December 31, 2018

Sip instead of Guzzle: A Wine Lover’s Guide to Drinking Mindfully.

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I grew up in a home where two contradictory approaches to drinking were taught.

My Midwestern mother was a die-hard teetotaler who had sworn off alcohol of all forms after surviving the deafening, binge drinking heavy metal scene of the 70s.

Despite my father’s attempt to hide his disagreement with my mother’s black-and-white approach toward alcohol, his European roots caused his true feelings for wine to shine through the cracks of my mother’s strict system of rules.

“Is it true that in real European families, children are taught to drink wine with meals?” I would tauntingly ask as an inquisitive child.

“Yes, it’s true,” my father would reply with dismay, before buttoning his lips to prevent something slipping out that would trigger my mother’s wrath.

Eventually, when I came of legal drinking age, my parents’ cold war of contradictory drinking approaches created a burning curiosity to try every kind of wine that I could get my hands on—that is, on a college student’s budget. I was propelled to discover what this sweet liquid substance was. How could it cause such extreme elation for some drinkers yet such hatred and headache for others?

In an effort to avoid my mother disowning me for drinking wine as a hobby, I turned my quest for wine enlightenment into an academic project, investigating differences in cultural perceptions of wine for my undergraduate thesis. And where better to understand the value of wine than France, the world’s highest ranking producer of wine by volume?

I lived life in rosé-colored glasses during the summer that I studied abroad in Nice, France. My host mother took me under her wing and taught me the important lessons on wine that had been left out of my upbringing as a child. Between the sips of chilled rosé and bits of broken language, she let me in on her secret of how to indulge in wine without going overboard to the detriment of her own health: drinking mindfully.

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully aware of each present moment—a concept that can be all too often forgotten in our modern era of hyper-connectivity through technology. Applied to drinking, mindfulness can allow us to find a sweet spot in wine drinking by consuming enough to appreciate our beverage without guzzling down so much that we don’t know our own name, let alone the grape varietal in our glass.

One thesis, two published research papers on wine, and three summers in France later, I have grown into my mindful love of wine in a way that feels healthy and balanced. My enjoyment of wine now stems from a love of the sensory elements of the drink rather than a desire to appear adult or a need to create friction with my mother’s drinking policy—in part because she’s wavered enough in her stance against alcohol to allow my father to “mindfully drink” a glass of wine with me each time I come to visit.

Here are the five fundamental elements of mindfully drinking that make this drink delicious to me:

1. It’s all about intention.

The most important element of drinking mindfully is to understand why we are drinking wine in the first place. If we drink with the goal of inebriation, then we may be less attentive to the experience of wine drinking. On the flip side, if we drink for the purpose of enjoying the sensory experience of wine, we set ourselves on solid footing for a positive wine drinking experience.

2. Taste, don’t gulp.

Mindfulness requires us to be fully present with the process of our task at hand. It is challenging to be attentive to the process of wine drinking when we are consuming more than our palates can process. Savoring wine in small sips allows us to notice our wine’s complexity. With thousands of tasting notes in wine, a bottle’s true story unfolds only when we give our unabridged attention to its nuanced taste.

3. Use all five senses.

Although taste is important in mindfully drinking wine, it is often overrated. Mindfulness encourages us to be attentive to each of our senses.

Wine drinking becomes a very different experience when we drink it with our eyes, noting the depth of its color and the ways in which the liquid runs along the edges of our glass. We can also drink with our ears by closing our eyes as we pour and listening carefully to the stream of liquid that trickles into our glass. We can drink with our noses, deeply inhaling the array of aromas that flirt with the air as we kiss our noses to the brim of our glass. We can drink with each feeling cell of our bodies, savoring the velvety smooth texture of wine on our tongues and the warm embrace as it passes down our throats.

4. Look deeper into your glass.

From our full sensory enjoyment of wine, we may become curious about the deeper meaning of wine as a product. Through our meditative consumption of wine, we may become curious and cognizant of where our wine fits into the global food system. No two wines are created equally. From the grape growers to the pickers to the winemakers to the marketers to the distributors to the wine merchants, each wine has been touched by a countless number of hands by the time it reaches our glass.

By becoming mindful of the social and environmental consequences of wine growing practices, we can engage with wine with much more meaning than we would by seeing it at face value as a sweet-tasting beverage.

5. No peer pressuring, okay?

Although wine drinking can be a sensory experience, it will remain to be associated with its alcoholic content for some. Binge drinking, alcoholism, and their effects on health are grave problems that should not be overlooked.

Mindful drinking may be an exercise in mindfulness for some, but it could be a triggering experience for others who have seen the devastating consequences of alcohol firsthand. For these reasons, mindful drinking may be best practiced by those who already have a healthy relationship with alcohol.

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