Post image for how to drink less wine (la moderazione per chi lavora nel settore)

how to drink less wine (la moderazione per chi lavora nel settore)

by ssilvestori on October 1, 2012

I love wine.

No, I mean I really, really love it. I love everything about it.

I love the sound of cracking the scotch tape when unloading cases, of pulling spongy and squeaky corks, of splashing it into freshly-polished glasses, of that first sip of something unexpected, the way it fills my mouth as though the liquid were fermented from late-summer fireworks and I were nine again.

I love spending Saturdays arranging my personal collection, of browsing stores, cantine and supermarkets the way women think of trying on clothing, with no intention of buying any, but just to be around the stuff, pleasure through osmosis. I love pulling out the horizontal bottles to read them, of how my mind tries to predict, or if I’ve been lucky, to remember what the contents are like, whether it was sunny that year, cloudy, of places far away, where farmers train their vines in radically different ways and call their mothers words other than ‘mamma‘.

As a teacher, I love being asked about a favourite wine, of how I’ll adjust my weight in my seat, half surprised myself by the long and beautifully nuanced explanation that seems to channel through me, as welcome as an old friend.

I love books about wine, and have hundreds of them, crammed and jammed into a 17th century bookcase, four doors wide, the books themselves, marked with my horrific hand-writing and years and years of faded purple rings.

I love the history, of a very different Europe, when wine traveled by barge, by clipper ship, where it poured from countless clay pots, crystal decanters and leather pouches.

Of course an attentive reader will notice that I never mentioned the alcoholic effect of wine, which of course that is what this essay is really about.

I love that too, and maybe a little too much.

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The funny thing is, is that I never drove my ancient FIAT into a herd of sheep. No police officer ever flipped the switch on his sirens. No doctor winced while examining my chart.  I didn’t ‘cost’ me anything dear, the way it needs to happen to many of us before we decide to cut back. My only hallelujah moment,  involved of all things, frosted cake.

It was listening to an interview with a pastry chef, who, when asked how she kept her tiny waistline being surrounded all day by delicious temptation, said this: ‘Cake has never made anyone fat. It’s only eating it that does. ‘

It made my cheeks burn red, the realizing that sometimes answers are so obvious. Her was a woman that could work all day long in her chosen profession, remain passionate and relevant in her field, but without it destroying her health and personal relationships. She didn’t mistake the production with the consumption. She had made peace with her profession.

 

How to Drink Less Wine in 3 moves

(Assuming you’d like to drink less, and for years, I didn’t want to. If you work in world of wine as I do, you’ll likely either need to come up with a system, such as this one, or maybe you already have one,  in which case, I’d love to hear about it).

1)   Start a log.

My quest started two months ago, when I googled, How to Drink Less.  Several articles mentioned keeping logs of my wine intake- I don’t drink beer, cocktails or hard liquor, so we’re pretty much talking only about wine.  I suspected that I drank a bottle a day, two glasses with lunch (when I work), two or three with dinner. Then I started to completely empty my glass before refilling it- beginning to think in distinct portions or units, rather than a following liquid without beginning or end- it became much easier to count.

And it was chilling.

I had been drinking much more than I had thought.  The shock of just how much that was, exactly, only re-enforced my resolve towards moderation.

2)   Develop strategies

a)   Many articles made reference to a move called The Frank Sinatra, which is clever enough to make the man famous, even if he hadn’t had that satiny voice.  Frank lived in cocktail bars and nightclubs, so had to develop techniques towards moderation. The Frank Sinatra is nothing more than, sipping a large glass of water between each cocktail. It has however, a quiet genius when employed as a system.

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The beauty of this is that for many,  like me,  taking a sip of wine was what I did to get rid of nervous energy, when changing subjects, something I did without even realizing it, which explains why my log was so off from my perception.

(My ‘Frank Sinatra’ is now three glasses of fizzy water between glasses of wine, both liquids sipped in tiny sips). What I found is that when teaching, especially with a black board in my school’s dinning room, was that I used sips as transitional markers, without even realising it. Stand up to write on the board?  Take a drink first. Sitting down? Take a drink. By sipping water, rather than wine, I’m now much better able to monitor how much is going down).

b)   Know thy drinking-buddy.  I own and run a cooking school in Italy, which means, my ‘day at the office’ involves eating and drinking with those on holiday, a group not famous for moderating their intake. And why would they? It’s a great way to relax.

For me though, it’s my job.  Keeping up with them is not an option, as I’m not only not on holiday, but I’m actually teaching at the table as well. ‘Know thy drinking-buddy’, is scaling back, of not using other drinkers as a baseline, especially when they tend to consume more than you do. Or want to.

But part of b) also made me avoid drinking wine with those that I know that consume too much. I now meet them for an espresso, or troll the wine shops with them, learning more and more but without the icy toboggan ride into over-consumption.

c)    Cooking with wine. The old joke, ‘I love cooking with wine and sometimes I put some in the sauté pan too’.  My log often reported two glasses, even before I sat down. This was the easiest place to cut, as I almost never really appreciate wine when I’m distracted by cooking. Other rather, I’d only appreciate the effect, not the flavour. ‘C)’ dictates awareness, enjoyment and concentration of what I consume, things that never really happen when I’m standing over flames. I really missed a glass of wine next to the cutting board, but something had to give and it was either in the kitchen or at the table and the table won out, easily.

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3) Stick with it before it DOES cost you something dear.

By the way, if you think that all of this self-imposed moderation seems silly, it’s likely that you come from the New World, which inherited much of its alcohol culture directly from England and Northern Europe, hard-drinking cultures to say the least.

