Posts Filed Under wine health
(images: brainboomer.com, jamieq.blogspot.com)
I work in two professions – Wine Consulting and Playing Rock Music – that pretty much guarantee that I am in close proximity to alcohol (and its potential abuse) a good portion of the time.
I love to drink. Specifically, I love to savor excellent wine (and beer), and admire the nuances, flavors, aromas, and overall artistic craftsmanship that a good drink can deliver. Most of all, I love sharing that experience with others. Wine connects us to a particular place and time, and connects us with each other – not just the place, time, and people that made it, but also the place, time and people with whom we enjoy it when we pop the cork.
And once in a blue moon, I like to overdo it a bit. Because getting buzzed with friends is, well, it’s just plain fun.
Notice I wrote “once in a blue moon” and not “every weekend.” In the rock-&-roll context of my life, I’ve seen first-hand what alcohol abuse can do to individuals, families, and even total strangers that come into unfortunate (and sometimes, in the case of drunk driving, catastrophic and tragic) contact with an abuser.
Genetics and personality traits are very important in determining anyone’s individual predilection towards abuse of alcohol, but it doesn’t help that cultural, and peer pressures (at least in the U.S. and the U.K.) tend to ridicule the appreciation of wine as snobbish, while at the same time aggrandizing inebriation as the height of fun in a social context.
That approach is completely ass-backward. I don’t have any pithy humorous sayings on that topic. It’s just so sad, stupid, and heartbreaking that I can’t make it funny and still respect myself.
Alcohol-related liver diseases (which are notoriously difficult to diagnose until they are advanced) have been on the rise in countries like Britain for years. Whether you drink or not, the rising abuse of alcohol (in the U.S. or the U.K. for example) is expensive for taxpayers and health insurance recipients who all help to fund health care systems that are having trouble keeping up without breaking their banks.
I’m not the first person to touch on how these dangers impact those of us in the wine consulting biz (check out this great series in Men’s Vogue for an example). But I thought I’d add to the on-line discussion by listing the tips that have helped me (so far) to successfully navigate the waters of wine appreciation while minimizing the damage to my liver (and my relationships)…
Abuse Is NOT ‘One-Size-Fits-All.‘ Safe levels of drinking can only ever be approximate. While you may read that having 2 drinks per day is the safe average level of consumption for someone of your weight and gender, these generalized figures don’t take into account your race, family history, or personality type. You can’t treat these as hard-and-fast rules – your safe levels may differ.
All Things In Moderation. If 2 drinks per day is a safe limit for you, that doesn’t mean that abstaining from drinking for one week means that you can safely consume 14 drinks over the weekend. If you are unsure if your current alcohol consumption levels are safe, consult alcoholism.about.com (or, better yet, talk to your doctor).
Treat Professional Settings Professionally. I’ve written before about the perils of industry tastings, so I won’t repeat all of that advice here. Bear in mind that just because free alcohol is available to you doesn’t mean that you are obligated to drink it. When you’re at industry tastings, don’t forget to spit, and don’t use it as an excuse to catch up on drinking that you think you’ve “missed out on” in the past.
Don’t Punish Yourself. If you’re not an abuser, drinking too much once in a long while shouldn’t upset you (unless it’s caused you to do something that you regret). Nobody’s perfect. Just make a mental note to improve the next time. If needed, ask your friends for support. (If you are an abuser, or concerned that you might be headed in that direction, then falling off the wagon is a big deal and might need the help of a professional).
Never, Ever, Under Any Circumstances Drink & Drive. This one should be obvious but amazingly I still know people who do this. This is never, ever safe under any circumstances. If you suspect that you’re going to have more than your normally safe level of alcohol, get someone else to drive – no excuses.
The wine sulfites battle rages on.
Some of you will recall that the Dude has been commenting on the topics of sulfites in wine, as well as biodynamic and organic wines.
Jason Haas over at Tablas Creek Vineyard has posted a great article on how the widely misunderstood fear of wine sulfite allergies (& “wine headaches”) has combined with overly-cautious (and poorly-constructed) U.S. wine regulations to cause winemakers unnecessary grief…
What U.S. Sulfite / Organic Regulations Mean for Winemakers
In a nutshell, it seems that the U.S. regulations regarding sulfite use for wines that are to be labeled ‘organic’ have a big negative impact on potential quality of the wine. That’s because some use of sulfites in higher quality wines is inevitable – otherwise the finished wine could be too unstable.
According to the Guidelines for Labeling: Wine with Organic References from the U.S. Dept. of Treasury – Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms:
“100% Organic” products cannot use added sulfi tes
in production. Therefore, since no add ed sulfi tes
are present in the fi nished product, the label may
not require a sulfi te statement. In these cases, a lab
analysis is necessary to verify that the wine contains
less than 10 ppm of sulfites.
Less than 10 ppm of sulfites… hmm… good luck! I wrote about the challenges of achieving such a low level of sulfites in wine before. Those winemakers that chase after the pot-o’-gold at the end of the marketing rainbow may make “organic” wines, but that will need to be done without much thought to the ultimate quality of the wine. Those winemakers that truly care about quality – well, they end up being discouraged from even trying to make wines that would be labeled “organic” by the U.S. government.
