This week’s wine news: Walmart will appeal take Texas liquor store case to Supreme court, plus blog favorite Grocery Outlet wins award and the neo-Prohibitionists strike again
• Walmart appeal: Walmart, rebuffed twice by a federal appeals court, will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to be allowed to open liquor stores in Texas. We’ve followed this closely on the blog, since Walmart is trying to overturn a state law that forbids publicly-held or out of state companies from getting a retail liquor license (one of the WC’s favorite three-tier restrictions). Walmart won its case at the trial level, but was rebuffed twice by the the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. There’s no certainty the Supreme Court will take Walmart’s case. But if it does, expect some serious three-tier fireworks.
• Award-winner: The Wine Enthusiast has named blog favorite Grocery Outlet as one of its 50 best U.S. wine retailers. This is a big deal, if only because Grocery Outlet — best known for its cheap wine — is still mostly on the West Coast. The award puts Grocery Outlet in the same class as Costco, perhaps the U.S. leader in what the magazine calls “value-driven” wine.
• One glass of wine: An influential federal panel, reports Forbes, is recommending that men reduce alcohol intake to one drink per day, and that all Americans should cut back on added sugars. Who knew that a couple of glasses of wine were as deadly as that quart of vanilla ice cream? But that’s the finding from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which says that the extra glass of wine is associated with a “modest but meaningful increase” in death rates.
Finnish researchers find – gasp – that people who abuse alcohol have higher health costs
The Wine Curmudgeon, long suspicious of alcohol health studies, is not surprised by one of the latest, which links alcoholism with higher health costs. What is surprising is the headline on the news release: “Researchers put a price tag on alcohol use” – which, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with the study.
First and foremost, let me remind everyone I know first-hand the horrors of alcoholism and abuse. A friend died from them; two more are long-time members of abuse support groups. So I am not making light of alcoholism or saying it isn’t a problem.
Rather, it’s to note, once again, that there is a difference between alcohol abuse and moderate drinking, and which is something that has apparently been shunted aside in the rash of “all drinking is evil” studies we’ve seen over the past couple of years. Drinking is not cigarette smoking, no matter what one study claimed, and drinking wine in moderation is no worse, and may even be more healthy, than regularly eating nitrate-laced supermarket hot dogs. Which, of course, no one has yet done a study about.
This effort, on the other hand, was reaffirming the obvious. Finnish researchers, using what they called a “novel” methodology, say it costs an additional €26,000 (around US$30,000) over five years to treat patients with multiple alcohol abuse factors, such such as homelessness and drug abuse. It also recommends that people with alcohol use disorders should get better treatment for their non-alcohol related conditions.
Which is all well and good, but hardly unusual. So how did the release that ended up in my inbox carry that headline? After reading it, one expects to find the social and health costs of all drinking, moderate and abusive, listed. Which aren’t there and wasn’t the study’s intention.
Maybe the reason is as simple as the headline on the Finnish study being badly translated into English. Maybe it’s nothing more than more bad marketing and public relations work, each of which as gotten progressively worse over the past several years as agencies cut back on employees and training.
And maybe it’s part and parcel of positioning all such studies as being about drinking and doom, and working on the gullibility of newspapers, websites, and the like where the bosses are more concerned with their bonuses than with quality journalism.
I assume it’s one of the first two, and probably the second. I’m terrified it’s the third.
This week’s wine news: The Russians cut alcohol consumption by 40 percent, while we find that affordable red Bordeaux costs $20 and a stadium beer vendor got caught overcharging even more than restaurants do
• Impressive decline: The neo-Prohibitionists must be rejoicing at the news: “Russian alcohol consumption decreased by 43 percent from 2003 to 2016, a World Health Organization report says.” The BBC report says the decline is credited to advertising restrictions, increased taxes on alcohol, and a ban on alcohol sales between certain hours – all of which have been proposed in one form or another by groups like the Centers for Disease Control to cut U.S. wine, beer, and spirits consumption. The catch? Russia has traditionally been one of the heaviest drinking countries in the world, and the drop in consumption more or less caught Russia up to the rest of the world. For example, the average life expectancy for Russian men rose to all-time high at 68. But it’s 70 for men in the U.S, despite a recent decline, and 79 for men in western Europe, where drinking is common.
• Such a deal: Charles Passy, writing in Market Watch, says we can still find affordable red Bordeaux, and he defines affordable as almost $20 a bottle. This is where the Wine Curmudgeon reminds the Winestream Media that $20 a bottle is more than twice the average price of wine sold in the U.S. and that most of us will never spend $20 for a bottle of wine. Or that much French wine that isn’t rose has been overpriced for years. But, given the current climate, if I do that, I’ll probably be criticized as a so-called consumer wine champion full of faux outrage.
• Expensive beer: Overpriced booze is nothing new on the blog, as the last item attests. But a Miami beer vendor did us one better. Says the New York Post: “A beer vendor … was arrested after charging a fan $724 for two beers on a personal credit card reader.” How did the vendor get caught? The fan’s credit card company alerted him to the attempted theft on his phone – saved by the same technology that made the overcharge possible. And no, the Wine Curmudgeon won’t make a joke about the winless Dolphins.
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.
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