Wine is for sharing. What does that mean in self-quarantine?
At a time of public health challenges, self-imposed isolation does not require you to forgo good food or good wine, despite the social stigma.
In short order, the world has changed, and so has the thinking about public gatherings. Parties have been postponed.
Restaurants have closed, and we have had to reconsider such commonplace activities as gathering with our friends.
Under orders to socially distance ourselves, isolate and even self-quarantine, communal activities cannot be taken for granted. And what’s more communal than drinking wine?
In our new cautionary, stay-at-home environment, drinking wine may seem as much of a balm as making soup or bingeing on Netflix. Sharing a bottle with roommates or a spouse raises no issues or eyebrows.
But what if social distancing means you are actually by yourself? Is it all right to open that bottle?
Obviously, the question of whether to drink when alone doesn’t, in the words of that wise nightclub owner, amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. But it is a question that people who love wine may ask themselves if they find themselves temporarily isolated.
Too often, the answer is a finger wag. From the moment we start to learn about wine, we are taught that drinking responsibly is a social activity. Wine is for sharing, for drinking with friends or family over a meal.
Enjoying a good wine, we are often told, requires companionship. The joy, the sense of discovery, occurs when it is collective.
I don’t know how Garbo felt about wine, but when opening a bottle, you do not want to be alone.
Drinking alone is often considered a sign of a serious problem, evidence of depression or even an indication of possible alcoholism.
Psychological treatises delve into the potential underlying problems revealed by solo drinking, while country songs lock on to the inevitable tears.
But coronavirus has put us in a different situation now. The concern is not drowning sorrows at the hotel bar or the isolation felt even in the middle of a crowded party.
The question is about drinking when literally alone, at home, when doing one’s best to comply with the new protocols of a public health crisis.
It would be easy to think oneself strange for wanting to enjoy a glass or two of wine with a dinner alone. Popular culture has had a field day with the issue of solo drinking, finding it a fertile field for random bits of advice.
“Do not, repeat, do not attempt to pluck your eyebrows while drinking alone,” warns one recent article titled 8 Ways To Drink Alone Without It Being Depressing.
Another takes us through 12 Stages Of Deciding To Open A Bottle Of Wine Alone And Drinking The Entire Thing, including “resistance”, “denial”, “opening” and inevitably, “shame”.
The notion that drinking alone makes it more likely that you’ll consume an entire bottle in one sitting only reinforces the potential ramifications of the decision to pull the cork in the first place.
These articles, and the underlying social attitudes they indicate, all underscore the Puritanical notion that drinking alcohol, regardless of the reason, is wrong.
They suggest that the whole point of drinking is self-medication in one form or another, whether for heartache or ambient anxiety.
And if you do it by yourself, you face a Pandora’s box full of consequences.
But what about all the other reasons that wine-lovers open bottles – for starters, because wine goes really well with food and because it tastes good?
We know it encourages conviviality, which is not so useful under socially isolated circumstances, perhaps, but wine inspires contemplation as well, which is almost always welcome, especially if the conversation is with yourself.
Without a doubt, one must always keep in mind the power and potential dangers of alcoholic beverages. If you do have a problem with alcohol or issues with depression, drinking alone is not the responsible choice.
But otherwise, why shouldn’t we enjoy the beauty of wine, especially if it is augmenting a meal? If we are going to take the loving step of cooking for ourselves, I believe we should absolutely make the experience even better by enjoying a glass or two of wine as well.
I don’t personally seek out isolation. But I have had some wonderful meals, with several glasses of wine, by myself, whether traveling on business or at home when other members of my family made other plans.
It may not be ideal, but solitude and a little wine can send the mind in unexpectedly delightful directions. I prize the memories of these little interior journeys.
Once the decision has been made to pour a glass, it raises a practical issue. The standard 750-milliliter bottle reinforces the idea that drinking is not a solo activity. It is designed for two people or more to finish in the course of a meal.
That means moderate drinkers will have leftover wine. That’s hardly a problem, though a lot of people think it could be.
In fact, entire wine-gadget companies are built on the notion that wine is fragile and begins to decay immediately upon opening.
That is true of bad wine, processed products that are constructed from added tannins, acids and other ingredients aimed at creating something from very little. These have little staying power.
Good wine, however, regardless of price, is generally far stronger than we imagine. If you have opened a bottle and consumed half of it, recork it and store it in a cool place, whether by the window, depending on the weather and if it’s out of the sunlight, or in the fridge.
It can last for several days at least, with no need for special sealing devices or the sort of tools that promise to suck the air out of a half-empty bottle.
If you have a half-bottle of something, then you are all set. Or good wine in a box – yes, there are such things. The bag-in-a-box technology is an excellent guard against oxidation, the primary fear after a partly consumed bottle.
But if it’s just you and a regular bottle, just plan on drinking it over two or three days, no worries.
The bottom line is: We are all doing what’s necessary in an unexpected predicament to protect the health of family, friends and ourselves.
We are sacrificing, whether missing out on travel, sports, theatre and other public gatherings. For some of us, that may mean spending time in physical isolation.
That does not mean that all pleasures must be lost to us. So let’s make the best of it and toast, even from afar, the day when we can all gather again, hug, kiss, shake hands and touch our faces with impunity.
By Eric Asimov © The New York Times
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.