Post # 73 – Coronavirus Wines

The coronavirus COVID – 19 is not to be taken lightly, and has disrupted people’s lives around the world. The scale of disruption is massive, generating fear and stress, loss of jobs and income, schools closed, businesses shut, and government imposed quarantine at home. With uncertainty comes acute stress and anxiety, which will cause many people to resort to alcohol to relax and temporarily escape their new reality. In fact, one recent press article indicated that alcohol consumption increased by 42% in the San Francisco bay area. Nobody else seems to be keeping track, but because of restaurant and bar closures the overall trend is clearly to increase home consumption of alcohol.

So suddenly we have become a society of stay at home winos drinking in isolation, or if you are lucky, with your spouse. Making matters worse, you are probably stressed, nervous, anxious, lacking exercise, and looking to escape your confines. So with that in mind, I offer you some suggestions in this blog for wines, coronavirus wines, that should help reduce your anxiety level rather than add to it, wines to match with those coronavirus blues.

Let’s make the following assumptions: you are stressed, you are living at home in tight quarters with your spouse, maybe young kids. It has been a long winter across most of North America and you are still cooped up inside, you are out of work with little or no income to pay living expenses, wondering how you will pay for food, rent, mortgage, car payments, etc. You are nervous, anxious, and jittery. So what do you do to relax, to take the edge off? At some point you are going to open a bottle of wine and enjoy a glass or two, but what kind of wine will work best to reduce your stress?

Some general ideas and suggestions for you as follows:

  • When you are stressed, nervous, anxious, jittery, and frustrated, you will be generating excess amounts of stomach acid, so you should be staying away from highly acidic and tannic wines. Instead you should be opting towards softer, more fruity, and smoother wines.
  • Avoid younger wines when given a choice, they are generally not yet ready to drink, meaning they need more time to soften up and come into balance. When a younger wine is out of balance is it usually too acidic or tannic, and requires more time in the bottle for the fruit to open up and the wine to smoothen out. Drinking young wine before it’s time is hard on your stomach at the best of times, and even harder when you are stressed. This means you should avoid everything from the 2019 vintage, it is just too young. Lighter wines from the 2018 vintage south of the equator from Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and South Africa should be okay. Everything else should be from the 2017 vintage or older. A solid choice would be red Bordeaux from the 2016 vintage, just now getting released into retail stores in North America.
  • Drink what you already have in the house or in your cellar to minimize the number of trips out of the house to your wine store. This will of course reduce your exposure to the virus and thereby reduce your anxiety level.
  • This is also a good excuse to open older bottles you have been hoarding in your cellar. I have talked before about the difficulty collectors have in opening their older bottles, always looking for a suitable occasion to justify opening a bottle of the best, and never being able to decide who deserves to share this great bottle with you. Well during coronavirus quarantine, you cannot have any guests, so this is an excellent time for you and your spouse to enjoy that special bottle all to yourselves.
  • Read wine critic reviews online and producer descriptions on the back label. Look for and buy wines described as smooth, long aftertaste, soft and subtle, fruit forward, ready to drink now. Avoid wines described as tannic, closed, acidic, or not ready to drink for another 2-3 years.
  • Buy older wines rather than new releases as a general rule, unless the latest vintage released is from an exceptionally fruit forward vintage (such as red Bordeaux 2016).
  • Look for wines made as a blend of several different grape types rather than just one or two different grapes. Understanding which grape types make the driest and most acidic wines helps you to understand what blends may be easier on your system. In Bordeaux reds for example, they are often blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot grapes. The Cabernet Sauvignon grape will be drier and more acidic, while the Merlot grape will be softer and more fruity. So if you want a softer and less acidic wine in a Bordeaux red blend, go for a Pomerol (which is often 50% plus Merlot) as opposed to an Haut-Medoc (which is often 50% plus Cabernet Sauvignon). Read the back label on the bottle where the percentage of each grape content is usually listed. A Bordeaux red blend with 80% or more Cabernet Sauvignon grapes will be harder on your system and more difficult to digest, compared to a blend with 80% Merlot in it.
  • Decant your wine. The younger the vintage, the more you should decant. Decanting will soften up and oxidize the wine, making it easier to digest and more likely to sooth your nervous system. Do not be afraid to decant young vintages at least 4 hours, the objective here is to add 5 years of aging in 4 hours of decanting. However, please take note that if the wine you are decanting is plonk and made for immediate consumption, decanting it may kill it. If you buy your wine in a box from the grocery store, do not expect any miracles by decanting it.

Some suggestions to look at that will not break the bank are as follows:

  • I have always liked the inexpensive Spanish red wines from Monasterio de Las Vinas. They are usually quite fruity, inexpensive, and well-aged, a good combination for those coronavirus times we currently face. The Monasterio de Las Vinas group is a cooperative of 700 different growers in the Carinena district of Spain, located roughly midway between Madrid and Barcelona. Best known for their reds, they produce three basic quality levels: the Crianza, the Reserva, and the Gran Reserva. All three are blends of Garnacha, Carinena, and Tempranillo grapes. The Crianza is aged 6 months in oak barrels, the Reserva for 12 months, and the Gran Reserva for 24 months. The Crianza typically costs about $11.50 CDN per bottle, the Reserva about $15.00 per bottle, and the Gran Reserva about $19.00 per bottle. In retail distribution now you will typically find the Crianza 2016 vintage available, the Reserva 2015 vintage, and the Gran Reserva 2012, so these wines have some age on them already. For more information and tasting notes on these wines please consult my previous blog post # 52.
  • The 2016 Bordeaux reds have started hitting retail store shelves and they are very fruit forward, well rounded, and smooth, just perfect for early drinking without having to age them for 3-5 years. One in particular that I tasted at a private tasting on March 4th that was fantastic was the 2016 Chateau Larose-Trintaudon. This wine should be available in retail distribution very soon, maybe later this month, retailing at about $28.00 CDN per bottle. The wine is a blend of about 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2015 vintage is currently available in Quebec at $26.80 per bottle, and while it is very good, it is dryer and more tannic than the 2016. So the 2016 is definitely one to pick up as soon as it hits retail shelves. For more information and tasting notes on Larose wines please consult my previous blog post # 70.
  • The Apothic Red series of wines offered by Gallo in California are warm, soft and fruity, and also retail at under $20.00 per bottle. They all offer a chocolate component to the warm California Cabernet blend which should help take the edge off that cooped up feeling. For more information and tasting notes on the Apothic series of wines please consult my previous blog post # 68.
  • The Coppola series of wines from California is also worth picking up. I recently tasted the 2015 Francis Coppola Director’s Apocalypse Now which is listed in the SAQ at $29.75 per bottle (product # 14259540). The wine is soft and smooth, just what the doctor ordered for those of you hunkered down in isolation or quarantine. For more information and tasting notes on Coppola wines please consult my previous blog post # 52.

These suggestions above are just four of hundreds of potentially good coronavirus wines that should be suitable, enough to illustrate the points I am making. So take the time, now that you have more time, to select a wine that will support your health objectives, improve your mood, reduce the stress and help you cope with these unusual circumstances.