The wine park

Drinking and Driving

May 20, 2013 12:50:11 PM

With the year-end festive season upon us and the media exhorting all “to be of good cheer” , it would be useful to review what the pitfalls are of being ‘high spirited’ in India – something normally brought home to a reveller if/when pulled up by the cops for testing the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC).

BAC is the % of alcohol in one’s blood. This varies with the amount of the alcoholic beverage consumed, one’s own body mass, and the amount of time between imbibing and testing (as time allows the body to metabolise some of the alcohol).

The legal limit for BAC varies country-to-country (and in India state-to-state): many countries have a ‘zero tolerance policy’(Brazil, Pakistan, Russia, and most Western countries for drivers under 21 or with L plates); China has a limit of 0.02%, India generally 0.03%; in most western countries it is 0.05%; and a generous 0.08% in Canada, the UK, the US and a few other places.

What do these figures mean? Well, one drink (150 ml of wine or a half-bottle of beer or 45 ml of spirits) will produce a BAC level of about 0.02%; two drinks will push this to 0.04% (over the limit in India but perfectly legal in most parts of the world); three drinks (0.06%) is about the limit even in the west.

However, the law is unclear about the grounds on which a driver may be stopped for testing. In Bangalore the cops will write on the challan (in Kannada) “Stopped for rash & negligent driving” then “tested for alcohol and found XX over the limit” – which implies that they actually have no grounds for stopping a law-abiding citizen if he (or she) is driving normally. As it is, the cops tend to set up checkpoints just outside bars and hotels rather than on the highway (where stopping a speeding car would be much tougher) and pounce upon the unwary emerging from their watering-holes. Sometimes the location of these checks depends upon the consideration provided (or not provided) by the hapless bar owners.

What does one do in this situation? The easiest solution is, of course, to follow that old family planning motto (“Ek ya do bus” – ‘one or two is enough’). Other solutions include having a designated driver in the group who will abstain from imbibing, or even hiring a driver for the evening (the Easy Driver Service in Bangalore is a good one). And no, chewing paan of a mint cannot fool the breath-analyser, only the poor sap who shoves his face into your car window and asks you to “Say Haa”!

What does this mean for us in the Festive Season? There is no denying that the mere thought of having to cope with the cops for alcohol testing (and the possibility of a fine or worse) is a big bummer for many, and would certainly inhibit spontaneous partying. However, with a bit of pre-planning and self-discipline (and dollops of luck) most should get through with nary an encounter.

Wines I’ve been drinking: Winemaker, artist, and owner of the eponymous winery Bibi Graetz was in India this week, and importer Vishal Kadakia of Wine Park Mumbai held tastings and dinners in Mumbai and Bangalore for 4 of this wines. Bibi hails from the Tuscany region of Italy, and has his winery near Florence. An artist by temperament who started making wine only in 2001, he creates his own labels – abstractions bursting with colour, much like his award-winning wines.

His entry-level wines Casamatta (“Crazy Head”) is aromatic and very drinkable, and with Wine Spectator ratings of 90 points terrific value for money. The flagship Testamatta (“Crazy House”) is complex and layered: the 2006 vintage got 98 points from WS, the highest that year for an Italian wine. However, it is the Soffocone (“Big Suffocation”) that is really interesting: juicy tannins with lots of cherries and berries (It’s 90% Sangiovese) – its inspiration is what young lovers do – ‘nuff said! Great story, if a bit naughty – however, with 92 points from Wine Spectator, the Soffocone 2009 is a wonderful wine in its own right.

As the Italians ay, Salute! And Merry X’Mas.