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Hi, I'm Dermot Nolan, and I became a Master of Wine (MW) in 1997, and resigned from the Institute of Masters of Wine in 2023 after being an MW for exactly 26 years. I opened a wine shop in Dún Laoghaire, Ireland, called The Wine Library, which closed in 2018, and this is my personal wine blog. I will do my utmost to be fair and responsible in my posts – please read my Who Pays article in re the ethics of wine trips and writing. I have worked in wine education, retail, and consultancy since 1990. I was a Director of the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) from 2008 to 2014 and was also a member of the Events Committee, founder of the Trips Committee, and member of the Governance Committee. Having had problems with potentially libellous comments from unidentifiable posters, I now require that if you post a comment, you must identify yourself properly or it won't be published. Please note that I do not review products or services on request so kindly don't ask. I value my independence and I believe my readers (few that they may be) do so also.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

In vino felicitas?


The Drinks Business (DB) published an article recently (18 March 2024) entitled Scientists prove drinking good wine ‘makes you happier’.

The scientists to whom the article alluded did no such thing

The research cited was, according to the abstract at the very start of the paper, to determine whether wearable sensors were a feasible means of measuring subjects’ responses while tasting different wines. The wearable sensors used were heart rate (HR) monitors.

The basis for this is the idea an action which can create an expectation (good or bad) about a food product is capable of modulating (enhancing or diminishing) a feeling of “pleasantness” in a subject.

I note that the online Cambridge Dictionary defines the word “pleasantness” as:

the quality of being enjoyable, attractive, friendly, or easy to like

Not exactly happiness then, so why does the headline proclaim that it has been PROVEN that “drinking good wine makes you happier”? Interestingly, when questioned, the researchers said they "did not talk about happiness in our paper". It is worth noting that the DB article puts the words makes you happier in quotation marks - why?

 If you want to read the article you can buy a copy at Wiley.

At the Internet Festival in Pisa 50 attendees were given 5 wines to taste wines to test response to additional stimuli. These stimuli were the playing or not of jazz music (the music used was not specified).

HR monitors and smartphones were used to collect HR data as the trial was carried out.

Each wine was served without music playing, then with music playing, and the wines were served in this order: faulty white, faulty red, a Brunello di Montalcino, then two Vini Santi.

The researchers state, in their discussion and conclusions that the subjects’ HRs did not differ significantly when between wines 1 and 2, the faulty wines, but that there was an increase in HR between this pair compared to the three good wines.

Within the three good wines it is interesting that the Brunello and the first Vin Santo elicited similar responses but the second Vin Santo achieved the highest emotional response, measured in terms of increased HR - it also had the highest levels of both alcohol and sugar.

As a digression, it is worth asking, as someone who suffers from high blood pressure, if an increased HR is always a positive response because I don’t think it is, although I am willing believe that the HRs as monitored probably are due to increased pleasure.

It is well known that consumption of alcohol automatically increases HR for at least 6 hours, as the researchers note in their discussion, but they dismiss this effect by saying:

However, such phenomena [increased HR due to alcohol consumption and possible reduction in plasma potassium levels] not directly concerned with emotions, only partially explain the results obtained in our study…”

This statement is, as far as I can see, offered with NO supporting proof at all.

There is a chart (figure 7) which shows the mean heart rate recorded during all eleven phases of the trial starting, faulty white without music, then with music, faulty red without, then with, and so on.

There is a gradual HR increase from around 62 beats per minute (bpm) to a maximum of about 83bpm with the last wine with music.

However, HR REDUCED with two samples WITH music – the faulty white wine and the Brunello, which to my mind suggests that there is no great link between tasting pleasure (expressed as HR increase) and additional stimulus.

Even more odd, across ALL respondents the Brunello elicited a LOWER HR than the faulty red, as shown in figure 8!

The conclusion – wait for it – is that wine can:

generate an emotional response in ordinary consumers

Well, I never!

Then, they state that this response is not only due to the alcohol but:

“… to the quality level of the wine, as demonstrated by the different responses produced good wines on all consumers…”

which is in contrast to the point made above about the mean HR for the Brunello!


Overall, it is not clear if this is useful research but what is clear is that these scientist did NOT set out to prove that drinking good wine makes you happier, that they did not accidentally PROVE any such thing and that the headline in DB is, at best misguided and, at worst, misleading.


The DB article then goes on to talk about so-called “Blue Zones”. These are supposed regions of the world where the inhabitants allegedly live longer than in other parts of the world and this claimedlongevity is, in part, put down to moderate consumption of alcohol.

It is stated that:

The news [the misinterpreted Italian research] follows the link between Blue Zones and wine drinking, highlighting its CRITICAL [my emphasis] role in the lives of centenarians.”

This is, to mu mind, very dangerous stuff.

Take the Blue Zone idea, cited here as evidence that drinking wine is good for you. The sentence above gives the impression that this is a fairly recent discovery. The main article I can find about these zones dates from 2016 – 8 years ago, hardly breaking news.

Indeed, if you actually read Dan Buettner’s article about Blue Zones  you will see Mr Buettner cites only four (yes FOUR) articles, two of which he wrote - with regard to validity see also this resent article in The Daily Mail.. There is NO supporting data for any of the assertions he makes as far as I can see.

