It's hard to hear, yet again, about how even moderate amounts of alcohol can kill.

I've been writing about wine for nearly 37 years and the bearers of bad tidings have been haunting wine columnists for all that time. The word we all used in the late 1980s was neo-Prohibitionism, and the movement was rampant.

The late Dr. David Musto at Yale University wrote of neo-Prohibitionist movements in the United States and said they often were populated by people who thought they were doing good, but were misguided. Proof that banning all alcohol doesn't work was easily seen during the "great experiment" of 1919-1933 Prohibition that dramatically failed.

A report published last week seemed to be yet another in the scare stories that are a lot worse on the surface than experience shows us.

A supposedly carefully done study indicated that even modest use of alcohol may raise the risk of dying from cancer. But the way the stories I saw were written sounded a little fishy, if not downright misleading.

Take this phrase from an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, speaking of moderate alcohol intake and that "those who consumed 1.5 beverages daily may account for up to a third of those deaths, the researchers found."

This phrase contains two "copy editor red flags."

The use of the word "may" implies "may not" as well. And the phrase "up to" implies "zero to." This is not exactly precise language to use in a story on a "scientific" report that offers such scare tactics.

The Chronicle article, rightly in my view, quoted Dr. Curtis Ellison, professor of medicine and public health at Boston University School of Medicine, as well as Dr. Arthur Klatsky, adjunct investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research.

Both had views that differed from the study and both said many people who consume wine moderately live longer (and happier?) lives.

It may not be possible to prove conclusively and scientifically that moderate consumption of wine with meals on a daily basis leads to a longer and happier life. But I will rest my case with some facts that may, to some naysayers, seem to be merely coincidental:

Ages at death: wine maker Andre Tchelistcheff, 92; wine maker Louis Foppiano, 101; wine author and bon vivant Andre Simon, 92; wine lover/collector, author, and Bordeaux chateau manager Harry Waugh, 97; author Edmund Penning-Rowsell 89; winery owner Ernest Gallo, 97; vineyardist Julio Gallo, 83 (died while driving a 4-wheel drive vehicle in his vineyards); wine researcher and biochemist Dr. Ralph Kunkee, 84; winery owner Robert Mondavi, 94; wine maker Lee Stewart, 89; wine professor A. Dinsmoor Webb, 86; wine writer Robert Lawrence Balzer, 99; wine author Leon Adams, 90; wine researcher/professor Maynard Amerine, 87.

Still with us: winemaker John Parducci, 95; winemaker Charlie Barra, 86.


Wine of the Week: 2011 Rutherford Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley ($15) -- This attractive, floral white wine has a faintly minerally note and handsome spice notes. No herbal character, more melons and pears. A lovely rendition.

Dan Berger lives in Sonoma County, where he publishes "Vintage Experiences," a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at

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