Most of us know what it means to drink too much—although in the recent case of Billy Joel, it took shouting incoherently while in a concert with Elton John and driving his Mercedes off the road before he checked himself into rehab for an "addiction to wine." (In Joel's defense, I'd argue that listening to Elton John sing "Benny and the Jets" could drive anyone to drink in excess.) Moderation, on the other hand, is much harder to categorize—even, it seems, for medical professionals. Just about every doctor I spoke to, including my longtime family physician, had a different idea of what it means to drink moderately. Some of the experts I consulted were vague as to exact amounts; others said a single glass of wine a day "or less" was the limit, which really depressed me.
I'd started thinking about moderation while having my annual physical. My doctor, knowing what I do for a living, had made a few dark remarks about the possible state of my liver. "But I drink in moderation!" I'd protested. "That's what a lot of people in your business say," replied Martin Feuer, M.D., ever the skeptic.
I rarely drink wine during the day, and if I do, I'm usually tasting (and spitting). I do, however, drink wine with dinner every night—an average of two glasses or so, though if the wine is truly outstanding, my husband and I have been known to finish the bottle. By some people's standards, I might belong in the same drying-out place as Billy Joel, while to others (mostly French and Italian), I probably seem like a lightweight.