THE year 2020 is finally over (*sigh of relief*), but we are all still trying to adjust to the so-called “new normal.”
Optimism may be in the air as COVID-19’s days are probably numbered with vaccines coming our way, albeit, limited at the onset. Since last March, under ECQ (enhanced community quarantine, the strictest level), our lives have changed drastically, including our drinking habits. Being in the wine profession, the changes have been significant. Wine, of all alcohol beverages, is the most “social” drink. Unlike beers or spirits that are consumed via single bottles or shots, wine normally comes in a 750 ml bottle which is meant to be shared and finished. With the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) era still upon us, I give you my seven takeaways on how wine consumption changed since the start of our lockdown and the social distancing protocols.
1. DRINKING WITH FAMILY MEMBER(S) IS PRETTY COOL TOO.
While this is like a default option, it can turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Like most husbands, I do most of my drinking with friends outside of the comfort of my home. The pandemic and the lockdown have made me drink a lot more at home. While normally my wife drinks half a glass only when we are outside with friends or at a restaurant, as her face turns red quite fast, and she gets conscious about it, at home she can get a much bigger share, and that is absolutely great. My wife in fact gives me the most unbiased opinions on wines that I do not normally hear. With my friends, especially those in the industry, there is still some “wine speak” involved, but with my wife, she can bluntly say a wine is dull or too sour and that is sometimes more refreshing to hear.
At home, I also have kids who are both of drinking age, so now I can open a bottle and let my kids’ virgin palates describe the wine for me. My kids do not care whether they are drinking an expensive Grand Cru wine or a mere P500 wine — what they care about is if they like the wine or not.
Of course, with no friends around, and just family members, my family sadly had to bear with my talk on the wine, the history, the terroir, the varietals, and other seemingly boring details, that I am hoping may turn out interesting for them. Who knows? I may be grooming a fellow oenophile among my family members which, prior to pandemic since we were not drinking a lot at home, I may not have known.
2. WE CAN STILL DO ‘VIRTUAL’ TASTINGS WITH FRIENDS.
If drinking with old buddies is just too hard to miss out on, there is the virtual way — what some ingenious Filipinos started calling “e-numan” (from the Tagalog word inuman which means drinking). Zoom is always a good first choice — and I read that Zoom lifted their 40-minute time limit on free accounts on select dates between Dec. 17 to Jan. 2 during the holidays, so that obviously helped in these virtual tastings.
During these virtual tastings however, it is still much preferred (at least for wine lovers) to be drinking, as much as possible, similar wines. Since virtual tasting simulates a real tasting, but this time from the different individuals’ homes, it is therefore best if everyone in the Zoom chat drinks exactly the same bottle, and perhaps similar food, so there can be lively discussions on the wine, the food pairing, etc. as if all participants were gathered together like old times.
3. WE CANNOT RUN OUT OF WINE AT HOME.
Scary thoughts about empty wine chillers are real. The liquor ban was almost nationwide from mid-March to May (excluding Taguig and Makati), and even got extended in other cities, and this had me in panic mode when I could not restock my wine chiller. During the liquor ban period, I totally exhausted my stock, having drunk whatever bottles I had at home. Initially it was really to drink as an escape from the then unknown COVID-19 pandemic scare, but then it also became a celebration of life and of family bonding.
When the liquor ban was lifted, at least in Quezon City, I was able to go out and stock up on my wines. The lesson here is we need wine as much as we need rubbing alcohol during this pandemic. Alcohol, the non-drinking type can disinfect us, while the wine, the drinking alcohol, can de-stress us – and they are both equally crucial during this COVID era.
I believe we should have a good stash of wine in our possession at all times. To me, it is no different from our food stash for emergency purposes.
4. IT IS TIME TO UTILIZE YOUR CHERISHED WINE ACCESSORIES.
I, myself am guilty of this — I reserved the use of my most cherished decanter for a special occasion, or I would save some of my best crystal glasses for a celebratory event. Well, what the pandemic taught me more than anything else is to enjoy and live my life now. Why wait? What if that opportunity does not come soon? So, it is time to remove some of those nice decanters, crystal glasses, and wine aerators from their original boxes for immediate utilization.
5. START DRINKING THE BEST BOTTLES AVAILABLE.
Like No. 4, some of the wines I have been saving — in particular special vintage wines from important birth years or those that are several decades old — I actually started enjoying and I could not have been happier. I shared them with my family (as mentioned in No. 1), my loved ones, and that counts the most. Gone are the days I need validation from fellow wine experts.
However, a word of caution here — if you own relatively new vintages of certain long-lived wines like a Bordeaux or a Barolo, you may have to hold on to them a little longer than some others of your other available wine stash. But if those young wines are the only ones left, that is where your decanters and aerators come into play.
6. EXPERIMENT ON FOOD AND WINE PAIRING.
When we dine outside, we normally have an idea what food we will order to pair with the wine we bring or the wine we will order. Being outside, we want the dining experience to be as perfectly as possible, though as I always lectured both here in my column, in my occasional wine classes, and with my friends, that while food and wine pairing may have a basic template, it is more often subjective (people, after all, have different taste preferences). When we are all cooped up at home and eating home cooking, this is a good time to experiment on food and wine pairing. There is no time limit in getting this right. The important part is that this is an exercise to hone us for the kind of food and wine pairing we like.
7. CHEERS TO LIFE.
Finally, and probably the most understated takeaway of all, let us all be grateful we are alive, well, and still kicking. To-date, over 2 million people died from COVID-19 and around 95 million people are infected with this virus worldwide. If we are COVID free or have recovered from this virus, we should be thankful to the Almighty and celebrate life.
I was also reminded of my conversation some time last year, with fellow oenophile and well-respected businessman Romy Sia of Healthy Options and Wine Story, when I chanced upon him at the parking lot (we have neighboring offices in same QC compound) and he told me that as long as he can smell, drink, and appreciate wine, he feels safe and COVID free. Romy was referring to what we have learned about COVID-19 — that it affects the nervous system and hinders the transfer of sensory information leading to the loss of taste and smell. A lot of times simple things we possess like sensory appreciation are taken for granted. This should not be the case anymore.
While COVID-19 is supposedly on its way out, there is a serious threat of more pandemics to come. Even billionaire Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates foresaw the possibility of another global pandemic in the next 10 to 15 years, so the “new” normal may be here to stay longer than we want. Wine will also still be around, so let us continue to cherish this fine liquid (in moderation) and raise our glass to a much better tomorrow.
The author is the only Filipino member of the UK-based Circle of Wine Writers (CWW). For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, wine consultancy and other wine related concerns, e-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at www.twitter.com/sherwinlao.