Thursday, February 23, 2012

What's the frequency?

My grandparents drink wine every day. I remember, when I was about 6 years old [15 years ago], my parents used to do that too. Now it’s when they see friends or for more special meals. Once or twice a week. Maybe three times...

Single conversations should not be accorded undue significance, but when they seem to illustrate statistical trends it’s worth paying them a little attention. The words in the first paragraph were spoken by a bright, wine-enthusiastic 21 year old French girl studying for her wine business Masters at the Dijon Business School. Her parents live in Rasteau where they have a vineyard and are members of the cooperative. Yes, that’s right, 50-something year-olds who grow grapes for a living now drink wine less frequently than many lawyers and doctors in London or New York.

It would be easy to dismiss these people as oddities, but as I say, they seem to illustrate official French statistics that show over a third of the population as officially non-wine-drinkers. (The figure for women is close to 50%). The 21 year old’s comment also reflects research findings that link regular consumption to advanced age. Every time an old Frenchman dies, the average per-capita consumption fractionally drops...

Later in the same conversation, there was another little insight. “
When I worked at the cellar door [in Rasteau] pouring wine for visitors, the men liked the [Cotes du Rhone] red and white but the women often said they found it too dry. And when that happened, the men didn’t buy...

As I say, it’s just an anecdote and easy to dismiss. Especially if you’re an ostrich-minded member of the wine industry (a large proportion of the breed, I fear), or someone who simply enjoys a daily glass or two and wants to see others gain the pleasure you do. Not forgetting the health benefits.

But there’s the rub. Or couple of rubs. Most of the articles I’ve read suggest that those health benefits are actually associated with daily doses of a very small glass – and certainly not the half bottle favoured by many who believe themselves to be moderate wine drinkers. In fact significant risk of serious liver damage apparently begins at four bottles per week. In other words, half a bottle a night and an extra half with your Sunday lunch is not exactly what the doctor ordered.

Then there’s the officially-sanctioned suggestion that we should all take a couple of alcohol-free days per week to avoid becoming dependent. I can think of plenty of my wine industry friends who find the idea almost unimaginable (“I can’t remember the last day I didn’t have at least a glass”). But how many other mind- and body-altering substances would we all feel happy about ingesting every 24 hours? Caffeine is the obvious riposte, and maybe a similar weekly break from that drug would be no bad thing either for those of us who can easily down two or three cups each tea and coffee between dawn and dusk...

So, over to you, dear reader. What’s your frequency? Daily? Once, twice or thrice weekly?


  1. I'll step up to the plate first.

    I have had pretty much a half bottle most nights for years. I can't remember when this started, as I'm sure I didn't do it before I worked in the wine business, but even then it was pretty regular.

    In recent years my wife and I have adopted the no-wine-Monday idea, not for fear of dependency really, but just to have a night off. This year we are trying to extend this to Tuesday as well .. though with little effect on me so far.

    I had my liver tested a couple of years ago (aged just under 40) and all was tickety-boo so feel OK about how much I have, though I also have to say this only works if, like me, you almost never drink spirits and only rarely have a beer either.

    My goal, as I "mature", is to reduce the quantity and increase the quality (yes, I am a trade cliche) but with honest effort it is possible.

    Does this constitute "therapy"?

  2. I've been drinking too much for years, ever since I started working in the wine trade and became interested in the subject. There are a lot of wines to try, and only exposure to the good and bad can sharpen the palate. It's an occupational hazard. A rather lovely one.

    But I do know that my consumption is above that of my 'normal' (ie. non winde trade friends) and as it becomes more and more habitual ('hmm, what shall I have to eat with my wine tonight?') it has become more of a niggling issue for me. Even before that Alister Campbell programme, amazingly.

    Sometimes I wonder if I'm in fact an alcoholic and if I could stop. So I'll not drink anything for a week, won't find it particularly difficult, and carry on as before, assuming I'm not an addict after all.

