Recently I got into what I will call a rather intense discussion with another Christian on Facebook on the subject of whether or not it’s ‘Christian’ to drink. You can probably guess which side I came down on, but leaving religion for the most part aside, what is it about wine that I find so enjoyable?
First of all, in defiance of many people’s assumptions, it isn’t the alcohol. I don’t particularly enjoy the sensation of being intoxicated, and generally manage my alcohol consumption in such a way as to avoid it (I am very much a ‘moderate’ drinker: one glass a day is usually enough for me, and I could probably count the number of times I’ve had four drinks in one night on the fingers of one hand).
So what are some of the things that I do enjoy about wine?
First of all, I enjoy exploring the different flavours. No other drink is as infinitely varied as wine, with every vintage, from every winemaker, affected not only by the variety or varieties of grape used but also by the soil, the temperature, the sunshine and rainfall, and minor variations in the wine-making technique. Order a glass of Coca-Cola and you know exactly what you’re going to get. Order a glass of wine and you should be able to make a few generalisations, but the precise flavour will always come as a surprise.
Which leads me on to the second thing I enjoy about wine: its connection to its environment. No other drink is as strongly connected to the environment and culture in which it is produced than wine, and that is a connection I am reminded of every time I enjoy a glass. To return to Coca-Cola as an example, Coke is mass-produced in factories and is utterly divorced from its environment (indeed, there have been multiple accusations of serious environmental destruction against a number of soft-drink companies. Many wineries, on the other hand, are very involved in efforts to minimise their environmental impact, recognising that it is the environment which makes their wine unique).
The varied flavours and local connections of wine are what make pairing wine with food so enjoyable. I recently hosted an American friend for a few days and cooked her a meal of New Zealand lamb shanks with mashed kumara (New Zealand sweet potato) and asparagus, which I served with a glass of New Zealand merlot. For both of us, the interplay between the flavours of the meal and the wine enhanced our enjoyment of both.
Another thing I value wine for is its health benefits. At a time when soft drinks, including the sugar-free versions, are being increasingly implicated in everything from dental decay to the obesity ‘crisis’ to depression and the rise in Type 2 diabetes, increasing scientific interest in the ‘French Paradox’ has confirmed that moderate wine consumption raises the level of HDL (‘good’) cholesterol in the blood, thereby decreasing the risk of heart disease. Studies also seem to suggest that moderate wine consumption has a range of other health benefits, including improving digestion, lowering the risk of stroke and colon cancer, slowing the decline of brain function in later life, and leading to an overall increase in life expectancy. That’s a lot of good news to enjoy.
For a faith perspective, I enjoy wine as a blessing from the Lord. The Bible counsels repeatedly against drinking to the point of drunkenness (see, for example, Proverbs 23:29-35, Ephesians 5:18), but it also calls wine a blessing (e.g. Deuteronomy 7:13, 33:28, Proverbs 3:9-10, Isaiah 24:6, Amos 9:14), and lists it as an acceptable sacrifice to a God who always and only expects the very best from His worshippers (e.g. Exodus 29:40, 2 Chronicles 31:5)
Keeping with the biblical theme, Jesus of Nazareth, who as a Christian I worship as my Saviour and my Lord, “came eating and drinking” (Luke 7:33-34): His first miracle was the transformation of water into wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:6-11), and at the Last Supper He shared the bread and wine of the Jewish Passover with his disciples and commanded them to do so in the future in remembrance of Him and His sacrifice (Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:13-28).
I enjoy a glass of wine as a drink of relaxation, in the same way that I enjoy a cup of coffee as a drink of stimulation. Is that relaxation the first stage on the road to being drunk (which I dislike)? Yes, it is: in the same way that the stimulation of a cup of coffee is the first stage on the road to being high – it’s not exactly a short step from one to the other, and it’s not something that would happen without a conscious decision on my part.
I enjoy wine as a drink of celebration – another biblical blessing – as my recent posts about drinking port at Christmas and champagne at New Year’s would attest.
I enjoy drinking wine in moderation as an example to those in society who believe that ‘drinking’ inevitably means ‘getting drunk’. My parents enjoyed wine at times throughout my childhood, yet I never saw them drunk, and as a teenager when many of my friends were drinking to excess I simply didn’t understand why they would do that. And I have never forgotten the comment a Muslim friend made to me after my 30th birthday party, at which alcohol had been available to those who wanted it, that it was the first time she had seen people drinking without anyone getting drunk. I consider that a sad indictment of New Zealand’s broader drinking culture, but I’m glad that on that one night she had the opportunity to see that alcohol didn’t have to be abused.
But the final, most precious, thing I enjoy about wine is simply this: I don’t need it. I don’t need wine, in exactly the same way that I don’t need books, or music, or art, or poetry, or friends, or chocolate, or coffee. I don’t need wine, but I enjoy it as one of the many beautiful things that make my world just that little bit brighter and more interesting.
I’m not saying everyone should drink. In fact, there are very, very good reasons why some people should abstain from alcohol, and simply not wanting to drink it is all the reason anyone needs. But I am saying that for me, personally, excessive alcohol consumption has never been a problem, moderate alcohol consumption has always been a pleasure, and I see no contradiction between my drinking and my faith.
What about you? Do you enjoy wine? If so, what do you enjoy about it? If you choose not to drink, what influences your choice? (please note that this is a personal blog, not a discussion forum, and all comments are moderated. I’m not interested in entering into another debate on why drinking is a sin, and regrettably I will delete any comments which endeavour to start such a debate).