Tag Archives: wine and health

Putting all that scientific doom and gloom about wine into perspective

alcoholismThey’re telling us it’s about drinking. But it’s really about the social cost of alcoholism, which isn’t the same thing

The surprise about the recent study equating drinking alcohol with death is not that it gathered headlines. Of course it gathered headlines. The surprise is that so many reputable researchers said the headlines were overblown. Or, as University of Cambridge statistician David Spiegelhalter wrote after parsing the study’s numbers: “Come to think of it, there is no safe level of living, but nobody would recommend abstention.”

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.”

What’s going on is a well-meaning attempt to cut the social cost of drinking, which is enormous. Alcoholism, in both dollars and misery, has been a scourge throughout recorded history. The federal Centers for Disease Control estimates that excessive drinking costs $250 billion annually and kills almost 90,000 people each year. There is also ample evidence that alcoholism devastates particular communities, be it native American reservations or blighted urban neighborhoods. The CDC, in fact, has proposed tighter alcohol retail regulation to help those communities. Do enough research, and you can even find suggestions that alcoholism played a role in the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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.

Until then, I’ll keep a wary eye out for those deadly desserts.

More about the CDC and drinking
The federal government’s three-drink limit
What the media didn’t tell you about the CDC alcohol study
Bacon, wine, and what we eat and drink

Winebits 556: Wine is evil edition

wineThis 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.

Health alert! Does the CDC know how dangerous Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte is?

Starbucks pumpkin spice latte

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.

The pumpkin spice latte will make its seasonal debut this week; several analysts said the coffee drink is key to the chain’s continuing profitability. As such, said one, “it offers customers what they want: ‘Fat, sugar and salt, plus the additional boost from caffeine.’ ”

In other words, a health minefield, and especially compared to demon wine. Consider a 16-ounce pumpkin spice latte made with two percent milk and whipped cream:

• That’s the equivalent of three glasses of red wine, or what most of us would drink with dinner. And most of us drink the latte in the middle of the day — almost a meal in itself.

Three glasses of wine are about 375 calories, while the latte is 380.

• 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.

In fact, Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte may be even deadlier than a hot dog, and we all know how deadly a hot dog is.

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?

Yes, I know it sounds silly. But so does every pronouncement you make threatening us with imminent death if we don’t give up wine immediately. Are you serious about protecting the nation’s health? Or do you just want to bring back Prohibition?

Winebits 549: Wine and health, wine lists, and cava

wine and healthThis 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.

Winebits 512: Odd wine news edition

odd wine newsThis week’s odd wine news: Wine mentions in the media, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the mentions are newsworthy

But what if it had been Glen Ellen? The Morning News newspaper in Dallas, reporting a deadly drunk driving accident, noted that an “open bottle of Sutter Home cabernet sauvignon was found at the crash site.” I have been pondering that sentence since I read it, drawing on my years of newspaper knowledge and experience, to figure out why the reporter identified the wine. Typically, the line would have read “an open bottle of wine was found at the crash site.” That’s because it doesn’t make much difference to what happened – that a drunk driver killed someone – by listing the name and type of wine. The driver could have gotten drunk on any kind of wine. It also makes the sentence longer, which is something to avoid. The only thing I can think of is that the cops had the wine listed in the accident report, the reporter cut and pasted, and the copy desk didn’t notice.

Shame on you, Mom and Dad: The newest lever in the neo-Prohibitonist campaign to limit even responsible drinking? Our children are ashamed of us. Or, as the British study claimed, “Moderate drinking by parents can have a negative impact on children, causing anxiety and disrupting bedtime routines.” Who knew a couple of glasses of wine with dinner were wreaking such havoc on our kids? There is one important question the story doesn’t address, though: What happens if you read your child a bedtime story while you’re tipsy? Does that count?

