Wine contains alcohol, which is just one of the many reasons I like it so much. A glass of wine can lift the spirits and make the world seem a very much more attractive place. But alcohol has the power to change our behavior and in particular to make us less careful, which is why I try never to drink without thinking of the consequences. I try to limit my wine drinking to times, places and circumstances in which the effect of alcohol are minimized or easy to cope with – with food , in the evening, relaxing either at home or somewhere I won’t have to drive from.
Wine’s alcohol content is also my most serious occupational hazard. conventionally the palate is thought to be most suited to professional wine tasting in the morning, so many is the day in which I tasted 80 wines before lunchtime. Like all professional wine tasters I carefully spit out every mouthful, but some alcohol always enter the system, either as dribbles of liquid or as vapor, so it takes enormous control and determination to feel stone cold sober after a wine tasting (which may be one of the reasons why everyone in the wine trade seems so frightfully nice).
In the days before proper sanitation, wine was regarded as a much healthier drink than water, because the alcohol and particular acid it contains kill off almost all bacteria that are harmful to man. Wine was regularly prescribed by doctors well into the twentieth century but for many decades we wine drinkers have received less encouraging messages.
Drinking too much alcohol can lead to alcohol dependency, accidents, liver damage and dementia. Connections have been made between heavy drinking and cancer of the mouth, strokes, raise blood pressure, increased infertility. A host of other unwelcome conditions have also been reported, which for much of the 1980s cast a shadow over even light social drinking. And in the United States women have been persuaded that any alcohol consumption during pregnancy may lead to birth defects, a message printed on every bottle of wine in commercial circulation.
The more recent news that there may be some positive health benefits from light to moderate drinking is therefore particularly welcome. Any sensible person can imagine how alcohol can relieve stress, but it has taken some rigorous research to demonstrate that drinking one or two glasses of red wine a day may help to reduce the risk of heart disease, the most common killer in western society. It seems that the phenolics that distinguish red wine from white reduce the amount of cholesterol deposited in the arteries making heart attacks less likely.
British medical authorities’ safe limits for average drinkers 21 units of alcohol for women and 28 for men (women’s body tissue being more prone to alcohol-related damage). A unit of alcohol is one- ninth of an average bottle of wine whose alcoholic strength is 12 per cent. To some drinkers these limits seem very conservative. I drink between a third and half of a bottle of wine most evenings and am consoled by the facts that safe limits are based on people’s own reporting of how much they drink, you find it is almost exactly half as much as HM customs know they consume.
Which nearly bring us to hangovers. Self-inflicted injury by far the worst sort . Drinking at least as much water as wine can help enormously, as does a good painkiller, particularly one that contains ibuprofen, after real party nights.