Irrational Exuberance for Wine

I’ll return soon to the sheer joy of drinking wine, I promise, but for the moment, I’m still intrigued by this impulse to pretend that wine drinking isn’t exactly drinking, that it’s something else. For example, I searched Wine Spectator online, under the subject “alcoholism.” Here are the first two search results:

• “Rats Bred to Drink Alcohol Live Longer Than Those Bred to Avoid It, Study Finds”
• “What Would Darwin Say About Drinking? Some Scientists Believe Humans Evolved to Enjoy Alcohol”

Another article included a huge list of links to stories about the health benefits of wine drinking: good for high blood pressure, not linked to irregular heartbeat, helps with heart disease in the elderly, may reduce damage from smoking, destroys certain bacteria, carries an anticancer agent, alleviates bronchitis and emphysema, may not lead to weight gain, helps women get pregnant, reduces risk of rectal cancer, may hold the secret to the fountain of youth, should be recommended by doctors, may prevent skin cancer, reduces scars from radiation treatments, lowers the likelihood of dementia in the elderly, lowers your chances of having a heart attack, lowers your chances of having a second heart attack, fights prostate cancer, lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes in women, makes you less likely to catch a cold, is good for the brain, slows the hardening of the arteries, makes you smarter, richer, and healthier, has more health benefits than beer or liquor, and increases bone mass in elderly women.

Not a single article emerged about the fact that drinking wine is drinking alcohol, as in getting buzzed. And so what, right? Wine Spectator is a for-profit entertainment product devoted to the love of wine. It’s not a public-interest foundation or a government body, and it has no responsibility to play the scold. Further, every one of these wine-is-healthy articles emphasizes light to moderate wine consumption, and makes it clear that heavy drinking is unhealthy. Actively promoting moderate drinking is exactly where the Spectator ought to operate.

But still, this is an enormous amount of exuberance devoted to the joys of intoxication. And I suppose it interests me for personal reasons: My own impassioned love of wine, motivated by the desire to learn as much as I can as fast as I can, has led to an astounding uptick in the amount of drinking I’m doing. In absorbing all the good health news about wine consumption, and the culture of intellectual joy that comes along with wine appreciation, I’ve also acquired a kind of unconscious certainty that all this new drinking is positively great for my health, sanctioned by medical experts and the world’s great cultures alike. The joys of the wine journey have also contributed: Every glass of every new-to-me wine carries the pleasure of discovery, and a broadening of knowledge, and deepened astonishment at the varied complexity in fermented grape juice from around the world. But I guess I’m at one of these minor readjustment crossroads, a fork that I bet many, many wine writers and wine professionals have hit. And it has something to do with finding a way to keep alive this exuberance, to maintain the same dizzying forward pace on this wine-loving journey, without becoming a fat drunk.

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