A Melancholy Detachment

A melancholy detachment

A state of bemusement brought on by feelings of bliss

An internal debate between envy and happiness

A sadness provoked by missed opportunity

A state of barely composed elation that borders on pride-inspired excitement.

It has been a while since I spent time thinking how wine can help induce or maintain these and other emotional states. But it can.

Surely it's the effects of the alcohol in the wine and not the wine itself that lets us feel more of what we are feeling, which means cheap vodka or expensive bourbon will do the trick just as well. But, personally, I like to deny this reality and let myself confess that wine has the power to temper the ordinary and uplift our more unusual and memorable states of mind—simply because it's wine.

I think I read somewhere that drinking alone is one of the signs of an alcoholic. I tend to think that drinking alone is probably also one of the signs of a healthy desire to embrace one's state of mind. Further to that point, drinking wine alone is probably a safer way of tightening one's embrace around their state of mind. However, jumping into such an embrace straight away with bourbon, rum, cheap vodka or even gin is more likely to cause one to squeeze the life out of the moment too quickly.

But again we are talking about alcohol, aren't we.

The thing about wine is that while it is alcohol, in part, it's just not all that much alcohol. Because of its relatively low dosage, it allows a person in the midst of heightened self contemplation to slip more slowly into themselves. Vodka, taken at the same rate, leads to a careening tumble into misshapen thoughts. That's no good.

Last night I sipped on a well preserved 1985 Zinfandel that probably would have offended lots of drinkers. It was dry, leathery, but maintained a nice mix of porty blackberry and herbs from entry to finish. It had that under-ripe rhubarby quality that I like. It was 13% alcohol. I sipped on it.

By the time I went climbed the stairs to go to bed I had just finished a nice, long discussion with myself that brought only a few nuggets of clarity. But nuggets of clarity they were. Nuggets of clarity that imposed upon me a sense of quiet elation that I don't think would have emerged without the help of an old, dry, rhubarby Zinfandel.

So, at the risk of offending those who write lists of things that make us fear imbibing alone, let me suggest that a little alcohol taken alone in quiet solitude can be a pretty good thing.


15 Responses

  1. AJ - January 24, 2009

    In these uncertain and frenetic times, time alone for reflection is healthy with or without alcohol. A little help from an old, dry, rhubarby Zin seems like a great exercise in civility.

  2. Arthur - January 24, 2009

    As a physician, I’d like to remind everyone of the old adage that says you’re only an alcoholic if you drink more than your doctor – alone or in company.

  3. KenPayton - January 24, 2009

    Quite a lovely post.

  4. Craig Camp - January 24, 2009

    You’re never drinking alone if it’s a great bottle of wine. Everybody that helped craft it are there with you.

  5. Fermented Thoughts - January 24, 2009


  6. Thomas Pellechia - January 24, 2009

    I had a friend who by age 35 had become a major alcoholic: whiskey for breakfast and all that. He lived alone from his eighteenth birthday to his fiftieth plus.
    Once, when in his forties, he quit drinking. Then he started on me for my daily wine imbibing. When I objected and said that all I ever drink is wine and I do that during and after dinner he replied, “if you do it alone, you are an alcoholic.”
    My friend fell off the wagon and then fell out of touch. I heard a couple of years ago that he died of alcohol-induced liver failure at the old age of 53.
    I still drink wine with and after dinner–with my wife, with friends, or alone.

  7. JohnLopresti - January 26, 2009

    I think the tannins are an important part of the physiochemistry for reds. For distillers there is the complexity of fusel oils debate, the socalled heads and tails. Food chemistry has addressed these aspects for some time.

  8. Dylan - January 26, 2009

    What’s truly is important is just the power of being alone. Whether that’s done with a form of alcohol, or over a clean pad of paper with a pen, or on a walk outdoors. We spend a lot of quantity time with people, but we rarely spend quality time. And even less so, do we spend quality times with ourselves. Quality time spent alone is a necessity just as it is being with others, there’s a balance and every day must have some sort of room for both.

  9. Westoakland - January 26, 2009

    A thoughtful essay. Thank you for the stimulation, maybe even the provocation.
    I love wine with my family and my friends. And if they aren’t around, I’ll still pop a cork.
    Your leathery Zin, a beautiful descriptor, certainly could have helped your important lucidity, and a cherished opportunity to think creatively.
    There’s good support for this.
    Hemingway wrote that wine . . . is one of the world’s most civilized things – bringing more enjoyment and appreciation then anything else purely sensory. Horace told us that wine brings light to the soul, gives being to our hopes, and teaches new means for us to accomplish our wishes. And, Robert Lewis Stevenson offered that . . . wine is bottled poetry.
    However, having nothing to do with wine but related anyhow, Bob Dylan wrote . . . sometimes a man must be alone, and this is no place to hide.
    Regardless, I imagine nothing as lovely as wine, enjoyed with others or alone – even given you’re “misshapen thoughts” point. But isn’t dealing with alcohol what maturity, experience and responsibility are all about?
    And permit one additional reference – not sensitive, poetic or insightful as your melancholy detachment, but worth considering.
    “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me, then a frontal lobotomy.”
    – Tom Waits.

  10. Rob - January 26, 2009

    Well stated. Hopefully you wrote down those little nuggets of clarity before you went to bed.

  11. Gabriella Opaz - January 28, 2009

    I too admit that I felt emotionally connected to this post. With parents, grandparents and great-grandparents abusing alcohol on their own time, I learned one very important lesson: addiction is the soul’s way of telling you that your running away from yourself. Why I like your post Tom, is because you address a key reason why wine has been enjoyed in one’s own company for centuries: it can be the catalyst for a conversation with the mind, body and spirit. In a world that runs on speed and “have to’s”, few take the time to sit and simply reflect. We rarely have a conversation with ourselves, asking the questions we may not always want to hear an answer to, but are all too important to ignore.
    Hopefully others will follow suit and embrace those rare nuggets of truth after a much needed moment of quiet contemplation.

  12. Doug - January 28, 2009

    Cheers to a well made and well aged Zinfandel! A memorable 85′ for me was the Lytton Springs Estate, rich, balanced, well-made. Thanks for the story.

  13. Doug - January 28, 2009

    Speaking of fine Zinfandel producers:
    From: Paul Draper (Ridge Vineyards) [mailto:[email protected]]
    Sent: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 5:38 PM
    To: [email protected]
    Subject: Donn Reisen
    Donn Reisen, loving husband, devoted son, brother & uncle, friend to many, and President of Ridge Vineyards, passed away Monday morning January 26th.
    Donn’s gift of humor, and his ability to forge long lasting relationships, touched everyone he came into contact with. Hundreds of people across the world, inside and outside the wine world loved him.
    We will miss him. He left the world a better place for having lived.
    A memorial service to celebrate his life is being planned for a future date.
    Paul Draper

  14. Oscar Quevedo - January 29, 2009

    It’s not because of the alcohol, but a glass of wine can relax you and increase you self-confidence, whether your are alone or with friends.

  15. jbh - January 29, 2009

    Thanks, Tom.

Leave a Reply