This week’s wine news: Will wine bottles soon have a cigarette-like cancer warning? Plus teaching legal weed in college and the future of craft beer
• Wine causes cancer? The cyber-ether was ablaze last week with the news that federal authorities may soon add a cigarette-like cancer warning to wine bottles. “More likely, [the health warning] will include a warning with the word cancer – no matter how weak the link is between cancer and moderate wine consumption.” Which, has been noted here many times, is so weak as to be almost no link at all. The wine business, if this happens, will have no one to blame but itself. It’s so preoccupied with selling overpriced wine to aging baby boomers than it hasn’t paid attention to anything else.
• Call them budtenders: What do colleges in legal weed states do? Offer marijuana classes similar to the wine classes I taught at two colleges in the Dallas area, of course. Oakton College in suburban Chicago offers one of the classes, teaching its 100 students about molecular biology, drug laws and treating terminal illness. Says a student: “This is pretty intense.”
• The future of craft beer: And it’s not necessarily bright, says Imbibe magazine. Craft beer evolved in response to Big Beer, but as it has grown in popularity, it has become more Big Beer-like, and many craft brands are now part of the biggest booze companies in the world. The article is long and little inside baseball, but it makes the point we’ve learned in wine. Consumers are fickle. Do something they don’t like, and they’ll go somewhere else.
The mainstream news media can’t report a story about wine and cancer correctly no matter how much I lecture them
Dear Mainstream News Media:
I realize this is the 21st century, and that journalism standards aren’t what they were when I was a young reporter. For one thing, the bosses don’t care any more, since caring costs too much money. For another, journalism education isn’t about getting the story right, but about marketing. Because, the money.
Still, your performance during the recent cigarettes, wine, and cancer cyber dust-up left much to be desired. It seemed like every headline and story thundered the news that anyone who drinks wine will die of cancer as surely as a three-pack-a-day smoker, wheezing and hacking to the grave. Or, as this epic screamed: “Put a Cork in It: Drinking a Bottle of Wine Per Week Is as Bad as Smoking 10 Cigarettes
Which you apparently ignored. So, one more time – how to parse a wine and cancer study before you write about it:
• Read more than the executive summary. Yes, I know wading through the technical stuff is boring, and that it’s often written to confuse those of us who aren’t scientists. But it is worthwhile, as I noted in the wine with dinner post linked to above.
• Pay attention to the math. I know this is also boring (and math is far from my best subject). But you’d be surprised what you can find, as my Starbucks pumpkin latte post shows.
“The use of cigarette smoking as a measure of risk is clever, but somewhat misleading.” That’s the opinion of Larry Norton, MD, the deputy physician-in-chief for breast cancer programs at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. “Association is not causation … On the other hand, we know for sure that smoking actually causes lung and other serious cancers. So putting it all together, the equating of tobacco with alcohol has some real flaws.”
See what I mean?
Your pal in better journalism, The Wine Curmudgeon
This week’s wine news: A chef devises weed and food pairings, plus an unhappy wine club member and another sensible insight into the recent wine and health foolishness
• Just like wine: Chris Sayegh, also known as the Herbal Chef, offered weed and food pairings at this summer’s American Culinary Federation conference in New Orleans. We didn’t have to wait long for that, did we? Bret Thorne reports in Nation’s Restaurant News that Sayegh doesn’t use street dope, but lab tested extracts “and you have to ease them into their marijuana high.” Thorne also notes that chefs who want to do these pairings should consult an attorney, since marijuana is not yet legal in every state.
• We knew this: A Connecticut man says he was ripped off by a wine club, which charged him for wine he didn’t order. The story is the usual sort of thing we’ve written about here, and it’s good to see other news media picking it up. My favorite part? Many of these clubs offer a money-back guarantee, but you have to return the wine. The man learned that it would have cost more than the wine was worth to return it, plus it’s illegal in some states for individuals to ship wine.
• One more sensible insight: Sara Chodosh, writing in Popular Science, offers one more intelligent take on the recent wine and health foolishness. “Suddenly moderate drinking is unhealthy. What happened?” There have been two systematic errors, say some researchers, that have been skewing alcohol studies for years, First, giant surveys like Lancet’s have been comparing non-drinkers to drinkers; this may introduce a statistical error called compounding. It’s too difficult to explain compounding here, but know that it can throw a study off. Second, that moderate drinkers may be more healthy for other reasons, and will also skew a study. Says a prominent researcher: “It’s fine to say ‘I enjoy drinking.’ Why do you need to worry about whether it’s good for you or not? Why not just drink every once in a while and enjoy it?”
Aaron E. Carroll, who teaches at the Indiana University School of Medicine, wrote a reasoned critique in the New York Times. For one thing, he said, studies that amass numbers from other studies have inherent problems. For another, “just because something is unhealthy in large amounts doesn’t mean that we must completely abstain. … Consider that 15 desserts a day would be bad for you. This could lead to assertions that ‘there’s no safe amount of dessert.’ But it doesn’t mean you should never, ever eat dessert.”
And none of that even begins to describe that agony that alcoholism wreaks among friends and families. A friend of mine, an alcoholic, was reduced to living in his car at one point, and died surrounded by vodka bottles.
