John Saker: Learn to be a mindful drinker
I'm sometimes asked if the wine industry has more than its share of people with drinking problems. "What with all that booze and tasting, it's got be AA central, no?"
It's not. Certainly, there are a small number of wine insiders you meet or hear about who encounter difficulties. For the most part though, I'd say there's less problem-drinking in the wine industry than exists in most other sectors.
That's because wine people may drink often and, at times, what others might consider to be large amounts, but they drink differently. To rephrase the TV ad – "it's not the drinking, it's how they're drinking".
The key word here is the verb "to taste".
When you're tasting, you're imbibing with your brain in gear. You're trying to read all the messages a wine is sending you. You're seeking pleasure, but in an engaged, investigative way. It's an in-the-moment act of concentration that is, dare I say it, almost sobering. It's also mentally and socially stimulating. You're often discussing what you're tasting with those around you.
The drug contained in the drink is not at the heart of the exercise, so you enter into quite a different relationship with what's in the glass.
A number of young people have told me that entering the wine industry changed their relationship with alcohol for the better. They left behind the reckless boozing that is a rite of passage for New Zealand youth. At the same time they increased their enjoyment of the act of drinking.
The Europeans have been consuming alcohol in this way for centuries. When will we, as a society, make more progress in that direction?
There are hopeful signs.
One is the craft beer movement, which has joined the wine industry in stressing the importance of taste. Craft beer is preaching this gospel to a segment of the alcohol market beyond the reach of wine.
Another is the very interesting "mindful eating" movement. Mindful eating is aimed at slowing things down and eating consciously, without distraction (that is, not in front of the television or in the car). It's basically everything I've described above about tasting wine, but with food. It's about paying attention to flavours and textures, knowing and sharing stories about where food comes from and, ultimately, entering into a more respectful, healthy relationship with food.
A mindful eater inevitably becomes a mindful drinker. And we don't mind that.
Gladstone Vineyard Riesling 2016 $25
I enjoyed this wine's weight and texture, which are too often missing in Kiwi riesling. Lemon curd and honeysuckle unfold gracefully, the acidity is ripe yet round. Off-dry in style and serene in disposition.
Main Divide Pinot Noir 2014 $25
A $25 pinot doesn't come much better than this. Tamarillo, dark cherry and attractive spice flavours sing out strongly and clearly. Concentrated, silky in texture and very lengthy.