Tag Archives: wine and health

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.

Cigarettes, wine, and cancer

wine and cancerThe 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

Sigh.

I thought we had covered this ground twice before – during the Centers for Disease Control “wine with dinner is the equivalent of binge drinking” study and the “even one glass of wine is one glass too many” scare. Both times, as I noted, each study had its flaws and solid reporting should do more than parrot the results. Ask questions. Each time, I offered hard-earned wisdom about how to cover these kinds of stories.

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.

• Look for the caveats, since every legitimate study will have them. Just like we did in the red wine study.

• Look for the biases, because too many studies have biases these days. The cigarettes, wine, and cancer report is British, part of a barrage of studies that have come out of that country over the past several years in the wake of Britain’s binge drinking crisis. So what else would you expect the study to find?

Because, as one reporter discovered at the end of an otherwise “We’re all going to die!” piece:

“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

Winebits 559: Weed and food pairings, wine clubs, wine and health

weed and food pairingsThis 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?”