Wine & Health
Wine by definition is cyclical. The growing season presents us with a new vintage each year and this in turn defines the commentary on the beverage. I mention this as currently we’re seeing something of a run of articles about staying healthy from those in the trade. One that got a good deal of circulation was this one by Rebecca Hopkins who is based in San Francisco. While I agree with the themes brought up, I fear that the general framing makes it seem like it’s more a women’s issue than men’s. Unfortunately there is still more societal pressure upon women to keep up appearances than men, but the questions about health and over indulgence apply just as much to one gender as the other.
So this is why I enjoyed this article a great deal by Sophie Barrett. Yes, still a woman writing it, but in this case, the article is much more neutral in talking about the issues of drinking and eating too much fine wine and food as well as just generally getting older as most of us are lucky enough to have happen. In fact, pretty much everything she points out has been something that’s crossed my mind in recent years.
It’s not a coincidence that many of these articles are coming out at this moment. Sure, there’s always feeling a bit worse for the wear after the winter but it’s more the case that a lot of people who came up in wine at a time of the internet and social media are or have already exited their 30s and when you do, there’s a choice to be made. You can either say, “to hell with it” and just let gout and liver dysfunction go as they may or you can try and control it and be on top of living within the rarefied air of the wine world.
This is a curious world to say the least. Good wine is one of the few liquids I find myself unable to control. I can drink one glass of great beer, or one craft cocktail, or two fingers of aged Bourbon and then be done. Same goes for basic wines in that after one glass, I can easily not have anymore. But with very well-made, fine wines, without thinking I can easily finish a bottle by myself. I’m not alone in this and I know various people who are both wine sellers or makers that can finish upwards of two bottles–and they’re both men and women.
While there is always continued touting of wine’s health benefits, we need to be very aware that it’s just as much a poison as anything other and we are in fact damaging ourselves by drinking it. Yes, a decrease of heart disease or reduced occurrences of erectile dysfunction in men or just an increased feeling of sophistication may all come along with this non-inconsequential poisoning. But let’s face it, we’re not all Antonio Docampo García who lived to 107 in Galicia, Spain by drinking 200 liters of red wine a month: about four bottle’s worth a day.
The 18 year-old boy
So why can’t we stop? Indeed there are those who are alcoholics in the wine trade. They exist everywhere though and I doubt there is a higher percent in the wine trade than in say, an insurance company. It’s mainly for the reason that while you may be able to hide alcoholism more or less in an office job, if you’re constantly sloshed day in, day out because you’re around alcohol, it shows and people will notice. What may be “Brad the charming lush” will quickly devolve into “Brad, we need to talk” in no time.
But there’s always that, “Oh, let’s open this First Growth XXX!” or “Come on, last bit of this magnum from XXX” that ropes in many to lose control. I’ve been this situation often, but as shown in February in Zagreb, for many of us these times have had to pass and while I tasted about 100 wines in two days, I only had one drink, a pilsner with pizza for dinner, and that was it.
The lure is always there and it’s because we’ve grown up wine into this once in a lifetime chance to taste things. If I’d been eating and drinking all night and someone whipped out a bottle of 1961 Château Latour, would I drink it? Yes, course I would. Why? For the same reason an 18 year-old boy freaks out about having sex. There is this idea, mildly tempered by age but raging when younger, that you’re never going to see sex again which is much the same as these wines and it doesn’t need to be First Growth Bordeaux or Grand Cru Burgundy. It can be much less rare wines that, due to the price you simply don’t get to drink everyday as most working in the trade don’t have the wallets that many end consumers do.
And it’s this, this damnable rarification combined with how delicious fine wine can be that makes it such an Achilles Heel.
There is a tomorrow
The first step in leveling things out and being more sane about your imbibing is just to realize that we’re not going to run out of wine any time soon. It’s hard to come to terms with this, especially for those just starting in the industry, but there are always going to be more wines produced each year and as we’re seeing, each vintage is getting better are we understand how to plant, harvest, vinify, and age more optimally, even with the problems of Climate Change.
I recall sometime back when tasting a vertical of Vall Llach that I was actually the only one just tasting the wines. Everyone else was carousing and topping off at will, having a grand old time of it. But this was one of those moments where I started to realized that, yes, you don’t get to taste wines of this caliber often and in a show of almost all the years ever made but it will happen again some day. And if it’s not these, there will be others. Appreciate, don’t obliterate your fine wine encounters.
