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I work in two professions – Wine Consulting and Playing Rock Music – that pretty much guarantee that I am in close proximity to alcohol (and its potential abuse) a good portion of the time.
I love to drink. Specifically, I love to savor excellent wine (and beer), and admire the nuances, flavors, aromas, and overall artistic craftsmanship that a good drink can deliver. Most of all, I love sharing that experience with others. Wine connects us to a particular place and time, and connects us with each other – not just the place, time, and people that made it, but also the place, time and people with whom we enjoy it when we pop the cork.
And once in a blue moon, I like to overdo it a bit. Because getting buzzed with friends is, well, it’s just plain fun.
Notice I wrote “once in a blue moon” and not “every weekend.” In the rock-&-roll context of my life, I’ve seen first-hand what alcohol abuse can do to individuals, families, and even total strangers that come into unfortunate (and sometimes, in the case of drunk driving, catastrophic and tragic) contact with an abuser.
Genetics and personality traits are very important in determining anyone’s individual predilection towards abuse of alcohol, but it doesn’t help that cultural, and peer pressures (at least in the U.S. and the U.K.) tend to ridicule the appreciation of wine as snobbish, while at the same time aggrandizing inebriation as the height of fun in a social context.
That approach is completely ass-backward. I don’t have any pithy humorous sayings on that topic. It’s just so sad, stupid, and heartbreaking that I can’t make it funny and still respect myself.
Alcohol-related liver diseases (which are notoriously difficult to diagnose until they are advanced) have been on the rise in countries like Britain for years. Whether you drink or not, the rising abuse of alcohol (in the U.S. or the U.K. for example) is expensive for taxpayers and health insurance recipients who all help to fund health care systems that are having trouble keeping up without breaking their banks.
I’m not the first person to touch on how these dangers impact those of us in the wine consulting biz (check out this great series in Men’s Vogue for an example). But I thought I’d add to the on-line discussion by listing the tips that have helped me (so far) to successfully navigate the waters of wine appreciation while minimizing the damage to my liver (and my relationships)…
Abuse Is NOT ‘One-Size-Fits-All.‘ Safe levels of drinking can only ever be approximate. While you may read that having 2 drinks per day is the safe average level of consumption for someone of your weight and gender, these generalized figures don’t take into account your race, family history, or personality type. You can’t treat these as hard-and-fast rules – your safe levels may differ.
All Things In Moderation. If 2 drinks per day is a safe limit for you, that doesn’t mean that abstaining from drinking for one week means that you can safely consume 14 drinks over the weekend. If you are unsure if your current alcohol consumption levels are safe, consult alcoholism.about.com (or, better yet, talk to your doctor).
Treat Professional Settings Professionally. I’ve written before about the perils of industry tastings, so I won’t repeat all of that advice here. Bear in mind that just because free alcohol is available to you doesn’t mean that you are obligated to drink it. When you’re at industry tastings, don’t forget to spit, and don’t use it as an excuse to catch up on drinking that you think you’ve “missed out on” in the past.
Don’t Punish Yourself. If you’re not an abuser, drinking too much once in a long while shouldn’t upset you (unless it’s caused you to do something that you regret). Nobody’s perfect. Just make a mental note to improve the next time. If needed, ask your friends for support. (If you are an abuser, or concerned that you might be headed in that direction, then falling off the wagon is a big deal and might need the help of a professional).
Never, Ever, Under Any Circumstances Drink & Drive. This one should be obvious but amazingly I still know people who do this. This is never, ever safe under any circumstances. If you suspect that you’re going to have more than your normally safe level of alcohol, get someone else to drive – no excuses.
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Let’s face it. There are just some situations where our favorite pastime – drinking the vino – just isn’t appropriate.
Religious retreats, Amish barn-raisings, and Rehab all come to mind.
Think that because you can’t imbibe the vino, you’re missing out on opportunities to up your Wine IQ?
Here are three sure-fire ways to increase your wine appreciation – without having to pop a single cork…
1) Get out the map.
Wine connects you to a place. Sometimes (usually when it’s inexpensive) it’s a big swath of country; other times (when it’s so expensive that it’s on allocation to the billionaires among you who own your own islands), it’s a tiny plot of land in Burgundy.
