How to drink a glass of wine without feeling guilty? First, don’t drink the entire bottle! Unless you have a few friends sharing it with you.
Seriously though, the world seems especially hard and unforgiving right now. Self-care is crucial if we’re going to get through this. So in between standing up for what is right, we need to refresh ourselves. Wine is an excellent place to start. (Unless you have a drinking problem, in which case <narrows eyes; makes Alec Guinness hand motion> This is not the blog you’re looking for.)
A Matter of Taste
So, how to drink a glass of wine without feeling guilty? Start with a good wine. That doesn’t necessarily mean an expensive wine. It means a wine that makes your taste buds perk up happily.
This means different things to different people.
I’m not a big white wine fan – partly because my taste buds are highly sensitive to sour and bitter flavors. The only white wine I generally like is Viognier, which I jokingly claim is a red masquerading as a white. It has a lusher mouthfeel than most white wines, and its combination of stone fruit, creaminess and low acidity lands on my palate in an especially pleasing way.
Most of the time, though, I go straight for the red wines: Old Vine Zinfandel; Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc; blends with some combination of Carignane, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Syrah. My favorite, Bonny Doon Vineyard’s Contra, sadly, no longer exists. Le sigh. On the other hand, there’s almost no Bonny Doon red wine that I don’t like. (No, they don’t pay me to say this.) And proving my point that a delicious wine doesn’t have to be expensive: my go-to table wine is Trader Joe’s Old Moon Old Vine Zinfandel for all of $5.99. Nope, not a typo. Just under $6 for a lovely glass full of dark fruit, pepper and spice. Yum.
Antioxidants Are Our Friends
Drinking wine is not just about indulging your palate. That glass in your hand is brimming with polyphenols: naturally-occurring antioxidants that help protect brain and heart health, reduce the risk of cancer, lower blood pressure, raise the good HDL cholesterol in your body and lower the bad LDL cholesterol.
The three polyphenols you probably hear about most regarding wine’s health benefits are resveratrol, flavonoids (often, specifically, anthocyanins) and tannins. Resveratrol comes from the skin of the grapes; anthocyanins from the skin and sometimes the flesh. Tannins come from grapes’ skin, seeds and stems; also from the wood frequently used in wine production. That puckering sensation in your mouth when you're sipping your favorite wine? That’s from the tannins. (Tea and dark chocolate – two of my other favorite things – also contain tannins. But that’s a different blog for another day.) So as you’re savoring that glass of wine, you can enjoy not only its rich color and lush flavor, but the fact that it’s fortifying your system naturally.
The Tasting Game
Now that you know more about how wine (in moderation!) is beneficial, let’s focus on the pleasure it offers to both your mouth and your nose. This can be a lot of fun. Since much of what we taste is actually a result of what we smell, it can be a game to identify scents and then flavors. Hint: they will change.
Swirl the wine in your glass. Put your nose in, just below the rim. Inhale. One swirl-and-sniff may give you raspberries. Another may give you mint. Or leather. Or pebbles. What you smell will depend on the wine. As it comes into contact with oxygen and opens up, you’ll find new subtleties in its scent, some of which may be completely unrelated to what you taste – which, too, will change as the wine aerates.
Think of the wine in the bottle like a tightly curled peony. As the flower blooms, the petals slowly expand, until they become a gorgeous burst of color and shape. When a bottle of wine is opened and the wine encounters oxygen, it too blooms – though if it encounters too much, over too long a period of time, it becomes unhappy. So will you, if you drink it. You’ll find the wine has lost flavor, and it may veer towards bitter or sour. Not yet vinegar, but not a pleasurable experience.
Life Extension For Wine
How to prolong the life of your wine, then? An inert gas like Private Preserve does the job nicely. Another alternative is a Vacu Vin Wine Saver, though I prefer Private Preserve, since instead of trying to suck out the oxygen the way a Vacu Vin does, it pushes it out with an inert gas which then protects the wine from oxidizing. You can also re-cork and put your wine bottle in the fridge after it’s opened, especially if the weather’s hot, or doing a rollercoaster ride between temperatures. You’ll find the wine doesn’t taste quite as good as the day you first opened it. But since you’re only drinking a glass – you are only drinking a glass, right? – it helps to have a few more days to enjoy the wine.
Hot Or Not?
You’ve probably heard people say a wine is “hot”. They don’t mean it reminds them of their sexy ex (though, who knows, maybe it does). It refers to the amount of alcohol in the wine, i.e. alcohol by volume or ABV. Take a sip from your glass. Hold it in your mouth a few moments. Breathe in through your nose. That sensation of your mouth warming – that’s from the alcohol. The degree of warmth will give you a clue to the wine’s ABV. Wines have a large range, from low-alcohol Moscato d'Asti at 5.5% to high-alcohol Port at 20%. (Momentary swoon: Good port. Walnuts, blue cheese, dark chocolate. Good music. Good company. Yep, that would be heavenly.)
Okay, back to the wine: If your mouth warms appreciably – not to the point where you could light a candle with your breath, but where you’re feeling a noticeable ping-ping – the wine you’re drinking is probably approaching 14% ABV. This is on the high end, or “hot”, since most wines average around 11-13% ABV. After a while, you can become pretty skilled at figuring out the alcohol content without looking at the bottle. Try it and see.
Drinking wine is a sensual experience. Pour a glass. Appreciate the beautiful color. Swirl. Sniff. Sip. Perhaps picture yourself walking amongst the vineyards or down a beach, towards the water. Immerse yourself in the flavors and scents of the wine, and the sensation as it enters your bloodstream. It’s only one glass, so you won’t overdo the alcohol. And while the antioxidants in the wine are bolstering your health, you’ll be training yourself to focus on small pleasures and treating your senses to moments of delight.
That’s how to drink a glass of wine without feeling guilty.
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*Special thanks to the wonderful and talented Rob Cottingham for the cartoon.*
Red wine and resveratrol: Good for your heart?, November 12, 2016, Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/red-wine/art-20048281
Zhou, Yue; Zheng, Jie; Li, Ya; Xu, Dong-Ping; Li, Sha; Chen, Yu-Ming; Li, Hua-Bin. 2016. "Natural Polyphenols for Prevention and Treatment of Cancer." Nutrients 8, no. 8: 515 - US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4997428/