Today I want to explore some new and different ways of approaching wine, – non-traditional and unusual in a food and wine blog, but activities I am personally enormously passionate about. I’m talking about meditation, forest bathing and yoga – and how they can connect with a love of wine!
The first question I get asked on this topic is – how can alcohol, not normally regarded as healthy, be combined with activities that are designed to be beneficial for body and mind? So let me clarify that we are not talking about drinking wine, but about tasting it. And wine-tasting, just like yoga or meditation, is a sensory journey, with elements of breathing and concentration that involve the use of all the senses. It requires special training and it follows the rules of nature – just like other forms of well-being exercise.
So what’s involved?
The main element common to both wine-tasting and mindfulness practices is silence: listening to what wine says to your body, with the help of gentle activities and natural contexts that help your body speak to you. In mindfulness or yoga, you are encouraged to observe nature and your body – concentrate, beathe deeply and associate your memories with perfumes. Concentrate on what those perfumes recall to your mind (pleasant or unpleasant thoughts and sensations), inhale oxygen, savor the taste of fresh, clean air and relax. Exactly the same way we approach wine-tasting: observe colours, scents, associate them with aromas lodged in the memory, then inhale, drink and enjoy.
Playing close attention to breathing helps root us in the present moment, listening to our sensations and encouraging a state of tranquillity. We are not used to making our senses work, to focusing on them, or training them, but all of them are essential for both mindfulness and wine-tasting, and both mindfulness and wine-tasting can in turn heighten and enhance the senses.
So yes – a very different approach to wine. No longer social, convivial and closely linked to food, but instead a practice for listening to the body, recognizing what we like, what gives us joy/peace and what makes us feel well.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what’s on offer.
WINE MEDITATION or WINEFULNESS
There are many meditation practices which involve wine and some which offer both wine and food. All are based on the concept that mindfulness means awareness of what we perceive through our senses. The high level of concentration and attention to our perceptions is similar to the activation of senses that you are aiming for in the tasting experience. Winefulness is a guided meditation that helps you discover the flow of sensory stimuli activated by the contents of your glass, a sensory journey full of nuances and slow in its progress so as to sharpen your senses and allow you to fully immerse yourself in the experience.
Forest Bathing (Shinrin Yoku) is a practice from Japan which aims to reduce stress, blood pressure and improve the immune system by deep exposure to woods. And, according to numerous scientific studies, it works! Forest Bathers walk in the woods for hours over several days, breathing air enriched by therapeutic volatile substances emitted by some species of trees. In this sensory immersion you remain silent and open to the sounds, colours and scents of nature. This dynamic meditation activates the senses in a similar way to wine-tasting. Forest bathing normally ends with the Japanese tea ritual, which has spiritual and meditative traits according to Zen philosophy. Experiments are beginning (outside Italy for the moment) to replace tea with wine and make forest bathing another way to taste and appreciate wine.
YogaWine is practised in three phases. First, preparation, which consists of a short walk in nature, usually among vineyards. Second, a Yoga lesson which aims to be purifying and balancing for body and spirit. Third comes the wine-tasting, following breathing exercises which make body and breath relaxed and receptive to the flavours, sensations and particular nuances of the wines. Yogawine is on offer now in Italy at the Cantine Astroni in a lovely environment near Naples (http://www.cantineastroni.com/) and is sure to be available in many more venues soon.
So which are the best wines to help you practice mindfulness? Meet the Meditation Wines!
Wines that release very intense flavors and aromas are considered ‘meditation wines’. They should be sipped calmly and savored slowly, during moments of maximum relaxation. Meditation wines are mostly raisin wines, which derive from forced drying. This means that the grape bunches are left for a time in a box with approximately 60% humidity and ventilation, and with air heated to around 30°C.
This produces a mold which transforms the sugars present in the grapes and dries up any liquid. The difference from normal wine fermentation is very apparent in the nose and on the palate: the wine becomes a concentrate of aromas and flavours, mainly sweet and very alcoholic. Raisin wines include the Picolit or the very famous Passito di Pantelleria.
Also some red wines, generally those with long and complex production and aging processes, are considered meditation wines, such as Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo Riserva, Sagrantino di Montefalco or Vin Santo del Chianti. They are generally complex, soft and velvety wines, with a fairly high degree of alcohol and warm to the taste. It’s hard to find suitable foods to go with these wines so they are usually best sipped slowly on their own – perfect for meditation!
I hope this gives you some idea of the many things wine can be – tradition, conviviality, a means of socializing, an expression of culture – but also part of a lifestyle focused on awareness, exercise and considered living.
So next time you want to take some time to relax and revive yourself – maybe read a book or immerse yourself in nature and solitude, why not try it with a good glass of wine in hand?
Salute( fisica e mentale!)