How much is really too much?

27 July, 2007

Before you read this column, I'd like you to place your hand on your heart, mother's gravestone or

religious text of your choice. Then I'd like you to tell me how much alcohol you drink in an average week. Yes, I know there's no such thing as an average week in the booze trade, but this is a serious matter.

Now I 'd like you to tell me if you fall within the "daily benchmarks" that are part of the government's




To remind you of the recommended limits, they are

three to four units daily for men and

two to three units for women. If you're unsure about what constitutes a unit (and I admit

I had to ask the Wine

& Spirit Trade Association myself), it is 8g, or 1cl of pure alcohol.

If that doesn't mean much to you, there are 6.8 units in a bottle of Mosel Riesling at 9 per cent abv, 10.5 units in a bottle of Aussie Shiraz at 14 per cent abv and 15.4 units in a bottle of LBV

port at 20 units. In other words, you don't have to drink many bottles of wine at 14 per cent or above to reach your weekly ceiling. Even if you use the government's upper limit of four daily units, two-and-a-half bottles of Shiraz a week is what the government regards as "sensible" for a bloke. If you're a woman, it's two.

So how many of you qualify as sensible drinkers? Those of you who drink less than an average of a third of a bottle of wine a day are entitled to feel smug and healthy. But what about the rest of us, who (I suspect) are in the majority in the booze trade? Including tastings (where a certain amount of alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream even if you spit out the wines), I reckon I drink at least a ­bottle of wine a day. If that bottle has an average alcohol content of 13.5 per cent, or the equivalent of 10.1 units, then I am drinking nearly 71 units a week, which is two-and-a-half times the government's weekly benchmark.

Using the government's statistics, this makes me a "harmful drinker" at best and a fully-fledged alcoholic at worst. Do I have a problem? Not in my opinion. For a man in his 40s, I look and feel healthy. No red nose. No problem going without wine for a day or even a week. No violent ­alcohol-induced changes in mood. I don't mean to make light of this - alcohol addiction is a terrible thing - but I've always been rather partial to Dylan Thomas's definition of an alcoholic: "Someone you don't like who drinks as much as you do."

I don't deny that alcohol misuse causes tremendous problems in the UK in terms of violent crime, anti-social behaviour, drink-driving and public health. Nor am I advocating that the government doubles its sensible drinking limits to make people like me feel better about our drinking habits, although the limits seem low

given the proven benefits of moderate alcohol consumption.

But are you really a binge drinker if you have half a bottle of red with every evening meal?

It may be too late to change the way that a significant minority of Brits views booze (as a way to get legless, in short), but I firmly believe that most of us know when we've had enough and are all too aware of what a hangover feels like. We are also sufficiently aware of our bodies to know what "sensible" drinking means in the longer term.

For me, that means a bottle a day. For you, it may be more or less than that. But in the final analysis, it's your choice, not the government's.

Boring Bordeaux doesn't deserve accolade

I was bemused to hear that UNESCO has declared Bordeaux a World Heritage site

due to the quality of its "monuments and buildings and their architectural style".

A local bureaucrat added that the award

recognises the "tremendous renovation work"

to "enhance Bordeaux's architectural heritage".

Are they talking about the place that looks like a permanent building site whenever I visit? The trams that will eventually transform Bordeaux into a modern city with decent transport links are long overdue, as anyone who visits

Vinexpo will appreciate - but for the

past few years they have turned the place into an eyesore.

I can see why UNESCO made St Emilion one of its 851 World Heritage sites back in 1999, given its outstanding beauty

- but Bordeaux?

Surely there are better and more attractive candidates in the world of wine than this rather dull provincial city?


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