This week’s wine news: Beaujolais legend Georges Duboeuf dies, plus the Italian Wine Guy critiques wine writing, and Canada’s legal weed bubble bursts
• An icon dies: Georges Duboeuf, one of the icons of French wine, died on Saturday. He was 86. Dubouef, known as the Pope of Beaujolais, almost single-handedly made the release of Beaujolais Nouveau an international event every November. Said one of his competitors: He “was responsible for “raising the Beaujolais flag all over the world. He had a nose, an intuition, [he was] a step ahead of everyone.”
• “A pitiful thing:” Alfonso Cevola, the Italian Wine Guy, doesn’t mince words in assessing the state of wine writing: “Wine writing has become a pitiful thing. There are so many bad articles about wine, misspelled, written from a perspective that sounds more like someone is pushing a (p.r.) agenda rather than trying to educate the readers. …But real writing, real good writing?” Cevoola writes this as someone who has been around wine writing for decades, both as a retailer and wholesaler and as a successful wine writing. So his opinion is worth pondering.
• Not so fast: Legal weed in Canada was going to make everyone rich when it debuted a year ago – and the wine business was more than a little worried about how it would hurt sales. Turns out, hardly at all, reports the BBC, with Canadians sill buying pot from the “black market.” Or, as we used to say, “you know, the guy down the street, who knows your friend.” Says the story: “Statistics Canada estimates that about 75% of cannabis users still use illegal cannabis,” since the guy down the street is cheaper and more convenient. Which, in retrospect, seems quite obvious.
This week’s wine news: It’s national “I Love Lucy” Day; celebrate by stomping grapes. Plus, medieval doctors relied on wine and yet another wine lawsuit
• “Lucy, you got some ‘splaining to do….“: How could the Wine Curmudgeon let national “I Love Lucy” Day pass without posting the epic grape-stomping scene from the series’ fifth season in 1956? It’s not so much that the scene is so funny; rather, that 63 years later, it remains a part of U.S. culture. Wineries still schedule grape stomps for publicity, and every news release seems to mention this episode. Even I have been invited to stomp grapes.
• The prescription is wine: Doctors in the middle ages prescribed wine for almost all diseases, reports The Scientist. This included using wine as an antiseptic, for high cholesterol, herpes, depression (always white wine, never red), digestion, and even preventing gray hair. Hospitals had their own wine cellars, and many accepted vineyard land for payment. Says one expert: “If you drank the water you were going to die, and if you drank the wine you wouldn’t.”
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.