Let's not beat about the bush. There are two reasons for drinking alcohol: pleasure and effect, with one too often leading to a bit much of the other.
The problem is finding a happy and a sensible medium. which hasn't been easy for winelovers who over the past 20-30 years have seen the alcohol levels in some wines rise dramatically - in many cases from about 11 to 13 per cent in whites, and from 12 often to about 15 in reds.
Which, apart from anything else, could be one of the reasons for the growing popularity of wine among some of those people who drink primarily to get pie-eyed; who create mayhem on the roads, in the streets and in their homes.
Not to mention the effect this over-indulgence has on their health and on the health of others who don't get pissed, but who drink more than the two or three glasses the experts say is the daily limit.
In fact, it is this aspect of drinking which seems to be of the greater concern, particularly in the United Kingdom, where some politicians want to lower the legal limit, so that a drink that has had its alcohol cut to 4.5 per cent may still be called "wine".
It is designed, they say, to help reduce the 1.3 million alcohol- related hospital admissions in the UK every year, roughly double the number there were 10 years ago.
And the health lobby is right behind it, claiming that 75 per cent of the drinks industry's profits come from heavy drinkers - people who will probably become even heavier drinkers in terms of quantity if the cheaper wines are diluted to something resembling lolly-water.
The implication is that winemakers have deliberately increased the level of the alcohol in their wines to snare more customers, which is just not true.
Among the many explanation for rising alcohol levels,are global warming so-called, vineyard practices that ripen grapes more evenly, yeast strains that turn grape sugar into alcohol more readily, and in New Zealand in particular, the planting of the right grapes in the right places.
But the most sensible explanation is this: There is more sugar to ferment in grapes today because they are left on the vine to achieve what is called "phenolic ripeness" and eliminate the "green" flavour, especially in reds.
Extra sugar means extra alcohol, which contributes body and power to wines that when they are carefully made stand out in a crowd, attract the attention of critics and become trophy wines that others try to imitate.
As someone recently observed: "The alcohol is easy to imitate; the fruit to balance it is not."
Hence the conscious decision by many red winemakers over the past few years to actually moderate the level of alcohol - the stuff that burns the palate and the throat when it's out of balance - in the wines they make.
But changing the composition? As a wise old Frenchman said during a recent debate on grenache, a particularly alcoholic red: "That is unthinkable.You just pour less wine into your glass."
My advice to those concerned about the levels of alcohol in the wines they drink is this: Drink artificially-reduced alcohol wines if you must, or look for wines with alcohol levels that are naturally lower or have been manipulated in the vineyard.
Wines to try:
Saint Clair 2012 Pioneer Block Big John Marlborough Riesling, $24
A lovely, fresh citrus-driven wine with an interplay of its abundant natural sweetness and acidity that creates the impression of an off-dry finish.
Felton Road 2012 Bannockburn Central Otago Riesling, $26
This classic German, Mosel-style riesling is a stunner. Beautifully scented with citrus flavours, it is gently sweet and contains just 8.5 per cent alcohol.
The Doctors' 2012 9.5 Sauvignon Blanc, about $20
Produced by Forrest Estate using fruit manipulated in the vineyard to keep the alcohol in check (9.5 per cent). Made in typical Marlborough style . Crisp and herbaceous. Great for a long summer lunch.
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