Did you realize that wine makers, especially in the US, have been quietly upping the alcohol content in some of our favorite potables?  According to the Canadians, who screen incoming alcoholic products, the worst offenders are Chile, Argentina, and the United States, but vintners in all countries do it to some degree.

The theory is that the higher alcohol proportion makes for a heartier product, more attractive to consumers. Also, we’re told, higher sugar content created by the American habit of using riper grapes than Europeans do enhances alcohol content. But because the same Canadian review found that wine makers systematically understate alcohol levels, it’s difficult to avoid speculating that, like caffeine in soda pop and nicotine in cigarettes, this is yet another device to hook users on a product by inserting a habit-making, potentially addictive drug.

I like a glass or two of wine with dinner, often a fairly elaborate affair produced, with flair, in my own kitchen and often served up at mid-day. In recent years, what used to a tasty accompaniment to the grilled filet mignon or the Greek-style baked sea bass has taken to knocking me for a loop. A glass and a half of zinfandel, and I’m ready to fall face-forward into the dinner plate! I’ve attributed that to advancing age — as your metabolism slows, your tolerance for various drugs fades; alcohol is a drug, and so it follows that you’d become more sensitive to it as you dodder toward the grave.

No. California zinfandels rank among the very highest wines in alcohol content: upwards of 14.5 percent! I’m very fond of zins. And also of petite syrah, another in the “highest” category. Others of my faves place in the “high” range: California cabs, pinots noirs, and syrahs, Chilean merlots, Australian shiraz…holy mackerel!

How did I miss this? Apparently it’s all the rage these days to seek out low alcohol-content wines.

It came to my attention earlier this week, after I’d bought a bottle of Mâcon-Villages chardonnay. Normally I don’t care for chardonnay — it’s a boring wine — but the price was right and this was something different for me. So I grabbed it off the shelf. Served it up around 1 or 2 in the afternoon with a lovely slab of grilled mahi.

It was light and refreshing and…yes…several glasses later I realized I’d swiggled down half the bottle!

A-n-n-d…I should’ve been sh*t-faced.

But I was not. I felt quite sober. Wouldn’t have gotten into a car…but nevertheless, around the house I was fully functional. Had no trouble completing the remaining little projects on the day’s list. Wrote some copy. Graded some papers. Puttered around til 10 or 11 at night.

Normally, if I have almost half a bottle of wine, it is all I can do to crawl down the hall into the bedroom and climb into the sack, where I end up sleeping out the rest of the day in a stupor. No stupor was forthcoming.

Click! A light went on. Googled “wine alcohol content” and that’s when I learned that US manufacturers are deliberately jacking up the alcohol content in our wines, that many overseas producers are following suit, and that it’s still possible to find some decent vintages with what used to be normal levels of alcohol.

Here’s what I found out:

From The Guardian:  Wine levels systematically understated; about 1/3 of samples tested by Canada. Worst were Chile, Argentina, US, but all countries were doing it.

From NPR:

Imported whites with “low” alcohol content (around 9% to 11%)

Vinho verde (Portugal)
Txakoli or Txakolini (Spain)
Riesling (Germany)

From Wine Review Online:

Categories of wine called out as particularly high in alcohol content (14% to 16%)

California zinfandels
Most California, Washington, and Australian reds
Italian wines distributed in the US

From Real Simple, listings sorted by alcohol content:

Low (under 12.5%)

Whites:

French muscadet
French Vouvray

Moderately low (12.5% to 13.5%)

Whites:

Austrian Grüner veltliner
Australian riesling
French Alsace white
French Loire and Bordeaux whites
French white Burgundy
Italian Pinot grigio
New York riesling
New Zealand sauvignon blanc [I doubt this!]
Oregon pinot gris
South African sauvignon blanc
Spanish albariño

Reds:

French Beaujolais and Burgundy
French Bordeaux
Italian Chianti
Spanish Rioja

High (13.4 %- 14.4%)

Whites:

Australian chardonnay
California chardonnay
California pinot gris
California sauvignon blanc
California viognier
Chilean chardonnay
French Sauternes
South African chenin blanc

Reds:

Argentine malbec
Australian shiraz
California cabernet sauvignon
California pinot noir
California syrah
Chilean merlot
French Rhône red
Italian Barolo

Very high (over 14.5%)

Whites:

French Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise (fortified)
Portuguese Madeira (fortified)
Spanish sherry (fortified)

Reds:

California petite sirah
California zinfandel
Italian Amarone
Portuguese port (fortified)

Real Simple’s listings are the broadest I came across. Quite the eye-opener, eh?

Just lookit that: California zinfandel and petite syrah fall into the same category as fortified wines like port and Madeira. Ugh! No wonder I’ve felt blotzed after just a glass or two!

Dunno about you, but I’ll be cultivating a renewed appreciation for white wines, despite a strong preference for reds. And after this, I won’t buy any more California wines. We’ll be learning a lot more about French wines!

But as a caveat, do bear in mind that the Canadians discovered manufacturers are deliberately understating alcohol content. I would be very surprised if the Marlborough Sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, available in vast quantities at Costco, were “moderately low” in alcohol. Two glasses of that will have me falling face-first into the sack, just as fast as two glasses of California Zinfandel will. It looks like the only way to know will be to taste-test, consider how you actually feel after one glass, and keep a record.

And since you may be getting a lot more alcohol than you think, don’t ever drive after imbibing even one glass of wine.

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So this morning I take it into my pretty little head to do the laundry in my fancy new(ish) Samsung high-efficiency top-loading washer with the fun clear lid that lets you watch the clothes sloshing around, just in case you’re feeling unusually bored.