Pick your battles
I think people are bemused at how strict I am on tastings these days in that I swallow nothing. My basic rule is, “Is the sun up? Yes? Then it’s time to spit.” Not even with lunch now will I have anything to drink unless perhaps its my birthday in which case, fuck it, it’s the middle of January and there’s nothing else to do so old vine Carignan a go go!
I seem to recall Jancis Robinson mentioning something about this awhile back as well in that the day is when you work and the night is when you enjoy wine. It’s a good rule to live by as honestly, if you’re at a professional tasting and start swallowing a little of one wine, it’s going to lead to another and before you know it, you’re that guy or girl who everyone remembers being an asshole from that one event and wow, are you okay and whoa, better watch out because here we are at another event and you remember the last time you were at a trade fair? It’s very easy to be marked the industry drunk and very hard to lose this status. Again, it’s why those with real alcohol problems stand out so readily in the alcohol trade.
It’s true it can be hard to figure out where to spit sometimes as it’s a pretty repulsive, albeit necessary activity. I’ve found myself in the middle of vineyards doing tasting and having to just spit off to the side with less than glamorous aplomb. When entering rooms, I’ve usually already scoped out a sink or spittoon before the wine has been poured. In one interesting take on this, I was with a fellow named Richard Jennings in Israel three years ago and he carried these red plastic cups with him everywhere for spitting. I was amazed at how little wine he drank and thought it bizarre to not indulge in what were some great wines. Now of course I know better and carrying your own cups to toss has its merits as odd as it may seem.
Food & Wine
This is a tough one. I remember a series of wine and food dinners when taking my final sommelier exams in Athens. They were fantastic as well as brilliant given that it exposed a whole bunch of people in the trade to what Greek wines were doing these days. There was a great deal of wine and some wonderful food that was followed by some less than amazing mornings. In fact I didn’t see as much of the Acropolis as I should have given that the evening after the exams finished was well, “rich”.
There are few ways to get around this. One is just to limit yourself to sips of the wines and if ordering a la carte, get salads, avoid the cheese and fatty meat dishes. This doesn’t always work as people who like great wine usually like great food and about the only thing you can do is limit your exposure. It sounds like such a ridiculous First World problem and it most assuredly is but when in the wine trade, you’re often eating amazing meals several times a week that other people have at most once a month or even once a year. The only salvo in this is that much of this auteur cuisine is often sourced from quality ingredients and what goes into the food is actually better for you. Of course then to nurse the hangover the day after, many will resort to smashing a bag of potato chips in their face in place of eating something healthy.
Sadly, the idea of one glass of water for one glass of wine hasn’t really every worked for me. Indeed, drinking water will make you feel less bad, but it’s no substitute for simply drinking less as the water is doing nothing to reduce the amount of alcohol you’re ingesting. I have however heard from a couple of doctors I met that you can use an IV to give yourself a bag of fluid and clear up from a nasty hangover in an hour. As I’m not going to be sticking a needle in to my veins to start a drip, I’ve never tried this myself and would advise those lacking MD or RN at the end of their names not to give it a go.
Adopt a dog, now!
I’ve had my silly hound for about two years now. When he’s not an idiot, he’s actually very smart and has his own Instagram account. But we adopted him from the pound where there were plenty of other lovable pooches waiting for a good home. Oh? Having a dog is too much responsibility? Then that’s the reason you need one. It’s very easy to get sloppy about exercising, especially if you’ve imbibed too much the night before. But when you have a dog, there’s this silly furball bouncing around the next morning, ready to go out for a walk. He can see you look pretty shitty, but still, there’s a world outside waiting to be smelled and pooed upon.
The dog forces you to get out of bed and get your shit together when you don’t want to. I think it’s even better than having kids in this regard as the dog won’t understand if you tell it you need to sleep in a bit more because you overdid it the night before. You have to take the dog out and if you’ve adopted some Pointerish fellow like I did, then you need to do at least 5km in walks every day which is also good for you. I could indeed be fitter, but I’m not in bad shape and I owe it all to dog ownership.
Yes, a dog makes everything in your life more complicated but one will keep you in some semblance of order to your life and force you to grow up and realize what’s important: walks!
Keeping it together
And that’s about it. I’m fully of the opinion that drinking “in moderation” can be done at higher levels than what official guidelines say (especially with the recent ones set forth by the UK, WTF?) but you have to keep your life in check to match them. This of course means no bingeing, watching what you eat, and again, getting some form of active hour-legged individual in your life. Naturally, I’ll look back upon this in 10 years and think, “Pfft, what was I thinking?”