Why You Should Still Drink Wine in Drynuary

It’s true: You can stay dry in January while still drinking wine.


You may not always be in the mood for wine talk, especially after a long, indulgence-drenched holiday season. Many of us have taken the “Drynuary” pledge (a personal promise to avoid alcohol consumption during the month of January) only to fail miserably within the first week. Sound familiar? If yes, you are in good company. 
While January does provide the opportunity to take stock of one’s health, it doesn’t mean we need to leave wine entirely behind. In fact, we should embrace it even more. The medicinal properties of wine have been understood for ages but are often overshadowed by excess. Come, let’s take a trip down historical memory lane to discover why wine is a necessary part of any Drynuary pledge plan.
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Egyptian tomb painting depicting grape selection, 1400 BCE. On view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.
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The earliest evidence of winemaking has been found in China, circa 7000 B.C.E. Chemical analyses uncovered tartaric acid, the component of wine grapes responsible for acidity, on 9000-year-old shards of pottery in Jiahu. Wine grapes did not arrive in China until several thousand years later, so it is thought that the Chinese instead used hawthorn fruit to create wine. The berries of the hawthorn tree are extremely tart. They are also believed to be a potent heart medicine, regulating blood pressure and circulation. The fruit’s high sugar content and ability to host yeast for fermentation render it an ideal winemaking candidate. The Chinese Materia Medica, a compendium of information on medicinal Chinese herbs assembled over thousands of years and published during the Ming Dynasty (around 1593), is rife with medicinal wine references. The text specifically suggests frying herbs with wine to draw out the former’s effects on the circulatory system. 

Ancient Egyptians were also familiar with the role wine can play in health. In 2009, a team of researchers led by the University of Pennsylvania Museum’s archaeochemist Dr. Patrick McGovern, discovered chemical evidence of wine with medicinal herbal additives. Testing was carried out on residues found inside a jar from the tomb of one of the first pharaohs of Egypt, Scorpion I, which dates to 3150 BCE. Hieroglyphics indicate that herbs like garlic, onion, celery, mint, coriander, aloe, hyssop and more, were used to make wine-based beverages with purported medicinal properties. 
Meanwhile, in Mesopotamia, ground snake skin and wine were mixed to create a cure for gallbladder troubles, according to The Sourcebook for Ancient Mesopotamian Medicine. The Mesopotamians also recommended pouring wine vinegar into ears that leaked blood or liquid. When it came to fluid-filled lungs, the Mesopotamians suggested mixing some sweet wine with herbs such as cedar, cypress, myrtle, myrrh and turmeric. The tonic was to be consumed through a "sweet reed", a straw made from a marsh plant with bamboo-like stalks that produces sugars as a result of disease.
Of course, wine is practically synonymous with Ancient Rome. Modern winemaking owes a great debt to the Romans for their well-documented and sophisticated viticultural practices. At the turn of the first century, Roman statesman Cato the Elder called for the close study and expansion of wine agriculture. He also underscored the health benefits of wine. Lauded for his dedication to temperance in an increasingly undisciplined empire, Cato championed moderate wine drinking for both pleasure and medicine. He claimed, “…the flowers of juniper, myrtle, hellebore and pomegranate soaked in wine” were useful against snake bites, constipation, gout, indigestion, diarrhea and other illnesses.
All that said, wine is your friend. Here are the three ways to reap the benefits of wine this Drynuary.
1.) Have a Claret Cup.
There was life before Julia Child. Charles Elme Francatelli was a culinary celebrity of the nineteenth century. He was an Englishman with Italian roots who helped popularize French cuisine. This recipe points to Francatelli as patron saint of the wine spritzer. (Although it should be noted that wine was often diluted with rain or sea water in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.)  Here is the unaltered, original recipe for the Claret Cup from his Cook's Guide and Housekeeper's & Butler's Assistant (1861).
One bottle of claret (wine), one pint bottle of German Seltzer-water, a small bunch of Balm, ditto of borage, one orange cut in slices, half a cucumber sliced thick, a liquer glass of Cognac, and one ounce bruise sugar-candy.
Process:  Place these ingredients in a covered jug well immersed in rough ice, stir all together with a silver spoon, and when the cup has been iced for about an hour, strain or decanter it off free from the herbs, etc. 
2.) Have some Carmeilite Water, also known as Eau de Melissa de Carmes.
Here is the slightly modified recipe from Mackenzie's 5000 Receipts (1829). The Carmelites, a Roman Catholic religious order, created this recipe in France some time during the fourteenth century. "Melissa" refers to the primary herb used in the blend, Melissa officinalis; otherwise known as lemon balm. According to herbalist Maude Grieve (author of A Modern Herbal, 1931), the lemon balm in Carmelite water is "highly useful against nervous headache and neuralgic affections." 
1 cup dried lemon balm leaves
1/2 cup dried angelica root
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon clove
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 bottle of white wine, such as New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. (Look for a wine with an herbal flavor, stony minerality, plus cayenne and gooseberry notes.)
Fresh grated nutmeg
Lemon zest
Combine all dry ingredients and pour into white wine. Steep in a bain marie (or a double boiler) on very low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain out the herbs and discard. Keep your liquid in a dark, cool place. 
3.) Just have a few sips of dessert wine. 
Chugging is an activity reserved for November and December. In Drynuary, one delicately sips his or her beverages. After you’ve finished your low-carbohydrate, nutrient-dense meal, feel free to indulge in a three ounce pour of something sweet to help put your digestive system in gear. Since you’ve probably burned out on Sauternes, why not try a Trockenbeerenauslese made from Grüner Veltliner? You deserve it!

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