To do that I have to…

Sort clothes (colored, white…said not to be necessary, but watch this space…)
Sew up the mesh bag that split apart the last time I washed a few items
Put jeans into mesh bags, one bag per pair
Sneak one pair of cut-offs into a mesh bag holding a pair of jeans
Put socks, panties, and camis into several more mesh bags
Haul bagged laundry out to the garage, whereinat the fancy washer resides
Load washer
Measure portion of  radically expensive “high-efficiency” laundry detergent into stupid little cup from which the machine dispenses it
Clean the mess created by laundry detergent dribs of radically expensive “high-efficiency” laundry detergent that splashed from stupid little cup onto machine’s lid and tub rim
Set machine to “bedding,” the only cycle that dispenses enough water to get a load of jeans and T-shirts clean…in AN HOUR AND TEN MINUTES!
Go away for an hour and ten minutes but don’t leave the house because no one in her right mind would leave an appliance full of water sloshing around unguarded for a hour and ten minutes or for any length of time unless what she most loves to do is mop up gigantic messes

An hour and ten minutes. Figure there’s got to be a better way. Now I drag the whites into the bathroom, wash them in the vanity sink, rinse them in the bathtub half-filled with cold water, traipse them out to the garage, and hang them up.

By the time I finish this job, the washer has ALMOST filled with water and started to slosh its FIRST laundry cycle.

Got that? I washed an entire load of laundry by hand, in the bathroom goddamn sink, in less time than it took the wondrous high-efficiency washer to even START to wash the load I stuffed into it.

Okayyyy…. Now we understand why these amazing machines so “efficiently” save water and power: when you don’t use the thing, you don’t use water and power.

Wash four crocheted shirts by hand and lay them out on the tile floor to reblock and dry.

These items could also have been laundered in the wondrous high-efficiency washer. But I wanted to get them clean sometime during my foreseeable lifespan.

The khaki dye and the orange dye from two of these Nordstromsy made-in-Asia shirts leak into the sink water. Therein lies the reason we STILL separate the whites from the colored clothes, even though we are assured that it’s ever-so-much more highly efficient to launder all the clothes together. No doubt it is, if you enjoy wearing grunge-grey “whites.”

Moving on…

Now I decide I should go online and sign up for a new Medicare Part D (prescription drug) plan, since my outfit, Wellcare, is doubling its premiums. I decide to select Humana’s Walmart plan, whose premium is about what I’m paying now and whose copay is significantly (as in HUGELY) lower and which has four- and five-star ratings across the board as compared to my present plan’s three-star complaints ratings. You can sign up for these plans on Medicare.gov, in the same app that allows you to call up and compare plans. However, what you can’t do is figure out whether signing up for the new plan automatically unenrolls you from your present plan, or whether you have to jump through 15 to 30 minutes of phone-tree hoops to get disconnected from the folks who have been ripping you off for the past year.

Navigated to Arizona’s version of SHIP, a bureaucratic fragment that usually employs some uninformed volunteers to answer your questions. Checked the FAQs; this particular (very obvious, IMHO) question was not answered. Called the phone number. Got an obnoxious robotic answering machine, saying if I would leave a message maybe someday they would get around to calling me back (fat chance!) and maybe then I could ask the question whose answer I need now, not sometime in the remote future.

Found a phone number for Humana at the Medicare.gov site. Dialed it, expecting another obnoxious robot.

Mirabilis!!!!!!!! Got a human being!

Yes. You do get disenrolled from the old plan when you sign up electronically for a new one. But would I like for her to sign me up, as long as we were on phone?

Sure.

It took FORTY MINUTES to get through the tape-recorded boilerplate bullshit Humana’s doughty CSR had to play into my ear. At the end of of each of three long-winded segments of boilerplate bullshit, I had to answer, clearly and unmistakably, “YES.” This, she explained, is taken to be a telephonic “signature.”

God. All. Mighty.

The washer was almost done by the time this tedious experience ended.

So now I’m signed up for a new Part D plan, though it won’t kick in until January 1. This is good, because the plan I’ve got is the biggest rip-off ever to come down the pike.

I hope the new one won’t be a rip, too. There’s some reason to believe it will be slightly better:

User ratings show a lower tendency to deny coverage of drugs prescribed by your doctor and to try to substitute drugs your doctor specifically says you shouldn’t be taking.

Co-pays are much lower. In fact, if you can wait for them to send your pills by snail-mail, co-pays are sometimes zero dollah. What I’ve had is so ridiculous that I’ve given up even asking — I’ve just been paying out of pocket. The last Rx the Mayo prescribed was denied because, the pharmacist said, Wellcare didn’t like the doctor!

Got that? They don’t like a surgical resident in the service of one of the most prominent, high-powered, respected oncological surgeons in the country. The same surgical resident whose last three prescriptions were honored without quarrel.

Hauled the laundry out of the washer. Hung it up to dry. Cursed the double time-suck.

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The Problem with Writing Reminders to Yourself…

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Yesterday I needed to buy some new dog food for the Ruby-Doo, she suffering from allergies and now needing foods whose contents can be verified. I’d discovered that the exceptionally fancy stuff peddled at Whole Foods and PetSmart could be had for much cheaper at the Fry’s Supermarket in Richistan, and had thought after the […]

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Another Day, Another Doctor…

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So this morning came the appointment with the oncologist favored by my gynecologist. You may recall that not one but two docs — my GP and my gynecologist — so worried about my insecurities over the ongoing (painful, disruptive, miserable!!!) treatment of NOT-a-breast-cancer that they felt impelled to refer me to the medical oncologists of […]

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Dog Food: Make It or Buy It?

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As old-timey FaM readers know, one of my strangest eccentricities is that I cook and feed real, actual FOOD to my dogs, rather than giving them the fake stuff that comes in bags and cans. This came about during the late, great melamine scare, during which we learned that virtually all dog foods, from Walmart’s […]

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