Bring it on, 7-Eleven: Yes, I know, no one drinks cheap wine, but that hasn’t stopped the country’s most prominent convenience store chain from launching a second wine brand to go with its Yosemite Road. It’s called Trojan Horse, will sell for $7, and will include chardonnay and pinot grigio. The story, in a trade magazine, was apparently more cutting and pasting and is actually pretty funny in that sad, poorly written PR way I have been railing against for years. The wines “were custom developed with grapes from different California valleys,” which makes very little sense but does have impressive jargon. My favorite, though, is the title of the 7-Eleven official identified as the vice president of vault. Is this a typo, and should it be vice president of value? Or does the company actually have a vice president of vault?

Winebits 482: Utah drunk driving, Aussie wine laws, Italian wine thieves

Utah drunk driving

“Two glasses of wine? That’s wine too many, pal.”

This week’s wine news: Utah makes it a crime to have wine with dinner, plus Australia restricts wine sales, and Italian wine thieves

Utah drunk driving: Utah’s new legal drinking limit – the toughest in the country – will turn almost anyone who has a couple of glasses of wine with dinner into a criminal. How else to explain the state’s .05 limit, which translates to drinking two glass of wine for an ordinary sized man and one glass of wine for an ordinary sized woman? We’ve written about this before, part of the Neo-Prohibitionist movement to restrict drinking by focusing on health, and what’s more health-related than drunk driving? That it will criminalize legal behavior – “Utah: Come for vacation, leave on probation,” said one ad opposing the law – doesn’t seem to bother them. Ironically, phone calls to the governor of the predominantly Mormon state, and Mormons aren’t supposed to drink, ran 9 to 1 against the law.

Not just in the U.S.: Costco, the world’s largest wine retailer, not only has to endure our old pal the three-tier system in the U.S., but an Australian version as well. It can’t sell alcohol in the state of South Australia, even though it sells wine in three other Aussie states. I can’t quite figure out why, though there seems to be opposition from other retailers as well as more restrictive licensing in the state.

Gotcha! Italian police have broken up a crime gang in northern Italy, but only after they stole 16,000 bottles of fine wine, worth around €100,000 (US$108,000), as well as €80,000 (US$87,000) worth of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and an undisclosed amount of Modea balsamic vinegar. Police launched Operation Wine and Cheese, as it was called, following a series of high-value food thefts between 2015 and 2016. The thefts are quite common in Italy, and especially for the pricey Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Winebits 481: Grape crush, wine knockoffs, wine and marriage

grape crushThis week’s wine news: The second biggest California grape crush ever, plus a company knocks off wine like cheap dresses and a dumb health study

Bumper crop: The 2016 California grape harvest, which will pretty much determine wine prices for the next couple of years, was up 15 percent from 2015 as measured in the amount of grapes crushed – the second biggest in history at 4.031 million tons. And while the price of crushed grapes was 15 percent higher this year than last, all that meant was that it mostly reached 2012 prices. What will the state’s producers do with all those grapes? Look for new labels, lots and lots of red blends (the red crush was the biggest ever), and more confusion for the consumer. And even I’m wondering what’s going on with premiumization, since 17 percent of the crush came from three grapes used in cheap bulk wines – rubired, French colombard, and muscat of Alexandria. That’s more than the amount of either the cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay crush.

Just the same: I will report the following, from Peg Melnick at the Press-Democrat newspaper in Santa Rosa, Calif., and try to keep my editorial comments to a minimum, though if you hear a scream as you read, it’s probably the echo from my wail of anguish: “The brand is called Replica Wine, and it relies heavily on chemistry to replicate popular brands, offering customers a savings of 15 percent or more. For example, it tempts consumers with a bottling it likens to the Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay for $11, undercutting KJ’s $17 price.” Is that what the wine business is reduced to? Knocking off wine like it was a bad Hollywood movie or a cheap dress? Is it not enough anymore to make honest, quality wine?

One more stupid health story: The Wine Curmudgeon banned wine and health stories from the blog in 2009, after a study was published noting that women who get drunk are more likely to have sex. Periodically, I will run a health story to remind everyone why they are banned – in this case, that wine drinking can lead to a happy marriage. The exception, as difficult as it is to believe, is if one partner drinks and the other doesn’t. And, shockingly, you can have a happy marriage if neither partner drinks. What’s next? That happy marriages are more likely if both partners love each other?