Monday, March 24, 2008

How Much Can You Drink?

There is considerable evidence that consumption of alcohol can have beneficial health effects, however as we have seen the recommended consumption differs between countries. Here in the USA it is two standard drinks for men with a standard drink being 13.7 grams of alcohol; this is often rounded out to 14. But not all wines have the same alcohol content, usually expressed as percent alcohol by volume (ABV). How much does alcohol content affect the volume of wine that I can drink to get my two standard drinks, or 28 grams of alcohol?

Calculating the volume of alcohol in milliliters (mls) in your wine is quite simple. If a wine is 12.5% ABV that means that 100 mls of wine contains 12.5 mls of alcohol. If its a 14% wine then it will contain 14 mls of alcohol/100mls of wine. However the volume and weight of alcohol are not equivalent; alcohol is less dense than water. So to get grams of alcohol you need to multiply the volume by the density of ethanol (0.789 grams/ml). So 100 ml of a 12.5% wine contains 9.86 grams and for a 14% wine it will be 11.05. The table below shows how much you can drink in standard drinks (5 ounces or 150 ml) or in volume (in mls) to reach that magic number of 28 grams of alcohol for wines between 12.5 to 16% alcohol by volume.

Alcohol by volume*Alcohol by Weight**Standard Drinks to reach 28 grmsVolume (mls) to reach 28 grms

































*mls/100mls; **grams/100mls

But what if you want to exceed 28 grams? How much can you consume before your blood alcohol content (BAC) exceeds the legal limit. There is absolutely no doubt that equivalent consumption of higher alcohol wines will increase your blood alcohol content but what are the limits with wines of different alcohol content? For these calculations I have used the BAC from Celtic Kane simply because it allows input of a number of variables including alcohol level of the wine, number of drinks, time elapsed during drinking,etc.

Warning: BAC calculators are an estimate only and no one should assume that they are absolutely correct as they do not consider all factors involved.

As a 750 ml bottle contains 25.4 fluid ounces let’s say that a half bottle is 12.7 and if we pour a 5 ounce glass (150 mls) then we would consume 2.54 glasses; these numbers are all for convenience, anyone can add their own numbers to work out their BAC under different situations. I’ll use my weight (170lbs), a metabolic rate of Frequent Drinker, and an elapsed time of 2.5 hours; roughly a glass an hour which is about the speed I drink while having dinner or watching an hour or two of TV or doing some reading.

If I’m drinking a 13% alcohol wine my BAC would be 0.019. For a 14.5 %er it would be 0.027, and if I’m sipping on a monster Zinfandel or a high octane Shiraz of 16% my BAC would be 0.035. The difference between the 13 and 14.5 % wines is not that large; for example the time to achieve complete sobriety differs by less than 30 minutes. As expected the 16% alcohol wine will raise my BAC more but I’m still not legally drunk and in less than 2 hours I should be completely sober; with the 13% wine I’ll be completely sober in just under an hour, and in less than 1.5 hours for the 14.5%er.

If I drink 4 glasses at 5 ounces a glass then the 16% will make me just legally impaired at a BAC of 0.084, while the 13 and 14.5 % wines will not. But we are talking about daily wine drinking that uses commonsense rather than consumption for its own sake.

Of course all this assumes that the wine level on the bottle label is even close to being correct. A wine labeled below 14% can have a 1.5% variation over or under, while a 14% wine can have a 1% variation. So a 13.9% wine could be a 15.4%er, and a 14.5% wine could be a 15.5% wine.

Considering my own experience I don’t suffer any ill effects from consumption of between 2-3 glasses of (dry) wine per day; I’m sure everyone’s mileage varies on this point. However I would not drink three 5 oz glasses of some of my favorite Australian fortified wines that can be 18% alcohol, even though my BAC would only be 0.063. The reason? As much as I love them, sometimes too much of a good thing does dull the appreciation.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Is Food and Wine Pairing Just a Big Scam?

Alder Yarrow, of Vinography, seems quite convinced that it is. On one level I’m sort of surprised that Alder didn’t receive a flood of criticism about this stance; the majority of comments actually support his view. Now to be fair to Alder I have to note that he is not totally against wine and food pairing. He is more concerned with the idea that one individual’s wine/food pairing is not necessarily going to be universally acceptable. Its not an easy task to convince folks that differences in sensory perception between individuals is a significant argument against finding universally appealing wine and/or food. Pairing the two only compounds the problem. It all comes back to that basic tenet of wine appreciation - drink what YOU like. Or in the case of food eat what you like with whatever wine YOU feel is appropriate.

On a lighter note. As is always the situation in discussions on wine and food, the food friendliness of wines with higher alcohol was raised in several of the comments to Alder’s post. I liked his response

This may be the subject of a future rant, but the only people who seem to really
dislike high alcohol wines are some super high-end wine geeks, some winemakers,
and the wine journalism establishment (many of whom I think secretly like those
wines but are now being pressured into saying they don't).

I’ll be interested to see what he writes on this.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Does wine have a future?

Here in the USA the future is called The Young Winos of LA, and if you read this you just might believe that they will change the world of wine.

An excerpt: The Millennials popped onto the wine industry radar in 2003 as drinkers remarkably different than those of previous generations. They like to learn through experience, by drinking instead of reading or tracking point scores from big-name critics such as Robert Parker. They glean information through Internet search engines rather than from books, magazines and newsletters aimed at people who aspire to be collectors. "They don't go for any of the folderol," Gillespie says.

The statistics bear that out, he says. Of the wine purchased by the 70 million Americans ages 21 to 30, 40% is imported. That purchasing tendency has been credited with pushing the rate of growth in sales of imported wines ahead of domestic wines, Gillespie says. Gen-Xers (the 45 million people ages 31 to 44) buy imported wines 32% of the time, whereas imports account for only 26% of wine purchased by 77 million baby boomers.