The Talmud shiur I participate in on Shabbat afternoons recently passed a Mishna and detailed Gemarah discussion about the buying and selling of wine (Bava Batra page 94b ff). The instructor explained that the wealth of intricate details were an expression of the importance of wine in daily life, since the denizens of pre-modern cities couldn't trust the water supply and generally drank alcohol as their primary liquid.
The same thesis is presented today in the Washington Post, by George F. Will, who most certainly has never studied Bava Batra.
There's also a paragraph exonerating the colonial Europeans for at least some of the responsibility for the drunkenness of native populations they came into contact with, but that's merely an added benefit of an otherwise interesting article.
The Daf Yomi thread, you'll remember, started here.