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Tag Archives: wine news

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?

Winebits 352: Red wine, wine brands, three-tier

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wine news red wineBring on the red wine: Americans, apparently, drink more red wine than white. This is not news, though for some reason a writer at the Washington Post who doesn’t write about wine (and there seem to be so many of them) thinks it is. Red wine has traditionally outsold white, but a white, chardonnay, remains the best selling wine in the U.S. The people at the Post have one of the best wine writers in the world working for them; I don’t know why they insist on pretending to be experts when there is a real expert at hand. One other thing, as long as I’m being cranky: Given that online retailing accounts for just 5 percent of U.S. wine sales, is a survey from an on-line retailer a better source than Nielsen or the Wine Institute?

Bring on the new brands: One of the great mysteries in the wine business is how many wines actually exist. It’s also a mystery why it’s a mystery, since wine is regulated and this should not be difficult to determine. But it is, and the best guess has been about 15,000, which includes different varietals but not different vintages. Turns out that may be just a fraction of the total, according to Ship Compliant, a company that helps wineries through the maze of regulation. It found that the federal government approved 93,000 labels in 2013. However, since that could include changes to old labels or old wine given a new name, as well as wines that were proposed but never made it to market, there probably aren’t 93,000 wines available for sale. Which, given the size of the Great Wall of Wine, is no doubt a good thing.

Bring on the lawyers: The Wine Curmudgeon notes this item not because he expects anyone to understand it unless they are a liquor law attorney with a large staff, but to remind the world, again, of the pointlessness of the three-tier system unless you are a distributor or attorney. It details a court case in which a distributor is suing a producer even though the producer followed the letter of the law. Or something like that. Regardless of the outcome, it will make no difference to anyone who buys wine. Incidentally, this is a jury trial. I can only shake my head in sympathy for those poor jurors, and hope they have lots of wine at home for afterwards. Update: Hours — literally — after I posted this, the suit was settled. No doubt they were terrified the jury would laugh at them, go home, and open a beer.

Image courtesy of Houston Press food blog, using a Creative Commons license

Winebits 351: Wine glasses, wine laws, and economic growth

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wine news wine glassesDo wine glasses matter? The answer is no, says the Vinepair website in a post that includes the sentence, “Any industry that marries the existence of experts, the spending of cash, and the words ‘acquired taste’ as exquisitely as the wine industry does is bound to intimidate the uninitiated.” Which was a guarantee the Wine Curmudgeon would write about it. The post dismisses the idea that different shapes matter — a Bordeaux glass, a Burgundy glass, and so forth — and cites several studies and zings Riedel, the big glass company, repeatedly. Most of which makes sense, since I’ve never been convinced spending $100 for a glass is going to make all that much difference. The difference comes, I think, in whether you use well-made glasses instead of poorly-made ones. I buy the Forte from Schott Zwiesel, about $10 a glass, and am content. That’s about the twice the price of Libbey glasses, but the expense seems worth it.

Hell no, we ain’t reformin’: Pennsylvania’s state-controlled liquor store system has been the subject of much controversy as well as repeated demands for privatization. Reform seems as far away as ever, despite all the effort, and I’ve discovered the reason: Money. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which runs the stores, is a $2.24 billion business. Which is damned big — almost twice the annual sales of Crate & Barrel and only one-sixth the total of Whole Foods, even though the upscale grocer is a national company with more than 360 stores. How many state legislators, regardless of political persuasion, are going to throw away that much money? I’m not even sure I would.

Not just rich people drink wine: There’s a long and surprisingly boring post on Forbes discussing whether wine sales can predict economic growth. If someone can figure out what it actually says, let me know. As near as I can tell, it says that high-end wine sales are a predictor of U.S. economic health, which is not true and seems a silly thing for someone at Forbes to say. Because only five percent of the U.S. population buys wine that costs $20 or more, and the average price of a bottle of wine is about $10. So what the price of vineyard land in Napa Valley has to do with economic growth is beyond me. Which is probably why I do this and don’t write for Forbes.

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