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Malcolm Jolley: A wine writers guide to a damp, not dry, January

Commentary

Karen MacNeil is one of the big guns of American wine writing, so when she posted an Instagram video in late December proclaiming not only that she hated the idea of Dry January, but that promoting it struck her as “self-righteous and puritanical” and “the first baby step towards another Prohibition” people took notice. To be fair to MacNeil, she pointed her critique at the wine industry, which she believes should focus more energy on promoting what she sees as the benefits of drinking wine in moderation.

MacNeil’s animus towards the month-long abstention from alcohol notwithstanding, the general consensus among wine writers I’ve read on both sides of the pond this year is marked ambivalence. We generally don’t like to be told not to drink but, by the logic of the Golden Rule, we are all loathe to tell anyone who decides they might like to take a break that they shouldn’t either.

Also, the truth is that anyone who writes about wine professionally can’t really take a month off tasting. I suppose if one was religious about spitting, that might count. Although that seems like a set-up for a worse torture than mere abstinence. What if I had the most exquisite mouthful of a rare wine on my cheeks? 

The party line in the wino media is: we don’t do Dry January, but we do do Damp January. Google it, and you’ll see what I mean. There are all kinds of justifications for it, and all kinds of tips and tricks on how to do it. I weigh in below, and I promise you there will be no mocktails.

Of course, the real beauty of Damp January is that you probably don’t really have to expend any actual effort to achieve at least a mild Damp January. In fact, I am pretty sure that, unless you were in hospital for the last thirty days, it would actually require an almost Herculean effort and stamina to drink more alcohol by volume and frequency in the first month of the year than the last.

Like any natural process, though, Damp January can be helped along. Here are three strategies to further reduce the mass of alcohol molecules circulating around the body between now and the end of January—or whenever you’d like. Like this column generally, they are designed to minimize pain and maximize pleasure.

Drop the numbers

Once on a trip of Canadian wine writers in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a producer of renown turned the tables on us and asked a question. Why were North American journalists so hung up on alcohol by volume? Sure, he made wines that were regularly comprised of 15 percent or even more alcohol. But, he reasoned, if you only have a glass, that’s just a 3 percent difference from a Burgundy at 12 percent.

None of us had the courage to reply for fear of looking like barbarian drunkards. The trouble, we silently thought, is that sometimes one would like more than one glass, and in that case, a few points of variance on a wine’s “abv” can make a noticeable difference, especially on one’s demeanour the next day. A strategy to achieve Damp January without a drastic reduction in consumption could be to only drink wines with a low level of alcohol.

Unfortunately, there are three obstacles to this strategy. First, alcohol in wine is made from the fermentation of the sugar in the grape. Wines that show low alcohol levels can often be relatively high in “residual sugar” left behind when fermentation is stopped. Switching one vice for another seems counterproductive.

The second obstacle is related. Global warming means that it is increasingly difficult to find dry wines made anywhere in the traditional wine-making parts of the world with an abv under 13 percent. Even then, most regulatory regimes will let producers put an abv on the level within half or one percent of the actual lab result. So that 13 percent, might well be more like 13.5 percent or 13.9 percent.

The third obstacle is price. The sorts of places that naturally produce lower alcohol wines are cold, like Canada or high altitude sites, and expensive to make wine in. Again this seems counterproductive since one of the supposed benefits of Damp January is to save money, though the next strategy might address this.

Spend twice, drink half

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, I adopted a version of this strategy. Reasoning that since the number of wine drinkers in our house had temporarily diminished by 50 percent, I could afford to drink bottles twice the price of the ones we usually did without affecting the overall household budget. It didn’t work out well.

Or, perhaps I should say, it worked out too well. I had to abandon the project since it turns out it’s more difficult for me to put the cork back into a really tasty bottle of wine. That’s OK on Friday but not great on Tuesday night. My personal consumption began to make up for the deficit of my wife’s abstinence.

This strategy only works if you have the willpower to resist another glass of very fine wine, or can somehow get someone to tie you to a metaphorical mast. But in that case, it would be a pleasant way to move through the long month.

Take it to the table

Wine cultures are food cultures. In the parts of Mediterranean Europe where the tradition of making wine is long and strong, it is rarely consumed outside of a meal. As the French say: “wine is food.” The third strategy towards a Damp January is to stop drinking wine and only eat it.

Caveat: this strategy won’t work if you start having wine with every meal. A glass of Prosecco might be pleasant at breakfast on holiday, but it makes for a tiring workday. Even then, there is the danger that you could find yourself cooking and serving long multi-course dinners throughout the week. This might not work out for your waistline, but your family and friends will likely enjoy it. Tell them to bring a bottle to the table. There are worse ways to put a little warmth and light into a cold and dark Canadian winter’s night.

Joanna Baron: Accusing Israel of genocide is a gross distortion of the facts

Commentary

The point of accusing a Jew of stealing, so the saying goes, is for the pleasure of observing him turning out his pockets to prove the allegation false. So it goes with allegations that Israel is committing genocide in its war against Hamas in Gaza, which have been brought into sharp focus by South Africa’s application against Israel under the Genocide Convention in the International Court of Justice. Israel has pledged to accept the court’s jurisdiction and defend against the allegations, reportedly drawing on eminent retired justice (and Holocaust survivor) Aharon Barak as an ad hoc judge on the International Court of Justice’s Panel.

