Healthy, Wealthy, and Wine
The festivities of the holiday season are over and it’s officially the new year, meaning—if you’re anything like me—you’re slightly depressed, more than slightly broke, and possibly still feeling the effects of overindulgence in food and/or alcohol. Whether you’ve gone down the precipitous path of resolutions or not, enhancing one’s well-being is the attitude of this and most post-celebration periods. Speaking as someone who tends to go to extremes whenever possible (and this past month was no exception), I implore you to join me in my quest for moderation. Before you start your juice cleanse, purge your house of all alcohol and saturated fats, or spend the last of your dwindling credit balance on a wheat grass plant and a five-pound bag of chia seeds, consider for a moment the middle ground. As a newly minted twenty eight year old, I don’t pretend to be omniscient, or even superlatively wise; I’ve been to both ends of the spectrum in a few of life’s arenas, and am still grappling with the ability to walk that elusive path of moderation. One thing I can tell you with certainty is that a life of excess will be a short one, and a life of a constant restraint will not be a very enjoyable one. I’ve learned a few things along the way, for instance healthy food just makes my body feel better, but there are some things I’ll never give up (cheese, bread, bacon, and chocolate come to mind), and that while I don’t go all out with tequila shots and Long Island ice teas anymore (yes, I used to drink those), I’ve come to the conclusion that a beer (or two) or a glass of wine (or two) are not only a pleasurable after-work/dinnertime ritual, but, according to many sources these days, actually good for you. In a perfect world, I’d come home to a beautiful bottle of Burgundy, or perhaps a Barolo as old as Justin Bieber, which I’d open and let breath as I prepared the evening meal, then pour reverently into polished Riedel stemware before sniffing and savoring the dulcet, earthy notes. In reality, I pop open a Trader Joe’s beer after walking in the door. If it’s in a can, I might pour it into the closest watertight vessel, but more often than not, I’m sipping straight from a bottle as I watch Jon Stewart on Hulu. This scenario is fine for most nights, and I’ve made my peace with the fact that I’ve got champagne taste and a beer budget (and sometimes not even that), but just because I’m strapped for cash doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy some nice wine once in a while. The three bottles below are proof that you can enjoy a decent glass of wine, unwind after a long day, and get your antioxidants, all for less than a bottle of multivitamins.
Until I sipped this wine at a recent Winestone tasting, Tannat was a grape I was convinced I didn’t care for. Originally (and still) grown in the southwest of France (especially Madiran), it can be incredibly harsh and tannic. Much like Malbec in Argentina, Tannat found an unlikely home in Uruguay, where a softer style of wine is produced. I picked up this 2007 reserve Tannat from Bodegas Carrau for thirteen bucks, or, in resolution terms, the price of one bag of organic South African rooibos tea, and Tannat is a lot easier to pronounce than rooibos.
In the glass, this wine was deep, inky purple, and smelled of brambly fruit, coffee, and leather, with noticeable, but not overwhelming oak. The palate had similar fruit—dark cherry and berry—with prominent but silky tannins. Not a supremely elegant wine, but enjoyable to drinks, and much better than you’d expect a Uruguayan wine to be…
This next one was less of a stretch for my palate, as Nebbiolo is just about my favorite black grape of all. The pride of the Piedmont region where Langhe is located, this fairly thin-skinned grape nevertheless produces red wines of often incredibly intense tannin and acid. It’s best known as the star of the splurge-worthy Barolos and Barbarescos of northern Italy, but what some people don’t know is that you can find bottles made with nearly identical fruit for a lot less. If you notice the label, this wine is actually from Barbaresco, but because of technicalities (whether quality of fruit, vinification, yields, etc.), must be labelled simply as ‘Langhe Nebbiolo’. Works for me; this puppy was less than twenty bucks, or approximately one-sixth the price of a juicer. Bonus: they’ve juiced the grapes for you!
Nebbiolo is known for being light in color (due to the thin skin), with a garnet hue, almost orangey on the rim. This one had a wonderful nose with both fruity and savory character: bright red cherry, cranberry, kalamata olive, and the slight funk that I always assocoiate with narcissus flowers (also known as paperwhites, which, according to my roommate in college, smell like ‘dirty baby diaper’). The palate was similarly complex, with cherry but more in the maraschino realm, sandalwood, mellow tannins, solid acidity, and a silky mouthfeel. Thank you, Italy.
Okay, I’ll freely admit that I was swayed by the label on this one—that’s not why I bought it, but it didn’t hurt. Named ‘Zaffo’ for the winemaker’s horse (which appears rear-out on the label), this Italian wine from the Oltrepo Pavese region in Lombardy stars a grape locally called Bonarda. This is a bit confusing, as there is also a Bonarda grown in California but called Charbono, as well as a Bonarda Piemontese grown in Piedmont, and a straight-up Bonarda popular in Argentina…and people wonder why wine seems daunting. The Bonarda in this bottle is actually a grape called Croatina, which is similar to Dolcetto in its firm tannin, and is here blended with Barbera. But none of that matters when you consider that you can get such a lovely (and tasty) bottle of wine for about the same price as a new Neti pot, and let’s be honest, most of us are more comfortable putting things in our mouths than up our noses anyway.
The wine pours out a rich ruby color, with bright but dusty aromas of currant, blackberry, and slightly dried rose petals. Tart in the mouth, with a kick of tannin, cranberry, and definite herbal quality, almost like caraway.
So the glass may not be Riedel—hell, it may not even be clean—but all three of these wines go far in striking a balance between my luxuriant, Burgundy-swilling fantasies and the abstemious, bargain-hunting necessity of my weeknight reality. Balance, moderation, or whatever you want to call it, may not sound exciting, but it’s a lot more fun than being a teetotaler, and a lot more sustainable than being a lush. In 2012, as with years past and likely years to come, finding that happy middle ground in all areas of my life is the only goal I espouse. I’ll still veer into the extremes every now and then, but, just like my ideal wine, I keep on improving with age. So give yourself some leeway, forgiveness, and good ol’ fashioned love, pour out your libation of choice, whether Kombucha, Coors Light, or Cristal, and raise a toast to health, wealth, and happiness. Happy New Year!