A few weeks ago a Master of Wine shared with me that he stopped drinking wine for three months while in lockdown during COVID. He lives alone and recognized that, if he opened a bottle of wine intending to drink just one glass, he’d end up drinking the entire bottle by himself by the end of the evening. He loves wine (after all, he’s one of less than 400 MWs, or Masters of Wine, in the world) yet during COVID, alcohol had become something he rejected rather than embraced, albeit temporarily, for the sake of his own health.
There are several implications within those few sentences to unpack. The challenges of alcohol moderation, for example, for even the most highly-aware beverage professionals. Also the relationship, both real and perceived, between alcohol and health. And the tangle of living conditions during COVID that complicate our consumption and enjoyment of wine.
As we continue to move toward re-opening restaurants and other hospitality venues, it’s an opportune moment to unpack those implications, and others, a bit further. Here are some observations to consider about the evolving impact of COVID on alcohol consumption by consumers.
The Roller Coaster Factor
It’s well-documented that anxiety and depression contribute to increased drinking during the pandemic, particularly for people over the age of 40 and for women more than men. Current studies align with research from previous decades that indicate that people turn to alcohol as a means to handle stress, such as in the period following the World Trade Center attacks in 2001.
Increased consumption of alcohol isn’t the only documented reaction to stress, however, and I think there’s something to be learned from this dichotomy. Some studies indicate an increased consumption, certainly, but other studies indicate an opposite reaction, such as kicking a habit or stopping alcohol consumption altogether as a way to cope to trauma or high-anxiety, stressful situations. Participants in the latter body of studies found meaning in staying clear-headed, researchers said, and taking actions to respond meaningfully to the situation.
Moderation lands in the space between those two responses — over-consumption on one hand, and restriction or abstention on the other. “It’s okay to drink, just drink less” is the simplification of this third option of a response. Except it’s easier said than done, as the anecdote with the Master of Wine suggests at the beginning of this post.
How exactly can we drink wine in moderation? Dr Elisha Goldstein of the Mindful Living Collective in Los Angeles, California outlines some ideas through the “intentional tasting experience” that he created for Champagne Henriot. It’s called “Medi-Tasting” and is described as “a sensorial experience” that brings together the two ways of approaching wine, that is, enjoyable or casual sipping and a more analytical, step-by-step tasting. The result is an intentional tasting experience and a stress-free state of mind.
I’ve experienced Dr Goldstein’s “Medi-Tasting” and here were two of my takeaways that can be applied to your next effort to drink wine mindfully and in moderation.
- The point here is not to consume a lot of wine. Once you experience how much time we spend with each glass of wine, you’ll see that this experience is not about volume.
- Tasting wine step-by-step involves four senses, from eyes to nose to mouth to touch. When we slow down enough to fully engage each of those senses in turn, our experience of the wine is inevitably enhanced. I’ve seen groups spend 15 or 20 minutes describing the smell and taste of a single wine but, to start, try spending 30 seconds with each of the four senses. Notice the color of a glass of wine, for example, tilting it forward and noting the chromatic differences between outside rim and inner core. Then give the wine a swirl and put your nose into the glass to inhale; if you’re tasting with a few friends, take turns naming each thing you smell whether that’s leather or cigars or rosemary. There are no wrong answers here. Then move on to the taste and the finish. Take your time.