First published in The Irish Times, January 14th, 2017
I have given up giving up. I don’t avoid alcohol in January or November. Throughout the year, I try not to drink on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. I dismiss most research showing the positive effects of alcohol, but reckon that wine and beer have been around for more than 5,000 years, so a moderate consumption is unlikely to harm me.
I post my consumption online every week, and it usually consists of six bottles, enjoyed by two or more of us over four nights. Not all are empty either, but under current HSE guidelines, I am still probably drinking too much. The HSE advises no more than 11 standard drinks a week for women and 17 for men. For wine, a standard drink is 100ml. (35.5ml for spirits, and half-pint for beer), much smaller than the average serving in a pub, restaurant or at home. A measure often contains two or more standard drinks. Ely Wine Bars are one of the few establishments to provide a marking on the glass. Their 187.5 ml serving is a ¼ bottle of wine.
The HSE guidelines are for wines with 12.5 per cent alcohol; most wines contain more, and it can be challenging to work out how many units you are drinking. One (industry-sponsored) website explained that multiplying the alcoholic volume of a wine by 0.8 (the alcoholic density of wine) gives you the grams of alcohol. So 12.5 multiplied by .8 = 10 grams of alcohol in a 100ml serving which represents one unit. A 15 per cent bottle of wine (12 grams of alcohol per 100ml) has nine units, while a lighter German Riesling Kabinett might contain 6.5.
Binge-drinking is defined as six units or more at one sitting. If, over the course of an evening meal, you have an aperitif, followed by a glass of white wine with your starter and two generous glasses of red wine with your main course, you are a binge drinker. Or if you consume more than three pints of beer or three glasses of wine on a night out. This probably includes a sizeable portion of the Irish population.
We already have the highest tax on wine in Europe, so pricing may have a limited influence, although alcohol consumption has actually fallen 20 per cent since 2002. What we need urgently is a change of attitude. Twice recently I heard radio presenters laughing about how we drink ourselves into oblivion on stag weekends and at staff Christmas parties. It was the usual boasts of “if you can remember it, you didn’t have a good time” and “how bad was your hangover”. I also heard a friend dismiss her teenage son’s binge drinking with a shrug and a “sure what can you do?” If we continue to think like this, no legislation or minimum pricing is going to make any difference.
0.0% (0 Units)
An alcohol-free Muscat that is the closest I have tasted to the real thing. A refreshing enjoyable drink.
Stockists: Very widely available.
12% (less than a unit per 100ml serving)
Light and refreshing apple fruits, with a wonderful zestiness.
Stockists: O Learys, Cootehill; Clontarf Wines; Hole in the Wall; O’Driscoll, Ballinlough, Quintessential Wines, Drogheda.
15% (1.2 units per 100ml serve)
Seemingly restrained with damson fruits, good acidity and a very attractive mineral core. Great wine with real character.
Stockists: Corkscrew; Gibney’s, Malahide; Redmond’s, Ranelagh; Corkscrew, Chatham Street, Dublin 2; Blackrock Cellar.