    But this year I'm trying something new. I'm giving up drinking for Lent. I'm not a religious person, but I do like the idea of fasting/abstinence as a way of testing one's character, and I'd like to see what person I'll be when I roll away the stone in Easter. Will I continue to drink as I have before (a third-to-half a bottle a night, more at the weekend, supplemented by beer and the occasional snifter of malt whisky 'if I feel I've a cold coming')?

    We'll see, though I doubt it'll change me much. I love wine. I imagine I always will. It'll probably do me some good though, and I look forward to sleeping better.

    1. Robert, William, thank you both for your frank responses. I've just realised that I haven't answered the question myself, so here goes. By the time we've bathed and put kids to bed, we both generally feel up to a glass of wine before/with dinner. We often fail to quote finish a bottle but what's left is often a pretty mean glass. If we're both home, we'd probably do that daily, obviously increasing the input at our own or others' dinner parties. However we generally take at least a day off (not systematically) per week.

  3. The Campbell programme prompted me to think that it's time for a liver scan (and general check up), which can be no bad thing. I do think that anyone in the wine industry has to be aware of the cumulative effect of tastings, lunches and what seems to be moderate evening consumption.

  4. I too drink most days and feel perhaps I shouldn't. What amazes me though is that when I am working in the evening, which is a regular occurence, and therefore only tasting and spitting, I find that I am wine-satiated. No need for a drink when I get home. I have yet though to put a spittoon on the dinner table. Perhaps I should!

  5. An interesting piece Robert. In terms of frequency I'm definitely moving to less rather than more - ie 3 times a week and half a bottle each time. This is not only for health reasons but economic reasons too, working in the wine business does give you expensive tastes so assuming you have no access to boundless supplies of free samples, and you share a bottle a night, this would amount to knocking on £200 a month.
    Then there's the 'need' for a glass of wine as a 'treat' as they mentioned on the Panorama programme. Between 7pm and 9pm is when I most crave a glass, then after I've eaten and it's past 9pm I can take it or leave it and it's usually the latter!
    We can all kid ourselves that the alcohol abuse is happening elsewhere - the kids out on a Saturday night downing vodka shots - but I can see just from friends and neighbours that excessive wine consumption is the norm for many. A group of 30 something professionals live next door and they appear to be permanently 'topped up' on chardonnay, then there's my new neighbour, a banker, working long stressful hours, everytime I meet him whether it's first thing in the morning or last thing at night he's always in some kind of inebriated state.
    I guess the old maxim rings true - moderation in all things. I love wine, I really enjoy sharing a bottle with friends but I need to make sure I am enjoying it and not needing it! So I've given it up for Lent as a 'willpower' test, just to prove I don't need it! Probably get a lot more stuff achieved in the evenings too :-)

  6. Thanks Laura,Alison. It's a tricky issue. But I think there was an interesting point made in the programme when the doctor said that we now combine traditional Anglo Saxon boozing with S European wine-with-food culture - and so end up with the worst of all worlds. The trouble as I found with my previous response to the Campbell programme is that many people really do seem to be very resistant to any suggestion that there's a problem we may have to address.

  7. Isn't the first symptom of Alcoholism called "denial".

    How many times do you hear people say..."I don't think I have got a problem....."

  8. Anonymous1:33 pm

    My issue with the good Panorama programme was it didn't go into why these educated well-off people became alcoholics. I drink up to half a bottle anywhere between 4-6 evenings a week. My wife may have 1 small glass from that 375ml. I limit myself by opening the 750ml bottle - pouring out exactly half and immediately putting the bottle away. I have never given in to going back to it. It is rare that the % declared is above 13.5 on the wines I drink. It is only during dinner parties perhaps once per month I consume 750ml+. I find it difficult not to have 1 glass of an evening but have periodically practised willpower over several nights of abstinence from time to time to prove I can. It is not much of a chore.

  9. Winerackd, thank you for your note. I have to say that your disciplined approach strikes me as unusual. I have no insight into why "educated well-off" - or any other - people become alcoholics, but I suspect from what others have said (see previous comments), it's something that one may slide into. Much as one might slide into a pattern of eating too much.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.