Indeed, the very idea has been called into question  regarding how long Blue Zone inhabitants actually live, and very much so regarding his claims about alcohol consumption. There is good reason to doubt the longevity claim  due to faulty, or even non-existent, record-keeping.

Regarding the so-called French Paradox, another piece of research often used to promote the ‘wine is good for you’ notion’, this bad record-keeping comes into play again as does the simple fact that when the study was carried out the effects of bad changes in diet had yet to manifest themselves – these things take a generation or so to be evident.

The DB article then quotes a Dr Kien Vuu, that:

it [longevity] wasn’t necessarily due to the health benefits of wine”

but the author then goes on to apparently quote the same doctor as saying:

a glass of wine was CRITICAL [my emphasis] to health when consumed in a social setting, as it was in the so-called Blue Zones

which, to my reading, is the same as saying black is black and then immediately saying black is white.

The editor of DB wrote an article on 21 February 2024 entitled We don’t drink wine just for intoxication in which he states that he is:

“surprised and saddened that a few excellent wine writers should have used last month’s guilt-inducing, booze-dropping vibe to promote the benefits of eschewing alcohol”

and that he believes:

“moderate drinking is good for the body – more than a century of scientific studies have shown that”

Now, when I was an MW student, I had a little library of quotations to be used in the then Paper 4 essay, 2 hours of writing on some arcane title. One of these was from G. K. Chesterton that:

The dipsomaniac and the abstainer are not only both mistaken, but they both make the same mistake. They both regard wine as a drug and not as a drink

so I can see where the editor is coming from. But I have great difficulty that a century of scientific studies have shown any positive effects of drinking alcohol. He also states that drinking:

relieves stress and promotes conversation

thereby ignoring the solid evidence that alcohol increases heart rate and consequently blood pressure. Perhaps he meant to say enables one to obliterate stressful feeling through descent into oblivion but, as all editors do, thought that too long and (forgive the pun) depressing. As for the conversation it may be that I live in a less effete milieu that he does but I have witnessed many wine-fuelled conversation descent rapidly into aggressive, boring rants (not always from  me).

He then makes what is, to my mind, a wholly offensive, unwholesome, and utterly unnecessary comment about Chinese people – were he editing DB 150 years ago that China could well have been Ireland.


“No pleasure is worth giving up for the sake of two more years in a geriatric home in Weston-Super-Mare.”


Now let’s consider alcohol and health.According to Our World in Dat 38% of worldwide deaths are dues to heart disease, 18% to cancers, and 4.5% to digestive diseases. That is, 60% of all deaths in any given year are down to these three issues – and alcohol is a proven contributory factor in all three, cirrhosis being one of the cited digestive diseases. Searches on Google Scholar for articles published since 2020  about a link between alcohol and canner yielded 18,200 results, alcohol and heart disease  yielded 19,000 results, alcohol and digestive diseases yielded 17,000 results, alcohol and obesity yielded 17,400 results. That is 71,600 articles in four years regarding lnks between alcohol consumption and the major causes of death in the world.

Alcohol is mood-altering (not always for the better), addictive (this is never good), carcinogenic (in an article in the Lancet the first sentence states “A causal association has been established between alcohol consumption an,d   yielded yielded cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and, in women, breast; can association is suspected for cancers of the pancreas and lung” ), and toxic (drink enough and you will die).

So why, then, do people like me exist who promote drinking wine, and even other alcoholic drinks? Well, in part because there is a positive emotional response for the majority of drinkers much as the original research article which started this suggests.

Further, there is a strong belief that adults (important) are capable of informing themselves about the risks involved in alcohol consumption.

Does this mean then that we can blithely say that drinking makes you happier? I really do NOT think so - note above the use of the word critical in this regard.

I have known people whose drank themselves to death, I know people who cannot make it through a day without drinking the best part of a bottle of wine, and I have known people who have died of cancer and heart disease (both my parents, neither of whom drank).

I am diabetic (type 2) and so try to manage my diet as best I can because, unlike the quoted Kingsley Amis, I would rather have those two extra years in which to enjoy life.

I drink far less now than I used to, partly because of health issues but also partly because I became aware that my behaviours changed in an unwelcome fashion when I drank.

Now, I tend to drink only those wines I really enjoy, and with good meals and good company. - probably less than 1 glass per week.  Here in Ireland, for a typical dinner party, you must have one bottle of wine per head, plus one for the table, but I now try to ensure that I provide equally as many bottles of water.

I find that conversation, good, enjoyable conversation, is promoted not by wine, not in any way, but by the company you choose and the friendly atmosphere you offer.

I have had many very enjoyable drink-free occasions, and frequently find that a lot of drinking meals to be dull, boring, and repetitive. Perhaps being older than the DB editor I have heard it all before.


Having said all that, I am appalled at what I believe is  the low-quality of writing demonstrated by DB – while I understand that a publication about drinks has to promote alcohol I see no reason why research should be misrepresented, why statements which run contrary to current scientific research should be blatantly stated, nor can I understand why it seems no critical research is done before an article is printed.

In fairness I do not read DB so it is possible I have found the two worst articles ever printed therein, but somehow I doubt that is the case.

Perhaps I am old-fashioned, out-of-date, and irrelevant. Oh well.


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