My tipple of choice has always been wine. Flat or sparkling, my mates would compare me to Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous as I flitted around parties with a glass in my hand and a glow on my cheeks.
In my early 20s my flatmate and I would sit around after work and pour large glasses of something white – from a cask or a bottle, it didn’t really matter.
In my 30s I would drink cheap bubbles. Prosecco mostly. That was trendy then. As were the sickly sweet varieties of sauvignon blanc.
In my 40s I discovered I liked Moët, with its bready notes and crisp finish. I had the taste, but I couldn’t justify the spend and still valued quantity over quality. At work drinks on a Friday evening I didn’t want to run the risk of being called a wanker for ordering any “posh” stuff and not joining the shout.
Then I moved to Toronto, Canada, where the cocktails were large and full of spirit, and the wine, due to government control of bottle shops, was expensive and lacking in variety.
Moving home to Australia, just a few weeks before the world turned upside down in 2020, was fortuitous. But the lockdowns in my newly adopted home state of Victoria were nerve-jangling. I drank a LOT of wine, as did most of us.
Almost every drug and alcohol body, including the respected Drug and Alcohol Foundation, produced research about our stress-induced drinking. It was an extraordinary time. My husband and I were living in Airbnbs. We had three suitcases and one dog (our other darling boy had died suddenly just days after we arrived home). Our furniture was in transit and stuck somewhere at sea. And the apartment that we had bought soon after we got home wasn’t finished. It was still a few months away.
I drank. Cheap wine. Too much. There was nothing else to do.
But I didn’t enjoy it.
I would wake with a dry mouth and bad breath. The headaches were splitting. My stomach would churn and turn.
I don’t believe I have ever had a problem with alcohol. Maybe others reading this will disagree. But this wasn’t really a stellar time for me, or the rest of the globe, if we’re being honest. And to cope, I did what came naturally.
Yet I count myself lucky. When we finally moved into our new home, I made real, lifelong friends. They lived in my street or just down the road. We would do virtual dinner parties with two couples we met.
It was Tom who played a big part in my new relationship with wine. His parents own a non-working vineyard on the Mornington peninsula and his world largely revolves around it. He was happy to share his knowledge – and some amazing bottles. As was Hannah. She has a “wine guy”, and she won’t drink what she doesn’t like or know about.
They opened my eyes to new varieties, great versions of old favourites and the best versions of those wines that have fallen off menus in popular restaurants.
Tom taught me it’s OK to try wine at a restaurant before you commit to a bottle. You don’t always have to buy the cheapest – just order one really good bottle.
He taught me to find out what I like and, more importantly, what I don’t. And he showed me that you don’t have to spend a lot of money – just do your research.
My husband and I have joined a wine club. I like Chardonnay more than Riesling. I love champagne. We drink that. Not in great quantities. It’s too expensive. But when I do, I really enjoy it. Gamay is wonderful. I’ve never been into reds, but the lighter varieties are to my taste.
I now rarely drink during the week. Most weeks I drink wine just once, and not to excess.
I look forward to decanting a nice bottle of red on the weekend, or trying something that has been recommended by a friend or colleague. Or an app. We have found one we trust and use it constantly.
And matching wine with food has become like a sport for me. You really can make food taste better with the right wine.
I also have proper wine glasses – for red and white wine and champagne and other bubbles. No more drinking out of mismatched sets. To get the best from your wine, you need the best glassware. Bubbles develop and red breathes and opens.
I look forward to weekend catch-ups with Tom and Hannah. We are wine “snobs” and revel in it. I’m not an expert; I don’t want to be. But I’m enjoying the learning and the journey.
This is just one of the small but significant changes Covid has made to my life: I now drink nice wine, wine that I like, but less often. It is saving me money. I no longer have scorching hangovers. I have a healthier relationship with the stuff.
The pandemic has taught me that, while I always drank wine, I now enjoy it.
Sam Strutt is assistant news editor at Guardian Australia
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