Scientific studies have suggested it, and now winemakers finally may get a chance to tout it through their labeling: A glass or two of the grape each day could be good for you.
The Treasury Department announced Friday it has approved two statements for wine labels to include references to some of the health effects of drinking wine. The approval, however, is not an endorsement but only a reflection of the department's finding that the statements were neither false nor misleading.
"The proud people who made this wine encourage you to consult your family doctor about the health effects of wine consumption," reads one statement.
The other says: "To learn the health effects of wine consumption, send for the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans," and then provides a mailing address and a Web site.
Edward S. Knight, an attorney for the Treasury Department, said the original statements proposed by the wine industry included references to the "health benefits" of wine in "moderate consumption."
"Those terms are not in these labels anymore. We insisted they be dropped because we felt they could be false or misleading," Knight said.
Still, the new statements were seen as a victory for the wine industry.
"I think it's a very major accomplishment," said John DeLuca, president of the San Francisco-based Wine Institute, which has pushed for adding wording about the health effects of wine.
Wine labels already warn that pregnant women should not drink alcohol and that alcohol can impair driving and cause health problems. But they say nothing about studies suggesting that moderate alcohol intake can reduce the risk of heart disease in some people.
Federal health officials and some senators already have voiced concern that such a label would purport to make a health claim about wine or would encourage excessive drinking.
Surgeon General David Satcher has communicated his concern that mentioning health benefits on a bottle would send "mixed messages," according to a senior administration official.
Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., who helped write the alcohol warning labels that have been in place for a decade, urged federal regulators last spring not to approve any watered-down label. He also introduced a bill that would strengthen the required warning labels.
In July 1997, the Health and Human Services Department wrote the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which is part of the Treasury Department, urging the bureau to delay approval of the labels.
But some winemakers said a change in the label can touch on the positive effects of wine while also stressing responsible behavior.
"What's coming to pass is recognition that responsible, moderate, temperate consumption of wine in particular can have a place in our daily life," said Eric Wente of Wente Vineyards in Livermore, Calif.
The USDA's dietary gidelines note that "current evidence suggests that moderate drinking is associated with a lower risk for coronary heart disease in some individuals."
The guidelines also point out that higher levels of alcohol intake can raise the risk for high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, certain cancers and accidents, as well as possibly causing cirrhosis of the liver and damage to the brain and heart.
Those who drink should do so in moderation, the guidelines recommend. This is defined as no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. Five ounces of wine is considered a drink, according to the guidelines.
Written By Kalpana Srinivasan