Spiritual Practice of Drinking Wine (or how wine tasting taught me mindfulness)
Since moving to the Santa Barbara area more than two years ago and living so close to wine country, my husband and I have enjoyed the luxury of trying a variety of higher quality wines at a relatively lower price point than other parts of the country. And being surrounded by wineries and wine drinkers has made the wine culture more accessible.
Here are some things wine tasting can teach us.
1) Prepare. Since I am nothing close to a wine connoisseur, I always like to read the descriptions that usually accompany a wine tasting and ask questions of the server about what the winery is known for, the process of making the wine, and what experience they want me to have. I pay attention to key words like “earthy” or “finish” and try to prepare my palate to experience fully the wine I am about to taste.
2) Breathe. Experienced wine tasters will tell you the first thing you do when you receive a glass of wine is swirl the wine around a little in the glass to aerate it and then stick your nose in and breathe deeply to experience the wine first with your sense of smell.
3) Taste. Wine tasting is not really about drinking wine at all. It’s about tasting. When you taste wine, you don’t just drink it. For one thing, you usually get at the most about an 1/8 of a glass of any wine on the tasting list. That’s not even enough for one gulp. Tasting wine is about really, really tasting it, taking a small sip of wine in through your lips, rolling it around in your mouth so that it touches all parts of your tongue, and even sometimes slurping or gargling a little before finally swallowing. The point is to engage your sense of taste fully with every sip. Some dedicated wine tasters will even spit out the wine after tasting it so the alcoholic effects don’t hinder the next tasting.
4) Notice. Here is where mindfulness really comes in for me. At every point in the process of tasting a particular bottle of wine, my attention is fully claimed. From the moment the wine enters my glass, I am observing the color, feeling the weight of the glass in my hand as I swirl, breathing deeply to smell as much as I can from what the description tells me to expect, and then finally taking a small sip onto my tongue to contemplate the flavor as it slowly makes its way to the back and down my throat. I savor. All my senses are engaged. With this sip of wine in my mouth, I am fully present in this moment in an embodied way. Then, before I take another sip, I consider the finish and the aftertaste. I compare it to the other wines I’ve had and to my expectations from the description.
5) Repeat. And then, slowly, I go through the process again. Do I pick up any nuances I missed on the first sip? Is my palate more discerning on this trip than last time? Can I appreciate the wine more fully than I did last time?
6) Share. Wine tastings, like many activities, are more fun with friends. Since my husband and I often go together, I like to ask him about his experience of the wine we are tasting. What did he notice? How did it compare to other wines we have tasted? I find that sharing in his experience and sharing mine with him creates a greater depth. My wine tasting experience would be incomplete without this opportunity to share with and learn from each other.
7) Change. I have found that since I started wine tasting, I accidentally apply this method to other beverages I try. New blend of lemonade on the menu? Let me swirl it around in my glass and breathe it in first. It’s led to some odd looks from dinner companions, I’ll admit. But that has only further impressed upon me the benefits of drinking wine as spiritual practice. Slowing down and allowing our activities and experiences to fully engage us in the present moment—fully engaging our bodies, minds, and spirits—helps us cultivate a valuable and lifelong habit reminiscent of Brother Laurence’s practicing the presence of God.
So, fellow pilgrims, what activities in your day-to-day life might be used to usher you into the present moment–where God is waiting for you?