Skip to main content

Posts

Why can some people drink only European wines? It’s probably not what you think.

Who doesn’t know someone who swears they can drink wines when they are in Europe but has a reaction to wine back home? Theories abound as to why this occurs, but none of them completely explains the problem. Suspect sulfites? Maybe, but that is almost certainly not the issue for most. Pesticides possibly? A tasting room server pressed that idea on me recently, claiming that American winemakers use more of them and they accumulate in our fat tissue over our lifetime, increasing our sensitivity to them. But evidence suggests otherwise, at least as far as pesticide use is concerned. Is it lower alcohol content? There is a persuasive case to be made for that, but as European winemakers chase higher scores, the alcohol content increases there too. Each of these premises may apply to some degree, but I have another idea to toss into the mix: I think that when we are in Europe, we drink differently. We are probably on vacation, and we are more relaxed. We are more likely to drink in a tradit…
Recent posts

A single drink a day unsafe? Not so simple.

I wanted this blog to be about the healthy role of wine in everyday life that I observed on my trip to Austria and Hungary last week, not the latest salvo against alcohol from another big study. It’s getting tiresome seeing an important issue being muddled in the search for clarity, and I don’t like the idea that a reasonable person viewing the same data but seeing something else might be seen as an apologist for the alcohol industry. Yet the same mistakes endure, both in the studies themselves and the reporting on them. They are technically correct and fundamentally wrong at the same time. First the happy part: What I saw in Europe, as I have on previous trips, was a view of wine as a normal part of everyday life. Wineries are still often family businesses, with everyone contributing. At a winery in the Etyek region of Hungary we were served by the owners and their teenage daughter. In our wine tasting group was a 20-year old woman from Finland, on holiday with her mother and grandmot…

Mixed message on a bottle: Will the proposed wine warning label endanger “the soul of France?”

France’s health minister Agnès “buzzkill” Buzyn has again provoked the ire of the wine industry with a new proposal to require a large red warning label on all bottles, admonishing pregnant women to avoid all alcohol and reminding buyers of the legal age limit (18) for drinking. A coalition of 64 of France’s top winemakers are pushing back, declaring in a letter to Le Figaro that this is nothing less than an affront to the soul of their country. As translated by British newspaper The Telegraph, the letter implores their countrymen to recognize the importance of the “thousands of tourists [who] come to discover this France, bosom of the art de vivre that is the envy of the world and where wine plays a leading role.” They mourn the prospect of bottles defaced “with labels covered in lugubrious and deathly signs.” Warning labels are already required in France as in many other countries, but the size is not specified; Buzyn want a 2 cm (about an inch) wide red banner. I cringe at the thou…

Why I am not surprised that the NIH cancelled the alcohol-health study

Not long after enrolling the first patients in the much hyped prospective study on alcohol and health, the National Institutes of Health recently announced that they were pulling the plug. I am actually more surprised that they ever got it off the ground in the first place. As I wrote a year ago when the study was still in its planning stages, there were too many competing interests, criticisms of the study design, and concerns about funding to expect that whatever results came out would be universally accepted. Nevertheless, I am disappointed. The study, called Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health Trial (MACH) was intended to provide hard evidence about the health effects of moderate alcohol consumption by prospectively assigning subjects with heart disease to one drink per day or not drinking, which they were to follow for up to 10 years. Most existing data on the question is retrospective, or simply tracks a subject population according to their drinking preferences, which i…

How globalization of drinking habits threatens the French paradox

It seems that the more studies we see on the relationship between wine and health, and the larger they are, the more contradictory the results. Headlines summarizing comprehensive international studies declare the French paradox dead, and all alcoholic beverages are equally detrimental. I think there is an overlooked explanation for this: over the past several decades, convergence of drinking patterns around the world has separated wine from its role as a daily part of a meal. Globalization has commoditized our views about drink, toppling it from its role as a culturally specific emblem. Global convergence of drinking There are several recent reports summarizing the trend,[i],[ii],[iii]and it applies for both developed and developing countries. Since the early 1960s, wine’s share of global alcohol consumption has more than halved, declining from 35% to 15%. Beer and spirits have taken up the slack, with beer gaining 42% and spirits adding 43%, both large gains. The bigger story howeve…

California’s new coffee cancer warning no more than a tempest in a teapot

Europeans have their daily wine, Asians their tea, but it has been estimated that the primary source of dietary antioxidants for the average American is coffee. An impressive lineup of scientific articles attests to coffee’s health benefits, but in March 2018 a California judge ruled that coffee roasters and retailers will have to post a cancer warning label. According to a group called The Council for Education and Research on Toxics, a chemical called acrylamide that forms in trace amounts during roasting is potentially carcinogenic. Citing a law passed in 1986 known as Proposition 65, they sued Starbucks and dozens of other companies. Despite a lack of evidence that acrylamide levels in coffee are enough to cause harm in humans, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle ruled for the plaintiffs. In so doing, he ran counter to guidance from the World Health Organization, which officially dropped coffee from its list of possible carcinogens in 2016. The WHO’s determination was bas…

The new French Paradox: How health officials are giving the wrong message about wine

French health minister Agnès Buzyn recently created a major buzzkill across the winemaking world by denouncing claims that wine could be beneficial and increase longevity. Ms. Buzyn, a hematologist, broke with wine loving President Emmanuel Macron, saying in a television interview that “The French population is led to believe that wine protects them, that it offers benefits that other alcohol does not. Scientifically, wine is an alcohol like any other.” This is true only in the narrowest sense, and wrong in the larger sense. Here’s why: Yes, it’s technically accurate to state that alcohol (ethanol) distilled from wine, beer or spirits is the same, but the conclusion that all beverages are equally detrimental is fallacious. We don’t consume the alcohol independently of the source. The benefits of wine are attached to the lifestyle of moderate consumption with meals; the pattern of drinking matters. But to the larger point, wine’s health benefits are not exclusively derived from lifestyl…