Tag Archives: wine and health

Winebits 679: Nutritional guidelines, expensive wine, wine taxes

wine and health
Damn, I’m good — I’m suffering from “quarantine 15” even though Americans are drinking less alcohol.

This week’s wine news: The WC’s beloved New York Times screws up a wine and health story, plus the eminent Jancis Robinson laments overpriced wine and wine tax relief

Even the Times: The Wine Curmudgeon has nothing but respect and admiration for the New York Times, which regularly reminds us what great newspapering can be. But the Times, apparently, has the same weak spot as the rest of the media – wine and health stories. In a story last week about new federal nutrition guidelines, Roni Caryn Rabin writes: “Confined to their homes, even those who have dodged the coronavirus itself are drinking more and gaining weight, a phenomenon often called ‘quarantine 15.’ ” I can’t speak to the weight part, but as we’ve noted on the blog since the pandemic started, Americans are probably drinking less. U.S. alcohol sales, as near as can be told, have declined during the pandemic, which would make it difficult for us to be drinking more. How this unsubstantiated sentence got into the Times – and past its topflight copy desk – is beyond me.

Too expensive: Jancis Robinson, one of the most respected wine critics in the world, agrees with the Wine Curmudgeon that wine costs too much money. She writes: “I’m not thrilled that prices for the established trophy wines of France, Italy and California have skyrocketed in recent years, putting them out of the reach of most wine drinkers, but I understand why. They are in relatively short supply and there are more and more billionaires in the world who need billionaires’ drinks. … But it does stick in my craw to see four- and even five-digit prices being asked for bottles with hardly any reputation at all.” When Jancis Robinson and I agree – and our wine worlds and perspectives have little in common – then wine really is messed up.

Tax relief: The wine business did get some good news in 2020. At the end of the year, Congress passed a law extending excise tax cuts that would have expired otherwise. The bill makes permanent a variety of credits and reductions aimed at helping the small producers who make up some 90 percent of the more than 10,000 wineries in the U.S. These days, these producers can use all the help they can get. I’ll do a podcast later this month with Michael Kaiser of the Wine America trade group, who was instrumental in getting the legislation passed.

Binge drinking during the pandemic — or not

binge drinking
“Forgive me, mom. I didn’t know wine with dinner would turn me into a binge drinker.”

One study says one out of three Americans are binge drinking during the pandemic; another says worldwide booze consumption will fall 8 percent this year

The Wine Curmudgeon has been trying to avoid writing wine and health posts on the blog for almost as long as the blog has been around. But then something happens, and I am forced to take keyboard in hand again.

This week, a Texas study claimed one in three of us are binge drinking during the pandemic. Meanwhile, a leading alcohol market consultancy says global booze consumption will fall eight percent this year, and “beverage alcohol volume consumption during the pandemic was down across almost all markets.” The U.S. and Canada were the exceptions – up a gigantic two points.

Sigh. Am I the only one who notices these contradictions?

Apparently not, given how much of this we’ve seen over the past couple of years, and especially during the pandemic. In this, the Mainstream Media will leap on the binge study to report we’re all passed out in front of our loved ones, reduced to a combination of drool and spittle.

So, once again, I will perform my journalistic duty and point out why the binge study can claim what it claims – and why these sorts of health studies are notoriously unreliable.

• The binge study lumps all alcohol together, which strikes me as problematic. Is binge drinking spirits worse than binge drinking wine? Does one binge one type of alcohol more than the other? Where does beer fit in? Or hard seltzer? Do we need a study to answer these questions? (That’s sarcasm, by the way.)

• The definition of binge drinking is full of holes – “four alcoholic beverages per occasion.” As noted here before, that makes anyone who drinks wine with dinner a binge drinker. Even the study’s authors acknowledge this problem, writing that the study didn’t take into account the time frame for drinking – four drinks in 20 minutes vs. four drinks in four hours. Which makes me ask: So what use is the study?

• The study acknowledges that many Americans don’t drink, then ignores that to come up with the one-third number. Hence, one-third is probably a lot less if we take non-drinkers into account. Which makes me ask again: So what use is the study?

