Raise a glass to Macron
The French President found himself in hot water after revealing he drinks wine twice a day, but Irish connoisseurs agree that we need to change our cultural perception of the drink, writes Alex Meehan
Are there any two countries in the world more closely associated with alcohol than Ireland and France? Probably not. For us, it's about a certain black beer and for them, it's all about wine.
But what would you think if you heard that a politician drank alcohol twice a day, every day? Would that be a problem? French President Emmanuel Macron found himself in just this position recently when he said he drinks wine twice a day with his lunch and dinner, and sees no problem with that. "It is a blight on public health when young people get drunk at an accelerated speed with alcohol or beer, but this is not the case with wine," said Macron, adding that critics shouldn't bug the French over an age-old pleasure.
Doctors in France pushed back against Macron, saying that "scientifically, wine is an alcohol like any other". But some say that isn't the complete story and that instead of focusing on individual types of alcohol, we should be examining how we drink.
"I was very heartened to read this story. I'm totally with Macron on this," says Harriet Tindal, Assistant Buyer and Cellar Advisor with wine importers Tindal Wine Merchants.
"I drink at least a glass of wine each evening and I don't think it does anything bad for me at all, and all my French friends are the same. They don't drink to get drunk, they drink to enjoy it.
"If you're buying bottles of cheap Sauvignon Blanc and drinking an entire bottle to get drunk rather than to enjoy the wine, then you're going wrong.
"It's much better to buy a really nice bottle of wine and enjoy a glass or two with friends, rather than to drink it to help you cope with the stresses of the day."
Tindal is currently completing her studies for the title Master of Wine, a process that's so far taken her seven years. It's a high accolade - there are currently only 370 Masters of Wine in the world and the exams have a 10pc pass rate.
"For us, wine is still a foreign drink. We don't grow grapes so we don't have a sense of national pride in wine.
"The French, and the Italians, Spanish and Portuguese among others, all have a sense of connection to the production of wine," she says.
"My French and Italian friends have more confidence and security about enjoying wine and talking about it with their friends. Irish people are much less likely to talk about the wine they enjoy."
While the negative effects of consuming too much alcohol are well documented, drinking wine in moderation also has certain benefits too. Moderate drinking is usually defined as one to two units of alcohol a day, with a standard unit being defined as a small 100ml glass of wine.
Some scientific studies have shown that drinking one or two small glasses of wine a day offers some protection against heart disease, but mostly for men over 40 and post-menopausal women, and only when drinking is limited to five units a week.
Red wine has also been shown to contain higher levels of polyphenols and antioxidants than white and in tests, cabernet sauvignon grapes were shown to contain the most polyphenols of all.
While the links between red wine and the reduced risk of heart disease aren't well understood yet, it's thought these antioxidants help to prevent coronary heart disease which can, in turn, lead to heart attacks.
According to Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine in Tipperary, who spent time living in France and swapped a career in engineering for one in wine as a result, one of the biggest differences between French and Irish wine culture is that there, wine is seen as part of the experience of having a meal, instead of just as an alcoholic drink like any other.
"We have a terrible drink culture in Ireland. I lived in France for a couple of years and they have issues there with alcohol as well, but in general things are different. In Ireland, we drink wine in the same way we drink beer or mixed drinks like a gin and tonic," he says.
"I think the French have a healthier attitude to drinking wine. When many people open a bottle of wine here, they think nothing of finishing it. In France, it's likely that a bottle would be opened amongst friends, rather than for just one or two people. I'd much prefer to see people spend a bit more on better wine, but enjoy it more.
"Instead of buying six bottles of pinot grigio just because they're cheap, buy a bottle of Sancerre and a bottle of Bordeaux, and enjoy them with food and with other people. Those of us in the wine trade would make the same amount of money and it would be better for everyone - for the consumer and for the market."
Thibaud Harang, co-owner of the Piglet wine bar and restaurant in Dublin's Temple Bar, agrees. Originally from a small village south of Toulouse, he's loved wine all his life.
"In France, you can get a nice bottle of wine for €10 if you know what to buy. Here, it's a different story. You need to spend €15 to €20 in a good specialised retailer, or you'll end up with basically supermarket wine," he said. "It's all about how you drink. My grandmother is 83 and she still drinks a small glass of wine every night with her dinner, and maybe two glasses on a Saturday. A bottle might last her a week. She's been doing that for as long as I can remember.
"In the wine bar, if someone asks for advice on wine, I ask do they prefer lager or stout, and that usually is a good guide to their wine preferences. Ireland has a big stout culture and it has a strong flavour. People that like Guinness tend to like big-bodied types of red wine and people who drink lager are more likely to like pinot or something lighter. It's interesting."
So when it comes to drinking, perhaps we have something to learn from French presidents - and grandmothers.
- Always consult your GP about your recommended alcohol intake.