Malia Llerena happily sips Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Champagne and Merlot. She knows red wine goes in the larger glasses and Champagne gets the long, skinny flutes. After all, she’s already five years old.


“We’re a very gourmet family,” says her father, Patrick Llerena, who owns boutique California winery Iridesse Wines. “I am not advocating it for everyone, but it is part of our life.”


As foodie culture has evolved, parents like Llerena have adopted the southern European custom of offering young children small amounts of wine, hoping to remove the forbidden fruit appeal and teach an appreciation for fine dining.


Many parents and health officials are appalled by the practice, citing concerns about alcohol’s effect on developing brains. And the American Academy of Pediatrics warns that giving children any amount of alcohol is a poor parenting choice, pointing out the substance is a neurological toxin.


Proponents argue more harm comes from diets of processed foods and soda pop than from a few sips of wine.