What U.S. Sulfite / Organic Regulations Mean for You
And who suffers the most – wine consumers. Because the average person is likely to a) be scared off because of the required sulfite warning labels on wines, often believing (mistakenly) that there last ‘wine headache’ was caused by sulfties, and b) assuming (mistakenly) that wines labeled as ‘organic’ are healthier and of higher quality, consumers can have a poor experience tasting a nasty unstable wine that is labeled ‘organic’ but sucks – and possibly get turned off to wine altogether because of that experience!
[WARNING: SARCASM] Gee… what’s not to love about this scenario? Besides everything, I mean… [END SARCASM]
Don’t Get Suckered into Following the ‘Organic’ Marketing Bandwagon
Unfortunately, it means that we wine lovers still need to have our wits about us when shopping for wine. Stay sharp, and don’t assume that a wine labeled as ‘organic’ is better for you or is higher quality, or contains no sulfites. Higher quality wines will contain sulfites and probably will NOT be labeled organic – but they will taste better, and in the grand scheme of things will be better for you, will provide better value for money, and will give you a better wine tasting experience!
Dieting – how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… OK, DONE!
No one really enjoys dieting, and while we may be of the epicurean mindset, even us wine lovers need to count the calories once in a while. To get our New Year’s resolutions off to the right start, I’ve put together some information for wine lovers who might be wondering how wine factors into their their dieting plans…
All alcoholic beverages have calories. This includes wine. Most wines contain a very small amount of sugars – a few grams – even wines that are totally “dry.” Very sweet dessert wines contain a bit more, but overall this will still be less than 10 grams on average. You may even find a small amount of Sodium (about 1% the recommended daily amount) and even carbs (around 5 grams, or about 2% DV). But those all contribute a very small amount of calories to the overall wine experience.
A Wine’s calories are largely a factor of alcohol content. Alcohol content accounts for 80% or more of the calories in a wine. A typical glass of wine – about 4 to 5 fl oz –
will contain about 100 calories. That’s the bad news. The good news – none of the calories are from fat (hey, there’s a bright side to everything!).
Wines with Less Alcohol Have Fewer Calories – but Not by Much. If you want to get more specific, a general rule of thumb (as published on Wineintro.com) is that this formula will give you the approximate calories for any specific glass of wine: 1.6 x percentage x oz in glass = total calories. So, if you pour yourself a 5oz glass of modest Italian white (say, 12% alcohol), you’re looking at 1.6 x 12 x 5oz = 96 calories. A big ol’ honkin’ glass of powerful California Zinfandel at 15% alcohol would be 1.6 x 15 x 5oz = 120 calories. Not a huge difference, but could be significant enough for you to change your wine choice at dinner, if you’re expecting to have more than one glass but are trying to watch your weight.
If You’re on a Diet, Drink Wine in Moderation. This one seems obvious, since in effect wine is contributing the the dreaded “liquid calories” (like soda) that most dieters try to avoid. But it’s a lot tougher than you’d think. Restaurant pours of wine seldom adhere to the 4-5oz average, and some restaurants may pour you a glass nearly double that amount. Which means that glass of big ol’ honkin’ CA Zinfandel is really more like 240 calories. If you’re on a diet, tread carefully when eating out.
Don’t Binge. Another seemingly obvious recommendation, but consider this: drinking alcoholic beverages is proven to relax your inhibitions, which in turn makes you more likely to do dumb stuff. That includes taking diet-unfriendly actions like eating more, choosing to eat foods that you should avoid while on your diet, and generally begets more drinking (thus more calories). Binging on wine while on a diet is definitely NOT diet-friendly.
If You’re Drinking & Dieting, Make Lower-Calorie Wine Choices. If you love wine way too much to cut it out of your diet, go for lower calorie wine options. Dry, lighter white wines will generally provide less calories. Heavy, fortified wines, like ports, will generally have the most calories. For more information, you can view a quick table of approximate wine calorie totals here, or check out the more comprehensive wine nutritional listings at calorieking.com.
Know When to Take a Break. The bottom line: if you are dieting, you need to cut back on the wine. If you’re a contestant on Biggest Loser, then it’s probably a good idea to abstain entirely from drinking alcoholic beverages of any kind for a short period of time (until you reach a safe weight-loss milestone, for example). Sure it will suck to go without your favorite Cab, but a healthier you is more likely to be around to enjoy future great vintages of your favorite wine.
Happy Holidays to all, and greetings from sunny FL!
A (very) quick update on my last post regarding low-sulfite wines, just to prove I’m not totally biased against all organic / biodynamic wines!
I’ve come across a few other quality wines (featured in body + soul magazine) that I’ve recently learned are either organically or biodynamically made (or both), and that I’ve found to be of good quality…
Thought I’d take a brief moment during my holiday respite to share these wine finds with you. Hope that anyone looking for low-sulfite wines (that don’t also totally suck!) will find this helpful:
- Bonterra Vineyards – Most of their wines are organic, and they make at least one decent wine that’s also biodynamic.
- Fetzer – All organic, with a big focus on recycling during production and distribution.
- Frey – Both organic & biodynamic, and vegan to boot!
- Quintessa – Fully biodynamic since 2005; probably the most fabulous biodynamic wine you’ll find out there, but you’ll pay for it!