Jason, masked and drinking wine

Does all wine suck when you have Covid?

As I write this, it is April 26th, 2022, day eight of my Covid journey. Right now, it’s 8:30 am. I hear Angela starting to wake up, coughing and hacking. Spencer is still out for the count, getting a good night of sleep … his recovery is going very well, but he’s still testing positive and can’t yet go back to work.

If you missed the news, the day after Easter was pretty blah for me, with no energy or drive to do much of anything. That night, we did a super fun webinar on the best Domestic Rosés that we’ve found so far (stock up on that Elk Cove Pinot Noir Rosé!), but I was exhausted afterward.

Tuesday, April 19th, one week ago, it started to hit me. Spencer and I compared notes in the morning: scratchy throat, a bit of a cough, foggy head … uh oh. We broke out the rapid tests, and both of us were positive for Covid. (Angela tested positive yesterday.)

Immediately we had to clear some schedules. Spencer had to contact work. I had to figure out what to do with the April 20th Intro to Wine class for Twin Cities Wine Education (which we’ve now rescheduled – join us on May 25th). 

I’m seven days in since the first symptoms. Over the weekend, I felt a marked improvement, but in the last two days, I feel like I’ve slipped a bit, including the emergence of the one symptom I feared the most: my sense of smell is reduced to nearly zero.

Fear is probably an exaggeration. What I really fear is Long Covid with no sense of smell. That scares the shit out of me.

But in the short term (which I’m determined to believe all of these symptoms are … that’s part of my optimistic nature), it’s kind of interesting. We had about twenty bottles open around the house for various reasons, so I tasted through about half of them, and here are the results.
 

MY COVID WINE TASTING EXPERIMENT
 

I’m not going to mention the brands I tasted here because that would be unfair to those wines. I just want to talk a bit about ABV levels and flavor perception.


 

Flavor is best thought of as a simple two-circle Venn Diagram: aroma and taste, and where they meet is flavor. So take away aroma, and you’re only left with what you perceive on your palate (duh), which when dominated by ethanols can be kinda overwhelming. But not always, as I found.

Yesterday I lined up ten wines ranging from 7.5% to 15.5% ABV. I stepped through all of them throughout the afternoon (with lots of time and water in-between, so I didn’t experience an accumulative effect).

What would you expect to happen? As the ABV went up, the impact of the ethanols would be more apparent on the palate, yes? 

Nope.

Here are my notes from tasting the wines from lowest ABV to highest:

  1. 7.5% — (white) touch of sugar as expected, good acids, firm, easy going, yummy. 
  2. 8.2% — (white) touch of sugar as expected, good acids, rounder in style. No obvious ABV hit.
  3. 9.5% — (white) ethanol overwhelms the palate, acids are lower, totally disjointed. Yuk. I normally like this wine a lot.
  4. 11.7% — (white) beautiful balance and elegance. No real sign of ethanols. Could drink more of this. Lower acids and rounder flavors than expected.
  5. 12.4% — (red) a little ABV burn but decent balance. 
  6. 13.5% — (red) overwhelmed by ethanol, I can only taste heat and no sense of anything else. Sucks! Yuk!
  7. 13.5% — (rosé) snappy and fresh, low impact from the ethanol. Friendly and happy wine. Makes me smile.
  8. 13.7% — (red) balanced and juicy. Drinky.
  9. 14.3% — (red) horrible. Undrinkable. I know this wine well and most of the flavor is obviously in the aromas. It’s like an acid-alcohol bomb. Huh.
  10. 15.5% — (red) surprisingly awesome considering the circumstances. No real big sense of the ethanol taking over. Tastes 2 and 3 showed some build-up, and the viscosity was higher than others, but the taste is comforting and not burning.

(A few days ago, truth be told, I also enjoyed some Graham’s Six Grapes Port at 20% ABV, otherwise known as fancy cough syrup. Very good, as always.)

Conclusions


First, wines, while you have Covid, kinda suck overall. Not nearly as enjoyable as they should be for obvious reasons.

Second, and more importantly, the impact of the alcohol has far more to do with a holistic look at the wine instead of just a number on the bottle. This has been proven to me time and time again over the years but being able to do a Covid experiment has been fascinating. 

I urge you to read about Clark Smith’s research into the ‘sweet spot’ of alcohol levels(sweet meaning good, not sugar, obviously). His experiments on taking some alcohol out of wine and adding it back into the juice in precise amounts showed, in his words, that it’s more like tuning in a radio dial than anything else. There is no bell curve, but instead spikes of higher quality at different ABVs for different wines (and I would add different tasters at different times and situations … context is everything).

Back to Covid
 

I’ve said it since the start of the pandemic, and I’ll say it even louder now: the Covid era is an opportunity to learn something about ourselves as individuals and as a culture, then reset parts of our lives that need adjustment. The last thing we should do is just ‘go back to normal’ for we have a rare opportunity to rewrite the rules.

In the last week, I’ve cleared my schedule, canceled meetings, and have been forced to only work when I feel up to it and rest when I need to. And I’m going to say it’s been a good thing.

Do I want to live like this for the rest of the year? No way.

But I think there’s something to be said for taking a week every now and then (I’m starting to think every quarter or so) and blocking it out entirely to have quiet time, thinking time, personal puttering time, and what some may view as selfish time (though it’s far from selfish). Not a vacation, but rather as a time to think, a time to have no pressure, and a time to let the whims of creative thought carry the brain into unexpected places.

In some ways, I’m digging this. 

Don’t get me wrong: if I’m still in the same shape a week from today, you can expect a different sentiment from me!

Take care, everyone.

One lap around the track is all we get. Let’s make the most of it.

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