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Category Archives: Wine rants

Second annual five-day $3 wine challenge: The results

$3 wine challenge
$3 wine

“The horror, the horror. …”

In one respect, this year’s five-day, $3 wine challenge was no different than last year’s: I made it through unscathed. But the results were also depressing in a way they weren’t last year.

I wanted to find a wine among the six — five $3 merlots and a $4 red blend — that I could enjoy without reservation and use as another example in my campaign to help wine drinkers understand that price is not the most important thing about wine quality. One was OK, one was undrinkable, and the rest were as brainless as bottled ice tea. With so much quality cheap wine in the world, and sometimes for just a dollar or two more, why do so many people buy these, often making a special trip to do so?

When that analysis comes from someone who has spent 20 years trying to say nice things about cheap wine, it means there’s very little reason to drink them. The sad details are after the jump:

What the media didn’t tell you about the CDC alcohol death study

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CDC binge drinkingThis is not a critique of the science in the Centers for Disease Control study that equated drinking wine with dinner as binge drinking. I’m not a doctor or researcher. I’m also not questioning the health, emotional, and social costs of alcoholism; I’ve attended too many funerals.

Rather, this is a critique (based on a story I wrote for the Wine Business International trade magazine) of the shoddy and slipshod reporting done by most of the media, wine and otherwise, when the study was released. That is something I am qualified to do after 35 years as a journalist.

Journalism, something that I love and have spent my professional life trying to do well, is in a sorry state. How the study was covered demonstrates this all too well. Too many news organizations, regardless of size or reputation, are lazy, sloppy, and willing to accept what someone says — be it the CDC, the government, or big business — without asking questions. And journalism is about asking questions. These days, though, it’s cheaper and easier and less offensive to advertisers if you re-write a news release, throw some hyperlinks in it, and call it reporting. Or rewrite what another news organization has already rewritten.

My reason for being, even in wine, is to try not to do that. Here are the questions the media didn’t ask when the CDC study was released:

• Where did the excessive drinking standard come from? Why is the standard eight drinks a week for women and 15 for men? In fact, these come from a 2006 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, and are based on the U.S. government’s dietary guidelines: “drink alcoholic beverages… in moderation, which is defined as no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men.” Which is not exactly the same thing as excessive drinking.

• Why does this study contradict what one eminent cardiologist told me “is a reasonable certainty, based on hundreds of studies over the past decade, that moderate drinking as part of the Mediterranean diet that includes fruits and vegetables, olive oil, and wine, will benefit cardiac health. It’s the difference between partying and wine with a meal.”

• Why now? Why is alcohol suddenly in the spotlight? Note that the CDC study came in the wake of the proposal by the National Transportation Safety Board to lower the blood alcohol limit for drunken driving by one-third.

• Why these solutions — higher taxes, fewer liquor licenses for stores and restaurants, and an end to wet-dry elections and state deregulation? Will these prevent alcoholism, or will they penalize responsible drinkers?

Can cheap wine do this?

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Google cheap wineCheap wine, despite the tremendous advances over the past couple years (like this guy and this guy), still doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Google, for whatever reasons, still seems to have a cheap wine chip on its cyber shoulder — and just not because of what it did to my search numbers. Put the phrase “Can cheap wine…” in a search box, and almost all the suggestions are negative. Can cheap wine make you sick, indeed. You don’t see that for ketchup, do you?

Fortunately, the Wine Curmudgeon is here to answer five of the most suggested cheap wine questions on Google:

 • Can cheap wine make you sick? Of course it can. So can expensive wine. It’s called a hangover, and it doesn’t matter how much it costs if you drink too much of it.

 • Can cheap wine go bad? Of course it can. So can expensive wine. Going bad is not a function of price, but of quality control at the winery and how it’s stored there, how it’s stored at the distributor and retailer, and where you keep it at home. Put a bottle of wine in the sunlight in 90-degree heat, and it will go bad regardless of how much you paid for it.

 • Can cheap wine give you a headache? Of course it can. See question 1. It’s also a myth that cheap wine contains more headache-inducing sulfites than expensive wine, and it’s another myth that wine in sulfites causes headaches.

 • Cheap cheap wine be aged? No, but neither can most expensive wine. Almost all of the wine made in the world today is not made for aging, but to drink when you buy it. Its shelf life isn’t much different from many canned goods, and some boxed wines even have an expiration date.

 • Can cheap wine be good? No. I’ve been wasting my time for the past 20 years. Of course it can be good. So can cheap cars, cheap blue jeans, cheap airfare, and so on and so forth. Quality in wine is not a function of price, but of the effort the producer makes — no matter how much the rest of the world wants it to be about price.

A tip o’ the Wine Curmudgeon’s fedora to the OMG! Ubuntu! website, which did a similar post for the Ubuntu computer operating system and which I borrowed.

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