A Drink is Not a Drink

19 10 2008

I’m often asked to speak about wine and health which is ironic, I am the first to admit that my career does not always bring with it the most healthy drinking patterns.  But who hasn’t underestimated their consumption to their doctor…

But lately I have been thinking a lot about healthy drinking.  It’s said that a glass of wine for women or two for men can be healthful, whether for combatting the common cold, decreasing bad cholesterol, or relieving stress.  And some of us may partake of more than that, but it’s a good guideline.  Lately I have been more and more aware of the percentage alcohol in what I am drinking, it didn’t take too many times of imbibing left-over samples for me to become more cautious.

I an also very aware of how alcohol impairs my ability to drive, and I am very conscious of the amount I am drinking if I have my car with me.  Many times I have left my car overnight rather than risk it.

So you are wondering, well what’s the point?  Well, even those of us that are incredibly cautious can be surprised by the alcohol levels in certain wines nowadays.  I am not going to rant and rave about rising alcohol in California (although it’s happening here and in Europe too) but for those of you that are not in the business, I did want to remind you that it’s important to track not how many drinks you have had in how many hours, but the percentage of alcohol that is in your bloodstream.  This is vital in determining whether you are within the legal limitations in your state (or country, France has in recent years made their BAC limit 0.04!).  This can be very difficult to estimate especially because it depends on the absorption rate (whether you have eaten or are on medication can make a great difference), your weight and specifically percentage of body fat, your gender (women generally metabolize alcohol more slowly than men) and other factors.

To add to the complexity of the calculation add in the percentage alcohol and portion size of what you are consuming!  There’s a great difference between a 6 ounce glass of 13% alcohol wine and an 8 ounce glass of 14.5% wine.  In the UK, for example, there are clear guidelines for measured pours of beer, wine and spirits, so you generally know what to expect with serving size.  In the US we don’t have such standards, and those BAC charts or converters usually estimate a standard glass of wine as 5-6 ounces, and most assume that glass is 13% alcohol.  Alcohol levels of 13% are rare today and add to that the amount stated on the label can vary and wines between 7 and 14% alcohol can merely be labeled “Table Wine”.  Take a look next time you are in the store buying a bottle and you will be surprised.  I am doing a review of some California wines and the alcohols of ALL range from 14.3% (lowest) to 15%!

I also found a helpful formula on the Virgina Tech website, it can help you estimate “standard drinks” see link below.

6 ounce glass of 13% alcohol wine 1.56 standard drinks (8 ounces 2.08) 

6 ounce glass of 14% alcohol wine 1.68 standard drinks (8 ounces 2.24)

6 ounce glass of 15% alcohol wine 1.8 standard drinks (8 ounces 2.4)

I’m not against higher alcohol wines, but keep these factors in mind, and maybe think about drinking some of those with a designated driver or in front of the fire at home.  I remember one day leaving the McDonald’s drive through with my mother and then four year old brother Omar.  As she sipped her Coke he screamed “MOM!  You shouldn’t drink and drive!”  He’s right!




One response

20 10 2008
amy atwood

This is exactly why I rarely drink spirits anymore, especially at bars or restaurants.

One heavy handed bartender later and you have had the equivalent of 3 drinks instead of one!

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