There was a time not too long ago when my evenings all began something like this: uncork a bottle of wine, slice some cheese, open the crackers and prepare dinner.
By the time dinner was done, I really wasn’t particularly hungry, but I ate because family was gathered around the table and, well, the food was in front of me.
When I realized my nighttime routine needed some serious tweaking, I started researching healthier ways to have my wine and eat my dinner, too.
“Invest in a coravin,” suggested Jacqueline Pirolo, Beverage Director at Macchialina restaurant in Miami. “This allows you to pour bottles of wine without opening them, so you’re able to indulge in a glass without feeling like you’re wasting the rest of the bottle.”
Beyond preserving the bottle, one of my first inquiries was whether or not there was such thing as a healthy wine. The short answer, of course, is not really. Because of this finding, I took the next step to see which wines had the most antioxidants and if, in fact, organic is any better to our bodies than wines that do not bare the organic label.
To clarify, a true organic wine means the winemaker did not use any typical manipulations like yeast, sulfites or additional additives and pesticides. But different countries and even regions have their own guidelines as to what constitutes an organic label. Like choosing organic food, the biggest benefit in drinking organic wine is knowing you aren’t drinking chemicals. And you can feel good about doing your part in sustaining quality farming.
“When it comes to what’s in the glass, knowing where your wine comes from can really elevate your enjoyment and quality of food pairings,” said Olan Cox, executive chef at Bonterra Organic Vineyards. “My passion is crafting balanced wines that are pure expressions of the land. I pursue this passion through mindful farming, which means eliminating synthetic farming inputs and cultivating the health of the soil.”
Between hearing the conflicting research about how healthy, if at all, reservatol, for example, (a substance found in grape skins) can be for wine drinkers and listening to Chef Cox talk about wine being an expression of the land in which it’s farmed, my perspective started to shift.
I had to ask myself: how important is it that we compare each label and choose a wine based on whether or not it has a little less sugar than the other? Isn’t this like deciphering whether chocolate or vanilla cake is better for your health?
Because labels do come into play for some vino drinkers, I continued to seek out how to have the best of both worlds. Having been someone who was always fond of full-bodied reds, I did learn that opting for dryer wines would offer lower sugar content. Also, when reaching for bubbly season, opt for an extra brut, which curbs a bit of the sugar. And rosés also often contain less sugar, too.
Just like winemakers go through a lot of trial-and-error to craft the perfect bottle, consumers are also going to have to go through the process of figuring out what tickles their tastebuds.
Turning to food to help balance the wine intake, I found ditching the crackers and adding nuts and fruits in their place was just as satisfying and certainly more nutritious than break or crackers. Even my transformed, pre-dinner wine and cheese platter was reserved for special occasions. I conditioned myself to wait until dinner was served to pour the wine, and even this was not a nightly occurrence.
Other healthy accompaniments could also be white bean and garbanzo hummus dips, Chef Cox recommended.
“The versatility of presentation allows you to feel like you are not missing out on the flavor impact you experience with cheese,” he said, noting that white bean hummus pairs wonderfully with Chardonnay; or for an added kick, a red pepper hummus, drizzled with a peppery olive oil, is bursting with flavor and holds up well to a fruity, spice-laced Zinfandel.
“The variations feel fresh and classic every time. Accessorize these dips with the likes of rye crackers, papadums, endive spears and seasonal vegetables for a delicious appetizer planter that ensures you strike the right balance between healthful choices and lots of flavor,” Cox recommended.
Here’s the bottom line, if you have a healthy relationship with wine, then drink the wine that makes you close your eyes in delight every time you take a sip. If you transform your menu and prepare foods that are going to otherwise provide the nutrition your body needs, the wine will take care of your soul.
And as Chef Cox reminds us: toast to the land that makes this indulgence possible.
Erinne is a Maine-based writer whose work also appears in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Wine Enthusiast, Budget Travel, Playboy, New York Magazine and Teen Vogue. For more: www.erinnemagee.com