Since wine connects you to a location on the planet, the more you know about that location the more your appreciation for that place’s wine can grow. When you’re traveling, spend some time to learn about the culture, history, and geography of that area. When you’re at home, crack open a decent atlas and soak in some knowledge about someplace far, far away.
Remember that the vino embodies a unique combination of a place’s soil, its climate, and the culture of winemaking that helped along the miracle of turing that grape juice into the stuff in your glass. When you’re back to your normal wine-tasting environment, try some wines from the places that you just learned about – you just might get an instant and intimate connection with that spot of the world through that wine.
2) Get cookin’.
Mrs. Dudette likes to cook – and she’s pretty darn great at it, too – which has exposed Dude here to cuisine he would never have had the pleasure of grubbing if he had stuck to his bachelor life. And you know what? Exposure to varied ingredients and cooking styles had made Dude a better wine taster.
Why? For one thing, regional cuisine is a function of regional culture, and in many parts of the wine world, a region’s wines and its food have evolved together to compliment one another (check out the book Vino Italiano for a good example of this). For another, exposure to different cooking styles and foods builds up your flavor and aroma chops – essential stuff for tasting and describing the myriad of tastes and smells that a good wine can serve up.
I’m not sure how many amazing cook books are out there, but I’m pretty sure Mrs. Dudette owns approximately 80% of them. In any case, some of my faves can be found at this link. Pick a recipe, fire up the grill, and get cookin’!
3) Hit the books.
Can’t taste? Then read.
Reading about wine, its amazing history, its incredible variety, and the charismatic & entertaining personalities that have forged its destiny… well, you can’t help but to be awed, people.
I’ve got a Top 10 list of wine appreciation books, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are a plethora of books on the market that explore wine from angles besides just how to taste it – its impacts on philosophy, its affect on modern culture, its mysterious origins, and the human side of its story throughout world history, for starters.
You could, quite literally (ha-ha), read about wine every evening and deepen your appreciation for (and knowledge of) it for several years without ever getting bored.
But it’s more fun to do it with a glass of vino in hand.
(images: davidzinger.wordpress.com, elsnoozo.blogspot.com, history.com, aceface.com)
It’s been said in some Eastern traditions that to be born a human is a rare event. To be a human and to question the source of life (to become a Seeker) is rarer still. And rarest of all is to seek and find your guru, the way to enlightenment.
Well, I’ve had many gurus in my life. My dog, for example, has taught me a lot (including how to better smell my wine). Wine itself can be one of your life gurus, if you only take the time to pay attention to what it has to tell you.
“Reality is an illusion that occurs due to a lack of wine.”
Inspired in part by a recent post in Zen Habits, below are 20 things about life that I’ve learned – from drinking wine. I fully expect that the list will grow, as my life journey of wine appreciation continues – but who knows, sometimes I’m stubborn, and I’m also prone to forget stuff, so I’d better share these now!
Roll up with me, if you will, and let’s enjoy together a glass of ‘Zen Wine‘…
20 Things About Life I’ve Learned From Drinking Wine
1) Old is Beautiful
Anyone caught up in our youth-worshiping culture need only to crack open a well-kept aged classified Bordeaux, taking in all of its complex aromas & flavors, to realize that not only do good things come to those who wait, but time offers the gift of real beauty to those who age with grace and humility.
2) Young is Beautiful
Fruit bombs can be fun – there’s something refreshing about the forward brashness of youth. If you want to stay young at heart, you need to keep a bit of youthful bravado, through thick & thin.
3) Nature matters
Start with a crappy vine, and you could end up with crappy wine. Start with a great old vine, and you’ve got a better chance of making some killer vino. We need to remember our roots – if you don’t really know where you’re starting from, you might not be able to get where you want to go!
4) Nurture matters, too
Just as good wine needs a caring hand in its development, we need to seek out strong role models and a positive environment to reach our best in life.
5) Real change comes from within
A great wine starts with a decent pedigree, loving hands during its formative time (fermentation, etc.), and a good environment in which to mature. After that, all the magic happens within the bottle with virtually no exposure to the ‘outside’ world. Like a great wine, once we’re given what we need to succeed in life, the rest is up to us!
