Plenty of people find solace in food and drugs, and others have another passion to pacify their problems: wine. Although the phrase "wine therapy" rings of a Dr. Phil book gone fruity, alcohol -- as we all know too well -- allows people a release from the day's tensions. And wine provides an infinite topic of conversation, providing fodder for bonding. So it makes sense that talking and wine have merged organically.
But you won't find wine therapy groups listed in any self-help section. They are homegrown, underground groups, hiding in dark living rooms with the curtains drawn. Members clutch brown bags with unknown contents, speak in hushed tones and read aloud from venerated books. The meeting gets louder as corks pop, then political patter and gossip fly. In the midst of this, the members soak in education, and walk away with a more open mind and a sated palate. All for about $20 -- much less than the $125-per-hour shrink.
Melanie Godley, a self-proclaimed wine nerd living in Tampa, started her therapy group last year to teach her girlfriends about wine. Each month, her coterie of 10 enthusiasts commits to an assigned bottle of wine, and open their wine journals and minds. Melanie themes each lesson by grape varietal, and she provides interactive smelling components -- like grass or asparagus if they're studying Sauvignon Blanc, or butter for Chardonnay.
The group is even required to wear a certain outfit based on the image of the varietal ("Chardonnay: basic black; Cabernet Sauvignon: classic suit"). After handing out a prepared lesson sheet, Melanie gets to work outlining the growing regions on a dry-erase board and throws in the humor.
"Doing this group has been a lot of fun for me," she says. "First because I have learned so much about wine, but it has also been fun to begin something like this amongst my group of girlfriends. It's neat to see how much they have learned about wine and their enthusiasm to learn even more. And we laugh nonstop together." When's the last time you walked away from your shrink's office laughing?
Bill Addison, Creative Loafing's food editor and restaurant critic in Atlanta, represents the über-knowledgeable male opposite of Melanie's wine group. Laden with testosterone, his group of 12 high-powered doctors, newscasters and journalists (the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's John Kessler started the group several years ago) takes wine therapy to a whole other level of intensity.
No partners, spouses or women are allowed (I was denied entry), since they might distract from the experience. After assigning a varietal or region, each participant brings a mystery bottle. They open each one, allow the wine jargon to circulate, then unveil the label. From time to time, the group reads from the Bible ... The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil. Bill says, "We strike a healthy balance. We approach the subject matter pretty seriously, yet still manage a lighthearted conversation about politics or something along those lines."
Both groups offer food that matches the wine of choice, be it cheese or appetizers of some sort. And they do allow guests from time to time. Education appears to be the most important part of the gatherings, and of course, tasting different wines is the most fun, at least for a geek like me. For more information about starting your own wine therapy group, e-mail me.
Calera 2004 Vin Gris Pinot Noir Central Coast (California). SW = 2. $17. Crisp, fruity raspberry with a kickin', refreshingly acidic aftertaste. Good with fruit-infused food or just to sip. 4 stars.
Douglas Green 2004 Sauvignon Blanc Western Cape (South Africa). SW = 1. $9. Steely, tart, grapefruit-laden, dry Sauvignon Blanc from the increasingly great-quality region of South Africa. There are still amazing values from there, and this is certainly one of them. 4 stars.