Let’s start with the short version: we all need to calm the hell down.
If social media reaction is any indication, the wine world is losing its shiz over the potential implications of an interesting study highlighted recently on The Academic Wino blog by Becca Yeamans-Irwin. Why we seem to go through this in April of each year I don’t know, but maybe the pursuit of an answer to that is worthy of its own study?
Anyway, according to that blog post, a 2015 study from the journal Food Chemistry suggests the following (quoted from the article):
“…it is possible that the perception of different wine aromas can be altered by physiological factors like mouth temperature, saliva composition, or the oral microbial community present in each individuals’ mouths.”
The study found that an individual’s unique oral microbiota makeup is capable of hydrolyzing certain compounds found in both grapes and in wine, thus changing how the wine’s flavor and aromas are perceived on an individual basis. The process potentially gives some scientific explanation as to why individuals perceive different aromatic and flavor aspects when tasting the same wine. All of which lead Yeamans-Irwin to conclude that
“This [sic] result could have profound implications on how we understand wine tasting and the perception of aromas and flavors for any given wine.”
The problem is that a lot of people seem to be ignoring the “could” part of her statement…
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Recently, a 1WD reader wrote in to ask me what I thought about the recent spate of news indicating that alcohol is bad for your health. Here’s his initial correspondence, which he gave me permission to share with you all:
I was reading a few articles in Decanter for class when I came across one (admittedly attention-grabbing) article. The UK’s equivalent of the Surgeon General has apparently decided there’s “no safe level of drinking”. She has also cut the guideline maximum for men weekly to 14 units (a unit is approximately 2.5 US fluid ounces of 13% abv wine). Here is the article: http://www.decanter.com/wine-news/uk-alcohol-guidelines-no-safe-drinking-level-as-daily-limit-cut-287142/.
To put it mildly, I think this is complete and utter bullshit. It’s not that I think moderate alcohol consumption is bad–far from it. Indeed, I think there are people who should try to avoid alcohol completely, including those who have no control over their own drinking whatsoever. However, from what I’ve read over the years, there is a “J-shaped curve” associated with various diseases (particularly coronary-related) and alcohol consumption. A quick internet search led me to this for cardiovascular health: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/562474_2, and WineAnorak had this for other benefits: http://www.wineanorak.com/healother.htm.
While there are health risks associated with alcohol use, as well, including oesophageal cancers, there are health risks associated with nearly everything. Taking a stroll after work is healthy, for example, but there’s a risk I could get hit by a car, or get hypothermia or heat stroke (depending on the weather), or bitten by a mosquito carrying West Nile virus. Even hiding at home trying to avoid all risks of mortality doesn’t rule out dying of various things, such as unexpected meteor impact, heart attack from a combination of lack of exercise and stress from perceived impending doom, or starvation since I’d run out of groceries eventually if I refuse to leave the house. Paranoia to that extent is almost reason to cause someone to drink.
Sorry about that rant. I read that article and it riled me up; I felt it would be something I’d love to hear your opinion and commentary on, as well.
In a follow-up correspondence, he had this to add about the subject:
I read another two studies about raised breast cancer risks from light-to-moderate alcohol usage as compared to abstinence this last week. One was a study of about 48000 people from the 1980s to 2010. The other was a meta-study. Both found an approximately 10% risk of breast cancer in abstainers, and an approximately 12.5% risk in light-to-moderate drinkers. I didn’t see anything about mortality, metastasizing, or recurrence. It didn’t seem that other risk factors besides smoking were necessarily controlled for. I’ll have to use some Google-fu to find them again, but though neither was precisely friendly towards alcohol, what I understood from their conclusions was essentially, “There’s a slightly elevated risk of breast cancer from drinking alcohol. It’s not much to worry about, but if you are paranoid, you can stop drinking.”
Now, bearing in mind that, to the best of my knowledge, neither he nor I are medical professionals, here’s my take on all of this…
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One of the staples of my recent speaking gigs to wine marketing types has been that wine, having achieved extraordinary success in the USA in recent years, are now a big target. A small example:
During a speaking gig at Taste Washington, I remember seeing the beer brand stands at the event and laughing to myself. Someone next to me at the time (who was involved in the organization of the event) asked me what was amusing me, and I answered “the beer stands.”
“But why are they funny? They’re great sponsors!”
“I’m sure that they are,” I answered, “because this is one of the cheapest and best ways for them to steal wine customers that I have ever seen!”
I’ve been preaching (let’s call it what it is, after all) for the last couple of years that everyone is going to be gunning for wine: beer, spirits, coffee, pretty much all beverages. That’s because once you reach the top – which wine has, in a very real sense, done – everyone can see more of your ass, and it becomes a nice, large, juicy sales-acquisition target.
For the impatient: the bottom line is that the a declining US wine consumption has been totally predictable for the last 3+ years, and the efforts required to reverse it have been around for just as long, and (it’s absurd that I even need to type this next part) it’s not the fault of the changing wine buying demographic for wines under $20.
For those wishing for more detail: we now have two interesting canary-in-a-coalmine examples to consider that suggest that is actually what is happening….
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