But well-meaning isn’t enough
Cutting alcoholism rates among native American youth, which are among the highest in the country, has absolutely nothing to do with whether I drink wine with dinner. It’s telling that Mothers Against Drunk Driving, perhaps the most high-profile anti-drinking group in the country, doesn’t go that far. MADD says the focus should be on the worst cases – the chronic abusers who drink and drive despite arrests, fines, and jail.
But the CDC and its neo-Prohibitionist allies have decided to target all of us. I’ve asked them why, and the standard response is that drinking is unhealthy. Which, as noted, is difficult to argue with.
My guess is that the neo-Prohibitionists are working off the success that anti-smoking groups have had since the 1964 Surgeon General’s report. Their mistake, of course, is that drinking and smoking are not the same thing. One can drink in moderation; one can’t smoke that way. And smoking’s social cost, as terrible as it is, is not like alcoholism’s. It’s rare anyone dies in their car because they’re addicted to nicotine.
Why anyone thinks that studies scaring social wine drinkers will stop alcoholics from drinking is beyond me; the issue is much more complex than that. Hopefully, the CDC and its allies will eventually figure this out, and we can come up with a reasonable and effective program to reduce alcoholism.
This week’s wine news: The neo-Prohibitionists want to stop us from drinking, and they’re going to scare the hell out of us in the process. Right, Starbucks?
• You’re going to die: If you drink, no matter how little, bad things will happen. That’s the conclusion of a study published last week in the Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals. In this, it goes out of its way to contradict current medical wisdom about moderate drinking, including a quote from one of the Prohibitionists at the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. One would assume that if it’s in the Lancet, the methodology is legitimate, but the story does note that this approach is different from other, less scary, booze studies. And let’s not forget why most of these efforts are seriously flawed. Finally, if you can make it to the end of the surprisingly poorly written story, you’ll see that this study contradicts an earlier Lancet study.
• We mean it – you’re going to die: An alcohol research group in Britain says more than two-thirds of booze sales in England are to people who are drinking above safe limits. The rest of the story is the usual anti-drinking frightfest, so it overlooks a key point. The problem is not moderate drinking, but excessive drinking. Because, if one reads carefully, we learn that the four percent of the population who drinks too much in England accounts for 23 percent of the country’s liquor sales. So why punish those of us who aren’t the problem?
• Because you’re all going to die: So many of us are so terrified about the health risks of drinking that the next big growth market will be non-alcoholic booze, reports BeverageDaily.com. It forecasts an almost 8 percent growth rate for non- and low-alcohol beer and wine, more than four times the growth rate for wine in the U.S. One of the giggles in the story? Millennials, who are supposed to save the wine business, have made an “incredible shift” to non- and low-alcohol products, says the report.
Will the contents of that cup kills us as completely as three glasses of wine?
One Starbucks pumpkin spice latte may be worse for you than three glasses of red wine
The Wine Curmudgeon, ever vigilant to any threat to the nation’s health, has discovered that the much acclaimed Starbucks pumpkin spice latte may be more damaging to our bodies than wine. And, thanks to the federal Centers for Disease Control, we know how evil wine is.
• Those three glasses of red wine don’t have any fat, cholesterol, or sodium. The latte has 22 percent of the recommended daily value of fat, 40 percent of saturated fat, 18 percent of cholesterol, and 10 percent of sodium.
So get with it, CDC. We know the link between fat, cholesterol, and heart disease. Let’s see a nationwide, peer-reviewed study on the health consequences of consuming flavored coffee drinks. Are they safe? Should we abstain completely? Or are they acceptable in moderation?
This week’s wine news: Evidence that the WC was right in banning and wine and health news from the blog, plus intimidating wine lists and another cava producer sells out
• Not on my blog: The Wine Curmudgeon has banned wine and health news on the blog since 2011, when an Italian study revealed that men get women drunk so they can have sex with them. Now, evidence that I’m not the only who feels these studies are foolish, flawed, or both. Reports Agence France Presse: There is a “a known but persistent problem in the research world: too few studies have large enough samples to support generalized conclusions. … But pressure on researchers, competition between journals and the media’s insatiable appetite for new studies announcing revolutionary breakthroughs has meant such articles continue to be published.” In other words, even studies in first-class academic journals – at least for health – must be viewed with skepticism. Because who needs a study to know that men get women drunk so they can have sex with them?
• Intimidating wine lists: Almost three-quarters of British wine drinkers are intimidated by restaurant wine lists. More shocking study news, yes? Still, if this isn’t surprising, at least it will remind restaurants why they have so much trouble selling wine – something I see almost every time I eat out. Because, as the study noted, about one in three only buy when when it’s marked down and one in four buy the wine from the same region every time they buy it.
• Codorniu gets out: Codorniu Raventos, another well-known cheap cava producer, has sold itself, following Freixenet’s sale earlier this year. Codorniu sold a majority stake to a hedge fund, The Carlyle Group, for €300 million. Its brands include the self-named cava, as well as the Zaca tempranillo. Again, not good news for those of us who appreciate quality cheap wine, as another large producer finds it’s not big enough to compete in the 21st century wine marketplace.