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Prohibitionist dogma has no place in government alcohol guidance

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Imagine you’re at a friend’s party. You finish nursing your first beer and casually reach for a second. Everyone immediately stops and stares. Your friends start whispering to themselves, wondering if they should stage an intervention.

Ridiculous and unjustified, right?

Wrong—at least according to new draft guidance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which nonsensically recommends that men have no more than one alcoholic beverage per day.

For decades, the government has urged Americans to drink in “moderation.” Historically, that has meant up to two drinks per day for men and one for women.

This differing advice results from physiology, not sexism. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “alcohol resides predominantly in body water, and pound for pound, women have less water in their bodies than men. This means that after a woman and a man of the same weight drink the same amount of alcohol, the woman’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC, the amount of alcohol in the blood) will tend to be higher.” 

Based on decades of scientific evidence collected around the world, this advice has been a key reference point for consumers, health care providers, and alcohol researchers like me.

But in July, the USDA released a draft report overturning this decades-old, evidence-based guidance. Officials proposed setting the limit at just one drink per day for both men and women.

This change is based on shockingly flimsy grounds. In fact, the USDA advisory panel acknowledged in the report that “only one study examined differences among men comparing one versus two drinks.” 

Yes, that’s correct: The panel is relying on just one study to radically change the U.S. government’s 30-year guidance on moderate drinking for men. The panel also made broad-brush statements like “risk increases above zero drinks” and “alcohol is an unhealthy substance.” 

That kind of moralizing would gladden the hearts of 19th-century prohibitionists, but it has no place in modern, evidence-based dietary guidelines. Alcohol use disorders among men have declined over 30% between 2009 and 2019, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 

It’s telling that the advisory panel describes its proposal as “aspirational”—which is to say, not science-based. Nor is it realistic. Who but a prohibitionist would consider having more than one drink per day to be alcohol abuse?

This change isn’t merely academic. It’ll have significant real-world consequences. Health care practitioners refer to dietary guidance when conducting screening and brief interventions for their patients’ alcohol consumption.

We can’t seriously expect physicians to have meaningful discussions about alcohol abuse if the threshold for concern is having a couple beers at game night or more than one glass of wine at a dinner party.

Of course, alcohol abuse is a serious problem for some people. And impaired driving remains a major issue.

However, the vast majority of adults who drink do so in moderation. Providing evidence-based guidance to inform their drinking is critical.

The proposal to redefine “moderate” drinking for men is not supported by the latest research and scientific evidence. Government guidance on alcohol consumption that lacks credibility will be widely ridiculed and disregarded, undercutting the effectiveness of the USDA’s official dietary guidelines.

David J. Hanson is professor emeritus of sociology at the State University of New York at Potsdam. He has specialized in alcohol research throughout his career. 

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Champagne is too special to be enjoyed only on special occasions. Here are 5 bottles to pop anytime this winter

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Along with almost every major celebration comes a call to pop open the bubbly. Champagne has a long-standing reputation for being the go-to drink to celebrate or toast to any special occasion and is even a defining drink for New Year’s Eve. But there’s more to Champagne than the big countdown or that rare milestone. After this year, a lesson worth taking away is that you shouldn’t wait for the special occasion. Instead, make the occasion special on your own. Champagne is a sublime way to do that.

First, let’s get a few requirements out of the way. Remember: For Champagne to be true Champagne, it has to be produced in the eponymous northeast region of France. Everything else is simply sparkling wine—although there are many, many equally satisfying and sophisticated sparkling wines out there that go by other names, such as Crémant (made in the same style as traditional Champagne but produced in other regions within France), Cava (Spain), and Franciacorta (Italy). And word to the wise: Officially, there is no such thing as “American Champagne” or “California Champagne.” It’s simply sparkling wine here, too. Anything else is just marketing.

And then there are three primary grapes used to produce Champagne: white Chardonnay grapes and red Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes; a blend of the three is what makes up most classic nonvintage bottles.

But there are many more styles of Champagne that deserve to be enjoyed just as often as any other wine. For those who are interested in the terroir (soil), a Blanc de Blancs is made using only Chardonnay grapes, a grape considered to be one of the most expressive of its terroir. While rosé has risen astronomically in popularity in the past decade, rosé Champagne has been produced since the 18th century. For the collectors, the Champagne houses also offer prestige cuvées, the finest Champagne the house produces and perfect for aging.

Here is a selection of certified Champagne wines in a variety of styles to consider popping open anytime this winter.

Beau Joie: Beau Joie specializes in zero dosage (no added sugar) Champagnes, aiming to appeal to a more health-conscious consumer. (That said, remember this is still an alcoholic beverage, and there is no such thing as a “clean wine” or a purely “healthy wine.”) Zero dosage allows the purity of the fruit to shine through without being masked by the addition of sugar. While it’s not easy to create such a delicately balanced bottle without adding sugar, as is common in the industry, consumer demand for this low-sugar approach has been on the rise for the past few years. Beau Joie’s bottles are extra special on the outside, too, as they are encased in an intricate suit of armor made from second-generation scrap copper, a functional design element that helps cool the Champagne quicker (ideal for impromptu celebrations) and keeps it colder for longer without the need for an ice bucket, which, shockingly, not everyone has at home. SRP: $69.

Champagne Henriot

Many wine lovers keep old bottles around for home decor, but Champagne Henriot takes it to the next level with its limited-edition Garden Box Rosé Kit: It not only includes a bottle of brut rosé but also can be used as a flowerpot. This copper pink–hued rosé blend showcases Pinot Noir grapes from the Montagne de Reims while retaining the fresh minerality of Chardonnay, with a palate of red berry fruits. SRP: $75.

Valentin Leflaive

Valentin Leflaive is the culmination of prolific Burgundy producer Olivier Leflaive and Erick de Sousa of Champagne de Sousa, from Avize in la Côte des Blancs. The result is a Champagne with unique minerality and complexity thanks to the Burgundy barrels. This Champagne rosé is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes from the Montagne de Reims. The base wine (70% of the blend) is aged for seven months in stainless-steel vats. The 30% of reserve wine added was aged in Burgundy barrels, those used to make grands crus wines from Olivier Leflaive. Following the secondary fermentation, the wine was aged for 20 months in a cellar. Elegant and bright with red fruit flavors, the Champagne offers a fine mousse that supports the fresh and complex citrus notes with distinct hints of lemon, cherry, and strawberry. SRP: $75.

Ayala

The boutique maison, led by chef de cave Caroline Latrive (one of the only female cellar masters in the region), produces Chardonnay-focused wines that deliver immediate pleasure, freshness, and elegance. Ayala is, for the most part, an under-the-radar Champagne brand. But the 2013 Blanc de Blancs could change minds on that one. Produced only in exceptional years, this 100% Chardonnay wine is the ultimate expression of Latrive’s winemaking style. It offers remarkable minerality and roundness. And the flavors build as it sits in the glass—becoming almost velvety—with notes including passion fruit, citrus, white peaches, and honey. SRP: $110.

Pol Roger:

Pol Roger is one of the few Grande Marque (most prestigious) Champagne houses that remains family-owned and operated. It is known for its tradition of aging and hand-riddling every bottle in the 4.66-mile-long cellars under the estate’s château, situated on the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay, France. The house’s rosé exhibits a deep salmon-pink color with a fine stream of small bubbles. The nose has aromas of ripe fruit with elements of citrus (blood orange), pomegranate, and small wild red berries. On the palate, a deep mineral character; a fine, creamy ripeness; and a hint of vanilla. The wine is tender and smooth, with a balance of delicate freshness and refined elegance. SRP: $123.

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