Is Wine Bad for You? The Studies say…


I spend several hours every morning scrolling through wine and alcohol-related news stories. And for the past year and more, a growing chorus of anti-alcohol voices has been getting louder and more aggressive. As my Substack colleague Tom Wark has frequently noted in his ‘Fermentation’ essays, the neo-Prohibitionists are not always anchored to actual facts, let alone cognizant of the reality that for many of us drinking is a pleasure. A pleasure – not an addiction, not an escape and, when properly managed, not a significant danger to health.

Just to cite a couple of headlines from the past few week:

“Glass of wine a day raises women’s heart disease risk – Having at least eight alcoholic drinks a week on average significantly raises the risk of heart problems in young and middle-aged women, a study has found”

“Is Wine the ‘2024 Cigarette’? Younger Generations Say All Alcohol is ‘Literally Poison’”

“Public health officials are increasingly alarmed by older Americans’ drinking”

Note that these dire warnings are often tied to “studies” without disclosing any of the details about the study in question. As anyone with a science background knows, studies are only meaningful within clearly identified parameters and peer-reviewed conclusions. But sensational headlines rule the day, and details and consequences be damned. So if you or I, as general readers, are constantly told that alcohol – any alcohol in any amount – is going to damage your heart, slow your brain, shorten your life expectancy, destroy your marriage, lead to poverty and desperation… well, it will have an impact.

So let’s step back and think about how and why and when we might have decided to enjoy the pleasures of a drink, and specifically a glass or two or three of wine. Was it over a special dinner with parents, as a treat for reaching some personal milestone? Was it part of a general exploration of social drinking in college, or after work? For me, as for many in my generation, getting untethered from the parents and sent off to college was the time I launched into experimentation. Not all of it was smart, some of it might have been dangerous, but I came of age in strident, difficult, economically fraught times (sound familiar to anyone reaching adulthood today?). I was looking for answers, for meaning, for a lifeline, for a path to follow and for a system of personal values that could steer me through the troubled waters of the times.

Part of my journey included experimenting with drugs. Part of it included years of total abstinence. At one time I earnestly applied to join a commune of followers of a religious leader named Sivaya Subramuniyaswami (look him up; by the way, I didn’t qualify). I did many years of self-help training of various kinds. And along the way I developed a strong interest in wine.

I never thought of wine as the answer to anything, but over the past 40 years it has infused my work and personal life with more good times, more serious study, more learning opportunities, more friendships, more sheer joy than any other single endeavor, including playing and performing music. So whether or not I am writing about and commenting on wines and wineries and wine topics, you can be sure I’ll be enjoying a few glasses of wine every day of my life.

We are all unique. There are people who cannot physically tolerate even small amounts of alcohol. There are others who have addictive personalities and are unable to control their consumption. There are plenty of people who simply don’t like the taste, or have no interest in developing the knowledge to appreciate the pleasures of fine wines. We all find our individual likes and dislikes and there are no bad choices – as long as the choices you make add value and joy and knowledge and meaning to your life, without doing any real damage to your health, your relationships or your productivity.

Wine meets those criteria and more for me, and I hope it does for my readers also.

As I wrote last week, this weekend is a big one for Walla Walla wineries. Particularly new and exciting is the grand opening of Echolands. The winery and tasting room sit high atop a hill east of town in the Mill Creek Uplands, overlooking the nearby vineyards of Doubleback, Walla Walla Vintners, Yellow Bird and Leonetti. It’s a spectacular site, the result of six years of visionary planning and effort from my friend and colleague Doug Frost and his business partner Brad Bergman.

Doug is one of just three people in the world holding both a Master of Wine and a Master Sommelier certification – an almost impossible achievement. For all that he is self-effacing and modest to a fault. He lives in Kansas City and travels the world as a speaker/consultant, and yet has decided to build his dream winery right here in Walla Walla. That my friends is an endorsement that no amount of money could buy. Bergman, whom I had the pleasure of meeting this past week, is another Kansan with an interest in agriculture, land conservation and wine. The most recent addition to the Echolands team is Brian Rudin, profiled here last summer when he was making wine at Canvasback. He was lured away just ahead of harvest with the offer to become not only Echolands winemaker but also its General Manager, with the chance to help design and oversee the construction of the winery and tasting room.