Genocide is deemed the “crime of all crimes.” Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew and jurist, lobbied for genocide to be named a crime under international law after observing Winston Churchill’s speech describing Nazi atrocities against the Jews (and Poles, Roma, disabled, Russians, and more) as a “crime without a name.”

The definition of genocide is not contested. It is articulated in Article II of the Convention. The crucial aspect of genocide, as the crime of all crimes, is the intention to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. Only if that intention is established is the legal test for genocide met in respect of the specified acts, such as killing or causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of a national or ethnic group. These acts must serve the intention or the purpose of destroying a specified group.

To be clear, nobody with eyes can deny that a horrifying humanitarian catastrophe is happening in Gaza. This is substantially due to the fact that Israel is fighting an enemy which launches rockets from apartment balconies, holds hostages in hospitals, and establishes command centres out of UN schools. It is Hamas, not Israel, that insists things be so; if the war could be fought along conventional battle lines away from a single civilian, Israel would gladly do so. Hamas, being the weaker actor, insists on the dirtiest possible mode of combat to capitalize on Israel’s moral instinct to minimize civilian loss.

On the question of intent, South Africa’s legal submissions bear the measure of a feeble undergraduate political science paper. The claim highlights statements made by Benjamin Netanyahu, Yoav Gallant, and Isaac Herzog. Some of the statements cited are simply false. For example, the claim quotes one “Danny Neumann,” a “former Israeli Knesset member,” in calling for the complete destruction of Gaza. No such former member exists; the claim appears to originate from a website called the Middle East Eye. (Danny Neumann appears to be a former footballer). 

The other statements are plucked out of context in ways that are so immediate and clear that it is difficult to conclude the claim is anything other than intentionally misleading. The claim cites Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech on October 8th that “We will operate forcefully everywhere.” The full statement, though, makes clear that the objective is against Hamas, and in the very same sentence there is a plea for Gazans to flee from places where Hamas is known to operate: “All of the places which Hamas is deployed, hiding and operating in, that wicked city, we will turn them into rubble. I say to the residents of Gaza: leave now because we will operate forcefully everywhere.”

Similarly, President Isaac Herzog’s statement that “It’s an entire nation that’s responsible” refers to the vile antisemitism on display on October 7th when crowds cheered at the bodies of dead civilian women paraded through the streets of Gaza. But at the very same press conference, Herzog explicitly rejected the proposition that Gaza’s civilians are legitimate targets while highlighting the fact that Hamas is known to shoot missiles out of schools, mosques, and even private homes and that this cannot immunize them from military response.

Finally, the claim cites defence minister Yoav Gallant’s October 9th comment that “We are fighting human animals, and acting accordingly.” It’s clear that this was in reference to Hamas, not the Palestinian population. Gallant has tweeted more than 72 times since clarifying this.

The conduct of the IDF shows no nexus with an intent to target Palestinian civilians. The IDF has made over 50,000 phone calls and issued over 14 million text messages and 12 million voice messages warning civilians to leave specified areas. Where possible, they monitor areas to confirm civilians have left before beginning air strikes. They have distributed detailed maps with evacuation routes to relative safety. They have facilitated hundreds of truckloads of humanitarian aid daily. As for Hamas, despite dragging the Gazan population into certain war with Israel on October 7th, they have proudly boasted about their refusal to build a single bomb shelter with the millions of dollars in international aid they receive, asserting this is the “UN’s job.”

The term genocide became a crime against humanity in the aftermath of the Nazi Holocaust, the most meticulously pre-meditated and evil crime in history. Invoking the crime of genocide against the people whose horrifying fate led the international community to coin the term bears a particularly charged valence. To be sure, not all genocides are as straightforward or explicitly intentional as the Holocaust: the Nazis’ obsession with exterminating Jewry, even at the expense of their own military objectives, has been called “redemptive antisemitism” and, one hopes, remains a high water mark of human cruelty and depravity.

Nonetheless, shoehorning the war in Gaza—a war Israel did not want, did not initiate, and yet must fight for its own existential survival—into the same category as the biggest crime in history constitutes a sort of Holocaust denial via conceptual dilution. It also is the most malicious gaslighting against Jewish people I can imagine.

Why is this happening in 2024? Why the double standard for Israel? For example, one can readily find videos of Islamic genocidaires literally whipping Masalit tribe members in Darfur as they lead them to their slaughter, while news of Pakistan forcibly displacing over 350,000 Afghan refugees came and went with hardly a ripple compared to the worldwide protests and antisemitic attacks in the wake of Israel’s response in Gaza. Then there is the Chinese oppression of the Muslim Uyghurs, which continues apace absent, again, a fraction of the outrage directed toward Israel. In the meantime, the UN General Assembly could not manage to pass a single resolution condemning the October 7th massacre. Let’s not allow the UN’s pathological obsession with the Jewish state to turn its judicial body into a moral horror show.