• Serious sampling errors. The authors write that the study is skewed toward rich, white people, which might mean its “alcohol consumption is overestimated compared to the general population.” Which makes me ask a third time: So what use is the study?

Please, someone, stop these health researchers before they study again.

Photo courtesy of TheJournal.ie, using a Creative Commons license

Once more, how not to report a wine and health story

wine and health
No, NPR, most Americans haven’t been passed out on the the sofa during the pandemic, despite what your story says.

This time, it’s NPR that doesn’t do the reporting and accepts the neo-Prohibitionist arguments that drinking will kill us sooner rather than later

Dear NPR:

Yes, I understand about budget cuts and the changing landscape for traditional media. But that’s still not an excuse for the sloppy reporting in this story, which ran on Friday. It recounted the arguments – most not necessarily true – that the neo-Prohibitionists use in their attempt to once again outlaw alcohol in the U.S.

Hence, I will reiterate my offer to serve as a sounding board the next time something like this comes up. Because, frankly, you missed a lot:

• What’s the bias of the people you’re interviewing? In this case, the story quoted several federal health officials warning us that we’ll kill ourselves if we keep drinking the way we have been during the pandemic. This is where you should have noted these are the same people who said drinking a bottle of wine is the same as smoking 10 cigarettes and that wine with dinner constitutes binge drinking.

• You also took at face value the claim that we’re drinking staggering sums of booze during the pandemic. Which isn’t true. Yes, the story in the link is a bit jargony, but the point is that overall wine sales are down because of restaurant closures. So, in fact, we’re drinking less wine during the pandemic (also borne out here).

• The story said more people die from alcohol-related diseases each year than from drug overdoses, which is damned scary – save for one thing. Drinking is legal and booze is easy to get. Drugs, if you need enough to overdose, usually aren’t legal or easy to get. It’s a lot more convenient to kill yourself with alcohol, since you don’t have to meet a guy in a parking lot to buy heroin or coke, or to forge an Oxycontin prescription and hope the pharmacist doesn’t notice.

• The story ignores the astonishing statistic that one-third of us don’t drink, which is among the highest abstention rates in the industrialized world. I’ll bet you didn’t know that. So, next time, you need to ask: How can we be drinking ourselves to death if so many of us don’t drink?

• The story overlooks the tremendous progress that has been made with legitimate drinking problems, like underage and binge drinking, alcoholism, and drunk driving. For example, alcohol-related crashes have declined by almost one-half since 1985. I’ll bet you didn’t know that, either.

Finally, a few words about one of my favorite neo-Prohibitionist flummoxes, something called “alcohol use disorder,” and which figures prominently in the story. Health officials claim that 15 million of us suffer from this, but the definition is so broad that it includes me, the Big Guy, and almost anyone who takes wine seriously. After all, don’t we spend a “great deal of time… in activities necessary to obtain, to use, or to recover from the effects of drinking”?

None of this is written to denigrate the serious problems caused by alcohol abuse. It’s something that I’ve been writing about for decades. Rather, it’s to give you the background you need the next time you have to write a story about how we’re drinking ourselves to death.

Yours in quality journalism,

The Wine Curmudgeon

 

Winebits 651: Walmart, Grocery Outlet, neo-Prohibitionists

WalmartThis 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.

Winebits 627: Happy New Year 2020 edition

legal weed

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.

Photo: “Wine Train – The restaurant” by micurs is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Winebits 615: I Love Lucy Day, wine and health, wine lawsuits

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.”

One more lawsuit: Regular visitors here know how much the Wine Curmudgeon appreciates a good wine lawsuit, and this one is nifty. Sutter Home says a New York wholesaler has ripped off its Napa Cellars brand with a wine called Clos de Napa Cellars. Even the technical sheets, says the lawsuit, say it’s made to resemble Napa Cellars. Wine lawsuits don’t get much better than that, do they?

Video courtesy of Edvin via YouTube, using a Creative Commons license

Winebits 611: Cancer warnings and wine, weed teachers, and the future of craft beer

cancer warningsThis 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.