6) The greatest pleasure is being in the moment
Pour, swirl, sniff, sip. If you want to get the most out of tasting a wine, you need to let yourself BE, clearing your mind and just accepting everything that the wine has to offer. In other words, you need to be in the moment. Tasting wine is a sacred act – just like walking the dog, getting married, making love, or reading the newspaper. All of our actions become minor miracles in the universe when we give ourselves up to them completely.
7) People & relationships matter more than stuff
We get just as much pleasure from sharing a good wine with good friends as we do tasting that good wine. Wine is a lubricant for life – not a substitute for it. The objects in your life should be used for your life (and not the other way around).
8) Sharing is caring
A friend of mine called me recently, telling me how excited he was that he would be pouring magnums of `60s Ch. Petrus at a dinner, and that he would probably get a chance to taste some of this amazing stuff. Why did he call? “I needed to tell someone who would appreciate it!” he said. The better things in life, like wine, are best when they’re shared.
9) One size does not fit all
I don’t like Retsina. In fact, I hate Retsina. But there are people out there who love it. And both are totally OK. There are over 7,000 brands of wine available to consumers in the U.S. – and that’s AWESOME. Because variety (especially of varietals!) really is the spice of life.
10) We have a duty to ‘Go Green‘
Wine is arguably the best and most artistic interpretation of the bounty that the earth has to offer us (the French terrior concept shows that they figured this out a long time ago!). We owe a debt to mother nature to be sustainable and nurture her as she has done for us (and hopefully will do for our children).
11) Looks can be deceiving
Girlfriends of mine used to buy bottles of wine because they had pretty labels. And a lot of them sucked. Don’t judge based on appearances – eventually, it will burn you.
12) Not everyone ages gracefully
I’ve tasted decades-old Barolos that were still tannic. I’ve tasted aged Rieslings that smelled more like vinegar than flowers & petrol. Some people just get crotchety and negative, and they’re best avoided.
13) All things in moderation
I’ve tasted a lot of wine. Sometimes a lot of wine in one night. And sometimes, I’ve hugged some toilets. Trust me, things are best when they’re not overdone!
14) A place for everything, & everything in its place
You can’t age wine just anywhere, and having the right storage system makes keeping wine a hell of a lot easier. Life is smoother and more tranquil when you remove clutter from your surroundings (and your mind).
15) The best views come from the toughest climbs
The most beautiful views usually come from the highest peaks, and you’re going to need to do some difficult climbing to see them. Most of the best wine on earth is picked, sorted, and managed by hand – made even more difficult when done from steep hillsides at high altitudes. A labour of love & passion may not be easy, but it usually gets you the best of what life has to offer.
16) Sometimes we need to be challenged to show our best
Better wines come from better fruit, and better fruit comes from vines that are stressed (for water, nutrients, etc.). When we are challenged, we grow. And when we step up to the challenges of life, we really know what we’re made of.
17) You are what you eat (& drink)
If a wine is fed bad water, on bad soil, and doused with pesticides, it’s probably going to turn out bad. Which is why you should never drink plonk if you can avoid it. Also – never cook with a wine that you wouldn’t drink! Our bodies are not that different and they don’t take well to being fed lousy eats. Eat food, mostly vegetables, not too much. Give your body the best chance it can have, by giving it the best food you can get.
18) “The secret to being a bore is to tell everything”
Wines that don’t have much complexity can get really boring, really quickly. Wines that evolve over time in the glass, revealing layer upon layer of aromas and flavors, are among the world’s most exciting. Leave a bit of mystery to life, and to yourself – not everything can be explained, and not everything is worth explaining.
19) Never stop learning
If you want to appreciate wine, you will need to learn a bit of science, geography, history, biology, chemistry… I’m sure you get the point. As Ghandi said, “live as if you will die tomorrow, learn as if you were to live forever.”
20) Your greatest asset is Patience
If you want to taste a wine aged to perfection, then you need to wait and let it age to perfection, undisturbed, without your meddling. Lao Tzu asked if you have the patience to wait until the ‘muddy water’ of your mind is clear.
And as Pete Townshend asked “Well… do ya?!?“