Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. You can Ask the Wine Curmudgeon a wine-related question .

Hi, Wine Curmudgeon:
Can you help me find an affordable white Bordeaux? Recently had a $36 bottle of the white blend that was heavenly but out of my daily price range.
Looking for value

Dear Value:
Premiumization strikes again. Fortunately, there is still plenty of quality, cheap white Bordeaux — the white wine, often a blend of sauvingon blanc and semillion, from the Bordeaux region of France. Chateau Bonnet, which is one of the great cheap wines of all time, is mostly available nationally and should be less than $15. Whole Foods’ Château La Gravière Blanc was the 2019 cheap wine of the year. And you can always use the search box on the upper right hand side of the blog — type in white Bordeaux.

Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
I’ve heard that it’s illegal to buy wine in one state and then bring it back into your state. Is that true, or just another urban myth?
Bootlegging wine

Dear Bootlegging:
Yes, it may be illegal, depending on the state where you buy the wine and the state that is its final destination. Because, of course, three-tier. It would require an attorney and a couple of thousands dollars worth of consultation to be more specific about the various states and their penalties. But know that if you’re driving with wine purchased in another state, and you’re stopped for speeding in your state, there’s a chance that your wine can be confiscated and you can be fined.

Hello WC:
I heard a story on NPR that young people aren’t drinking as much as we used to drink. That can’t be true, can it? Young people always drink, don’t they? Isn’t that part of being young?
Aging Baby Boomer

Dear Aging:
Here’s how much of a trend people in the booze business think this is: I wrote two stories this summer, for different trade magazines, about young people drinking less alcohol. So, yes, there seems to be something to the idea that the youngest Gen Xers, the Millennials, and the oldest Gen Zs aren’t as enamored of getting drunk as the Baby Boomers were at that age. The experts I talked to cited any number of reasons, but one struck me. When I was 19, it was a rite of passage to drive drunk. Today, we have designated drivers. Hence, a significant culture change.

Photo: “Day 55 Hatch wine in Parksville” by terri_bateman is licensed under CC CC0 1.0 

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 19: Supermarket wine, plastic wine bottls, corked wine
Ask the WC 18: Sweet red wine, varietal character, wine fraud
Ask the WC 17: Restaurant-only wines, local wine, rose prices

Wine of the week: Cortijo Tinto 2016

cortijo tintoThe Cortijo Tinto is is another reminder that Spain’s Roija produces some of the world’s best red wine — cheap, expensive and everywhere in between

The Wine Curmudgeon has watched in horror this summer as several of Dallas leading retailers stuffed much too old vintages of cheap wine on their shelves. How about a $10 white Bordeaux from 2011?. They’re playing off the consumer perception that old wine is better wine; in fact. most old cheap wine is vinegar. Unless, of course, it’s something like the Cortijo Tinto.

The Cortijo Tinto ($10, sample, 13.5%) is a Spanish red made with tempranillo from the Rioja, which produces some of the world’s best red wine, cheap, expensive and everywhere in between. The Cortijo is no exception – that it can provide so much interest and character, despite the vintage, speaks to the quality of Rioja, the producer, and the importer.

Look for lots of dark fruit (blackberries?), but where the fruit doesn’t overwhelm what Rioja wines are supposed to be like. That means a bit of floral aroma, some spice, a bit of smokiness on the finish, and just enough in the way of tannins to hold everything together.

This is one of my favorite wines to keep around the house, so I know I’ll have something worth drinking when I feel like a glass of red wine. It’s fine on its own (you can even chill it a touch), and it pairs with almost everything except delicate fish.

Imported by Ole Imports

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 

Here’s looking at you, kid: Only Bogey can solve the wine world’s turmoil

“The problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in a world where the three-tier system runs everything”

Maybe the reason the wine world is in such turmoil — flat growth, too high prices, too much crummy wine — is because we don’t have the right person to help us in our quest for better wine: Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca.” So the Wine Curmudgeon worked a little editing magic with one of the most famous scenes in cinema history.

My apologies to Bogart, Claude Rains, and Ingrid Bergman; director Michael Curtiz; and the Epstein brothers and Howard Koch, who shared screenplay credit for the film. My excuse: In one of my other lives, I wrote a book called “The Casablanca Companion,” so I know much more about this movie than anyone should.

A tip o’ the WC’s fedora to Eagle Burger on YouTube, where I found the original scene. And all foolishness like this owes a debt to WineParody, whose Robert Parker epic is the standard by which these efforts are judged.

Make sure you turn captions on when you watch the video; you can make the captions bigger or change their color by clicking on the settings gear on the lower right.

More wine and film parodies:
Shaft
Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Mini-reviews 123: Sauvignon blanc, Trader Joe’s merlot, chambourcin, mencia

Trader Joe'sReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month.

Luis Felipe Edwards Sauvignon Blanc Autoritas 2018 ($8, purchased, 12%): Something very odd going on with this Chilean white — either that, or lots of winemaking to get it to some point I can’t figure out. Not especially Chilean in style, with barely ripe grapes and almost no fruit at all — just some California style grassiness. Imported by Pacific Highway

Trader Joe’s Merlot Grower’s Reserve 2017 ($6, purchased, 13%): This California red, a Trader Joe’s private label, is a bit thin on the back and a little too tart. Plus, the residual sugar shows up after three or four sips. Having said that, it’s easily one of the most drinkable and varietally correct wines I’ve had from TJ — for what that’s worth.

Oliver Winery Creekbend Chambourcin 2016 ($22, sample, 13.4%): Professionally made and varietally correct, this Indiana red shows how far regional wine has come. I wish it showed more terroir and less winemaking — it too much resembles a heavier wine like a cabernet sauvignon and it doesn’t need this much oak.

Virxe de Galir Pagos del Galir 2016 ($17, sample, 13.5%): There are quality grapes in this Spanish red, which is the best thing about it. Otherwise, it’s a very subdued approach to the mencia grape, taking out much of the darkness, earth, and interest. And $17 is problematical.

Photo: “Coburg wine cellar tour” by hewy is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0