Sipping a tumbler of rosé during a Zoom happy hour or crushing a canned cocktail during a rafting trip down a river doesn’t exactly require your full attention. In these and similar scenarios, your beverage takes a back seat to what’s happening around you. But what happens if you switch your full awareness to what you’re sipping? Proponents of mindful drinking say it can lead to a more immersive and enriching drinking experience, and it’s easier than you might think.
What Mindful Drinking Is
Morgan Perry, the founder of Vino Vinyasa, teaches yoga and meditation followed by wine tasting. “Yoga is all about being mindful and disciplined. We’re mindfully moving and breathing while we practice,” she says. “Wine professionals will tell you that’s exactly how they taste wine,” which is to say, by identifying or analyzing a wine by intentionally paying full attention to how it looks, smells and tastes.
For anyone who has taken a sommelier or other wine certification course, turning your gaze to your glass isn’t anything new. But it often eludes the casual wine drinker, who might feel inadequate or just plain awkward at the notion of doing more than a cursory swirl and sniff. Honing those skills through mindfulness, however, brings you more into the moment.
How It’s Done and Why It Helps
Before tasting, Perry, who holds an advanced certification from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET), instructs students to center themselves and clear their mind of distractions through mini-meditation, yoga poses linking movement to breath, or savasana, the practice of relaxing one body part, muscle and/or thought at a time. The resulting calmer state of mind brings with it an increased ability to focus. “My students have told me they can smell the wine from across the room during savasana, so I definitely think that sensory perception is increased after we practice,” she says.
You can replicate this at home by using an app like HeadSpace or YouTube to do a five-minute meditation, closing your eyes and focusing on your breath or even looking out your window and noticing what’s going on, then uncorking or unscrewing that bottle. Of course, being in a quiet distraction-free space definitely helps, but Perry believes that once you develop the ability to mindfully drink, you can also turn to it in a crowded restaurant, bar or party.
Beyond gaining the concentration and skills to discern, say, the grape(s) included in the blend, as well as the levels of tannin and acidity, mindful drinking can lead to increased visceral pleasure. Perry and her staff of instructors have used it in hundreds of classes with dozens of kinds of wine, and the methods work with cocktails and beers, as well.
Dr. Elisha Goldstein, a co-founder of The Center for Mindful Living in Los Angeles, has created his own approach to mindfulness-driven wine tasting, in conjunction with and trademarked by Champagne Henriot.
There are four main parts to the exercise, all encompassed in the acronym STOP: Stop. Take a couple of deep breaths. Observe the physical, emotional and mental state that influences your perception. And proceed with the mindful experience.
“We feel the glass, the weight, the temperature; look at the color, the speed and size of the beads, and the condensation on the glass,” says Goldstein. “We take the scent in fully with presence and bring it to our eyes and just listen.” Perhaps most abstractly, Goldstein instructs the imbiber, before even taking a sip, to reflect on everything that has gone into the production of what’s about to pass their lips, from planting the seeds and harvesting to fermentation and bottling.
It can also be useful in other areas of your life where you want to purposefully pay attention with an engaged curiosity, Goldstein says, from listening to your partner to more satisfying mealtimes, and be used to segue to other forms of mindfulness like breathing- or body-focused meditation.
If you’re ready to get started with mindful drinking, Vino Vinyasa currently offers free Zoom events (check @vinovinyasayoga for the schedule), as well as private ones for groups. Whenever possible, it offers in-person mindful wine tastings in New York City, Los Angeles and Austin.