If you’re reading this, the chances are that you are working in relative isolation. Social distancing – that euphemism which may become the word-of-the year for 2020 – is a lot lonelier that just keeping a safe distance from other fellow human beings. It is an inversion of our natural instinct (most of us anyway) to engage with people. Only hermits are unfazed by the current health guidelines. In the internet age our most readily available substitute for human company is the online connection with the minds of others. The web has become a kind of second home. Our phones have been filled with witty trash – even more so now as bored but imaginative self-isolators spend their time finding innovative ways of describing our predicament. Being healthy but under-worked feeds another kind of viral environment.
Next to our screen and keyboard however, our refrigerator becomes our next best friend. For those unaccustomed to spending long stretches at home, ennui has a strange way of making the fridge door handle even more magnetic than its seal. It’s probably only a matter of time before the bottles of wine lying and “ageing” in your wine racks look ever more attractive. If you’re able to wait for the return of a “significant other” you’ll think of deferring that assault on the slumbering bottle. But if you’re both self-isolating at the same time, or if there’s no point in delaying the inevitable, you’ll quickly start talking yourself into the sanity-inducing merits of drawing the cork.
Probably the greatest impediment will be the old adage about the dangers of drinking alone. (“Those who drink alone die alone.”) Hopefully you’ll reach for your keyboard for some assistance at overcoming the obstruction. Since we know that for every maxim there’s an equal and opposite maxim, you won’t have to look far. (“I never drink alone: somewhere someone else is drinking too” or “It’s not drinking ‘alone’ if there are screaming children outside the closet door”).
Once you’ve managed to talk yourself all the way to the rack, and you have the bottle in one hand and the corkscrew in the other, you’re 90% there. Now it’s about the difference between a slow and steady decline into bad behaviour, or turning the inability to resist temptation into something more useful: enter here the do-it-yourself wine-tasting (singing and dancing).
Research conducted by Yale neuroscientist Gordon Shepherd has established that serious (in other words, sampling to savour) wine tasting is probably the best mental exercise you can undertake, better than solving complicated maths problems or listening to music (both of which engage fewer parts of the brain). In fact, if you play sudoku to delay or prevent the onset of Alzheimers/senile dementia, you could achieve a better result and have a lot more fun by tasting wine.
In order to appreciate a wine fully, in other words to taste, smell, note the colour, feel the texture/tannins and integrate all this information, different parts of your brain have to be engaged simultaneously. In Gordon Shepherd’s words “a tremendous range of sensory, motor and central brain systems (are) involved in wine tasting.” For people whose relationship with a chosen bottle is aesthetic, in other words, who taste in order to appreciate rather than to get intoxicated, the process of doing so entails more varied mental exercise than almost any other single activity. If you’re going to pass time in relative isolation and you don’t want to disengage completely, if you’re looking to keep your brain alive and you’re not going to be unnecessarily prudish about consuming alcohol alone, perhaps you should try out your wine tasting skills.
There are several apps you can download if you feel you need guidance on the way. Mostly they deal with international wines (you may wish to look at Decanter’s Know your Wine app). Locally your best bet would be International Wine Centre https://thewinecentre.co.za/ or The Cape Wine Academy https://www.capewineacademy.co.za – assuming there’s anyone there to respond.