Here in Southern Italy, moderation in alcohol consumption makes up part of the Mediterranean Diet. It’s inherent here, woven and braided and stapled into the culture, the way you wouldn’t serve yourself too much food as a guest in someone else’s home. Or drink directly from the bottle in a restaurant. It simply isn’t done. Like drinking from the bottle, few would even want to.

It turns out that two glasses a day for a man, one to one and one-half for a woman, also happens to be the limits of the benefits of wine on human health. A couple splitting a bottle with dinner is nature’s and man’s perfect amount: anything more than that and things begin  to unravel, the benefits off set by increasing damage.

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Another thing that returned to me over and over again as I began to drink less and less, is the almost mantra-like saying of my old professor of wine: ‘I can always tell the serious sommelier-candidates by how much wine is left in their glasses at the end of the lesson’. And it was true, in a 4 hour lesson, few of us consumed more than the equivalent of a shot glass full of wine.

Moderation, it seems, is a sign of respect. And without respect, you can’t have any real growth. Or sustainability.

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What I had first dreaded as something approaching a small death has turned out to be one of the best things I’ve done in years. I’m sleeping better. My dreams are more vivid. Weight has fallen of me. I’m out more, not sitting at the table lingering over that last glass as my vibrant city dances outside my windows.

So, if you’re able to, come to Lecce this year and I’ll open some of my favourite Southern Italian wines for you. I’ll keep your glass full, pouring generously. As for me though, things are a bit different now. I’m even more madly in love with the stuff,  just now I’m more aware of the sober respect and admiration needed towards maintaining the slow burn, a skill-set inherent to any serious love affair, should it be eager and diligent enough to last.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

AdriBarr October 2, 2012 at 7:11 am

Thanks for another article of consuming interest. Moderation in all things, especially pastry and wine, are words I live by.
I smiled as I read how you enjoy browsing the wine shops. Be it the wine merchant’s or the latest food store or cookery shop in town, I just love seeing what the shops hold, all for the browsing, all for the immersion. I often tell my husband that he is a lucky man; where some women ask for diamonds and pearls, I can be found just poking around the comestibles.

Logs can be surprisingly illuminating, as you discovered. Funny how all those “little sips” add up, is it not? Ditto for the “tiny nibbles.” I often wonder – since we are virtually unaware of how much we consume, are we really enjoying it? I am not sure of the answer.

And as for drinking while cooking, I never indulge. I find it a distraction. I prefer to save my “calorie and alcohol allotment” for the table when I can really enjoy it.

It sounds as though you have examined in depth your alcohol consumption and gained a great deal of self discovery in the process. It is good to hear you are happy with the changes.

To good health and self awareness! Thanks for another wonderful article.

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ssilvestori October 2, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Grazie! When are you going to visit us here in Lecce?!?
Silvestro

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Gwen Morrison October 2, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Loved this post! Bravo! I, like you, love wine. My palette has become very discriminating in these past four years of experiencing “good” wine. But, I do believe there really is TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING… I’ve been taking some wine classes and while I watch the other students fill their glass half-full with each of the 10 samples, I am trying to ‘learn’ about the wine. I’m going to take your advice and go one step further. Thanks for sharing this post! (Hope to be in Italy next year!)

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ssilvestori October 2, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Grazie! I should have added, Drink less, but really make it count.
Silvestro

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Diane F October 2, 2012 at 8:14 pm

Great article! I had to cut back after a breast cancer diagnosis a couple years ago, and am limited to three glasses a week. It was hard, because three glasses was, for me, a night out with friends! And I had a few of those per week, plus the “C” glasses while cooking. Funny how mindlessly we consume wine, isn’t it?
Cutting back has been good, though. Now that I go through less wine in the house, I spend a little more on the bottles I do buy. So I’m drinking better wine. And I feel the effects much sooner than I used to, so I drink it more slowly and really savor it. So I enjoy and appreciate my wine more. And having only one glass when we eat dinner out makes me a cheap date. Well, a less expensive one, anyway… 🙂
Salute!
– Diane

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ssilvestori October 3, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Great comments! Wine CAN promote good health, but it’s the moderation that escapes so many. I’m glad you’re feeling better.

Silvestro

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Graham Usher October 3, 2012 at 6:49 pm

As the owner of a wine and spirits store I know exactly how you feel about this topic. I, too, have had to employ strategies to ensure that moderation is the key. When samples arrive at the store I know I am not good at “swish and spit” so I do not imbibe at all. Instead I leave it to my sommelier who is equally as careful (we do not want to become co-dependants) but can spit. Thank you for the Frank Sinatra – it is a brilliant revelation to me and I shall be employing it starting today.

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ssilvestori October 3, 2012 at 9:30 pm

We all know those that work in the field that don’t learn self-control. It’s a shame, and a real hazzard

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Elizabeth Zima October 3, 2012 at 8:24 pm

I enjoyed this post despite the fact that I do not have this problem……possibly this is why I have so much wine in my cellar?

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ssilvestori October 3, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Do you work in the field? I think it’s trickier if it’s your work. Either way, moderation is the way to go

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Pam Gilbert October 4, 2012 at 11:05 pm

Silvestro~
I loved this article. Thankfully, I do not work in a field that would be so tempting, nor, do I enjoy a glass or 2 of wine each night at home, as do many of my friends. But, in attending gatherings, I find that more and more, our glasses get refilled before they are empty, which gives a false illusion of how much wine is actually consumed. And before you know it, someone is over served.
When Alex and I attended your school, we both discussed how nice it was, that you got to do something you loved, teaching about food, and drinking wine. I can assure you, you were always professional and never appeared to be tipsy . Your essay is beautifully written and goes to show that it is quite easy to get into a routine that could be harmful. I’m happy that you have decided to make changes that are better for you! Hopefully, we will get back to your lovely little school one day, and enjoy Puglia with you.
Regards from Texas,
~Pam~

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