Drinking Wine is Risky and That’s One Reason We Drink It

What if drinking wine, even lots of it, didn’t get you drunk? Why consider this…?

“Alcohol goes to your head and causes drunken behaviour through the breakdown of chemicals produced in the brain, a new study reveals.  The finding turns previous theories that it was linked to the liver upside down, and scientists believe it holds the key to combating binge drinking and alcoholism. Researchers from National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism tested the impact of alcohol on chemicals in human brain samples and in mice….Enzymes in the brain produce a chemical when alcohol breaks down and the chemical disrupts pathways that result in drunken behaviour. The team discovered that when the enzyme is removed, the chemical isn’t created – even under the same alcohol consumption – and drunken behaviour doesn’t happen.”

I’ve often argued that the “non-alcoholic” wines we see on the shelves aren’t real. Real wine contains alcohol and in fact the alcohol that resides in wine has an important impact on the character, consistency, taste and even future of a wine. Without it, you have sour grape juice.

But what of the idea that scientists might be able to create circumstances in which the alcohol remains in the wine, untouched and unaltered, but the body does not react to it. Is wine really wine if it doesn’t possess the potential to alter our perspective via the alcohol…if the inherent risk in drinking wine (or any alcohol) does not exist?

This idea amounts to the culinary equivalent of The Pill.

My beautiful wife, Kathy, tells me that if there were no chance real wine would get her warm and tipsy, let alone drunk, she’d still not only drink wine but continue to be enthusiastic about drinking wine. Her explanation is that the primary allure of wine for her is found in its story, in a wine’s history, in the connection to a place and time, in a wine’s illumination of the people and culture that produced it. However, she says she probably would miss the slight buzz that comes with wine.

The alcohol that is a natural byproduct of fermented grapes doesn’t get that much attention among those that work with wine. Sometimes we argue over and debate the impact of higher or lower levels of alcohol in a wine. Sometimes we ponder whether consumers care about the alcohol content. But the primary thing that makes wine truly unique is that it contains alcohol and this fact is not generally focused upon by wine professionals. It is a given.

In fact, the primary impact of imbibing alcohol (including wine) is the risk entailed in consuming it. If we drink too much wine, we may harm ourselves. We may embarrass ourselves. We may do something we’d not consider doing had our mind and body not been infected with alcohol. Without this inherent risk that comes with drinking wine, without the possibility of feeling and experiencing the effects of the alcohol in wine when we drink it, we are doing something different than what we do when the alcohol delivers its effect. We are just drinking. 

Kathy’s perspective on the prospects of drinking all the wine she wants without the inebriation factor is I think what most professional wine folk would point to when they’d say, “sure, I’d still drink wine if it didn’t produce any effect on mind or body.” But I wonder how many wine professionals would simply give up on wine if it didn’t get them tipsy or drunk. I’m not suggesting that the feeling of being inebriated is a fundamental draw for wine professionals. I’m suggesting that the risk of danger that comes with drinking wine is a critical part of the product’s allure.

Given the choice of being able to drink as much wine as I want at one sitting without becoming inebriated or being forced to continue to feel the effects of the alcohol in wine, I would probably opt for the latter. These days, my body is impacted far greater by smaller amounts of wine than it used to be, so I’m forced to much more carefully watch my intake as I don’t like the feeling of an alcohol high.

However, I think of being impervious to the effects of alcohol in the same way I think about wine that has been stripped of alcohol. It strikes me as not-wine.

I see the value in the scientific exploration being done by the researchers who have discovered the biological source of what makes us drunk. I see the utility in one day being able to block the effects of alcohol on the body. But for me, I don’t see the value in setting aside the risk inherent in drinking alcohol. Drinking wine is fun. Drinking juice is just drinking. 



7 Responses

  1. Paul+Vandenberg - March 24, 2021

    What a thought provoker!
    I’d volunteer to test this concept. Whereas I know I like The Glow of a Glass, I believe I would enjoy wine without it. But do I?
    The oversight is that without the warnings of intoxication we might consume toxic amounts of alcohol. Or is it only toxic if it goes through this chemical evolution?
    I hope you can follow this thread on my behalf.
    Paul Vandenberg
    Paradisos del Sol Winery and Organic Vineyard

  2. Tom Wark - March 24, 2021

    What a great point about the potential to consume toxic amounts without having the reaction to alcohol hit you. This never even occurred to me.

  3. Han Sjakes - March 25, 2021

    What’s the heck is the point of drinking alcoholic beverages without the mood-relieving effect, its beneficial function as a social lubricant, and providing temporary relief from worries, irritations, and fears? If it didn’t do all of this I would have become a cannabis writer …

  4. Jeff Havlin - March 25, 2021

    C’mon man. I’ve never read so many words that completely danced around the truth. Can we just admit that around 10,000 years ago our ancestors discovered wine and the effects it had on social interactions especially, and most importantly, between the sexes.

  5. Mark Storer - March 26, 2021

    This really is an interesting question. My first reaction is to say I would continue to drink wine–but I think that’s just out of habit. I believe you’re right, we drink wine because the alcohol plays a fundamental role in what we want out of the wine. Story is indeed important–to me, too–but just as important is a wine that critically blends story, flavor, and impact. All three are important to me.

  6. Tom Wark - March 26, 2021


    It is a conundrum, isn’t it. And what if it comes to be?

  7. Bill St. Croix - March 26, 2021

    Sort of the dilemma of an all electric Corvette?

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