Brian’s impact on the winemaking won’t be felt until the 2023s are released, and it will be some additional time before the winery transitions from purchased to estate grown grapes. I tasted half a dozen current releases. These and more are being offered at the tasting room.

Echolands 2022 Albus Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon – Sourced from Taggart Vineyard, this Aussie-style blend hits all the right marks. Roughly three quarters is Sauv Blanc, smooth and fruity without any aggressive herbaceousness; the Semillon brings depth and texture, along with what is often referred to as linalool, a fresh, floral/citric scent. Good mid-palate concentration and excellent length, finishing with a resonant spiciness. 189 cases; 13.2%; $35 (Walla Walla Valley) 92/100

Echolands 2022 Rivière-Galets Vineyard Grenache – The vineyard name references the river cobbles that characterize the Rocks District AVA where it is located (federal laws mandate that the winery cannot use that AVA on the label, just the more encompassing Walla Walla Valley AVA). The grapes were foot-crushed and aged in stainless – no oak, and none needed. The color is almost as light as a rosé, quite lovely and aromatic. As a long time fan of much pricier examples of Rocks District Grenache I’m delighted with this lighter style, which has a gentle touch but captures some of the power of Rocks District fruit. Brambly berries, floral notes and good supporting acidity tie it all together. It’s persistent in length and lively through the finish. 150 cases; 13.2%; $38 (Walla Walla Valley) 92/100

Echolands 2020 Les Collines Vineyard Block 50 Syrah – Block selections are interesting though often incomplete. This makes a nice comparison to the companion Les Collines Syrah, which blends multiple blocks from the same site. The focus here is on dark fruits, pinpoint acids, a verticality that drives flavors down and through the palate. Drinking this wine feels like spelunking – following a narrow passage into an interesting space where it opens up a bit and reveals some interesting details. Great balance, purple fruits, a touch of new oak and medium length. 67 cases; 12.5%; $60 (Walla Walla Valley) 92/100

Echolands 2020 Les Collines Vineyard Syrah – If you prefer elegance over brute strength this is the Syrah for you. Lovely raspberry, strawberry and cherry fruit flavors are in the center ring, supported with firm, clean acids. About one quarter of the barrels were new and bring a dappled sprinkle of cinnamon toast. The tannins show some drying astringency as the wine finishes, adding savory side notes to the pretty fruit. Despite the low (for Syrah) listed alcohol the fruit is ripe, the balance perfect and the lively acidity sets it up for accompanying rather than dominating a meal. 667 cases; 12.8%; $42 (Walla Walla Valley) 92/100

Echolands 2021 Yellow Bird Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – The vineyard is just north of Walla Walla Vintners and west of the Leonetti Mill Creek Uplands vineyard. Roughly one quarter of the blend is Merlot, added to ‘velvetize’ the texture. Despite the listed alcohol it feels just a little thin through the finish, placing the emphasis on savory rather than ripe fruit flavors. 61 cases; 14.2%; $68 (Walla Walla Valley) 90/100

Echolands 2020 Seven Hills Vineyard Block 3 Cabernet Sauvignon – This includes a bit of Merlot and Petit Verdot (1%) but is basically all clone 6 Cabernet. It’s got a tight focus, a spine of steel, muscular but polished tannins and a firm core of blackberries, black cherries and cassis. A strong effort and a wine with substantial long term aging potential. That doesn’t mean it isn’t truly delicious right now; just give it a good decant. 112 cases; 14%; $85 (Walla Walla Valley) 94/100

Paul Gregutt
Paul Gregutt
Paul Gregutt has been covering the wines and wineries of the Pacific Northwest since the mid-1980s. From 2002 to 2012 he wrote a weekly wine column for the Seattle Times and authored two critically-acclaimed editions of ‘Washington Wines & Wineries – The Essential Guide’ (UC Berkeley Press). He served as the Northwest editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine from 1998 until 2022. Early on he was an original staff member of both the Seattle Weekly and KZAM-FM. He lives with his wife Karen and his rescue dog Cookie in Waitsburg (pop. 1204), a farm community about 20 miles NE of Walla Walla. When not tasting and writing about wine he writes songs, plays guitar and sings in his band the DavePaul5 ( Follow his writing at PaulG on Wine,, and in the Waitsburg Times.



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