Drinking Alone: A Bad Idea or a Toast to Oneself?
Is imbibing solo pathetic? Antisocial? A sign of ‘a problem’? Lettie Teague talks to some experts, tips her glass to all the wine drinkers who decline to drink alone and concludes: nope
By Lettie Teague
April 24, 2015
WINE IS A BEVERAGE with its own set of rules. Some of these rules, such as “Wine must be served in a glass with a stem,” are more like suggestions. Others, such as “White wine must always be chilled,” are regarded as near-gospel truths. A rule that many drinkers seem to follow is the one that dictates wine should not be consumed alone.
Wine is a social beverage and is best enjoyed in the company of others, ideally in the context of a meal. But what of wine lovers who live or travel alone or cohabit with a non-oenophile? Does the rule against solo drinking apply to them, too?
I know quite a few people who, for various reasons, don’t drink alone. One friend, a middle-aged single male, will open (almost) any wine in his cellar for friends but not a single bottle for just himself. An unshared bottle is a waste of money, he said, likening the act to buying “an entire ham” when he just wanted a sandwich.
When I suggested he might have just one glass and cork up the rest of the bottle for another day, he immediately discounted the idea: The wine was never as good on the second or third day as on the first. And buying half bottles wasn’t the solution either, he added. Half bottles are hard to find and more expensive than half the price of a regular-sized bottle.
My friend is mostly right on both points regarding half bottles. They tend to cost more to produce, for a variety of reasons. Wines in half bottles also age more rapidly-bad news, for both producers and consumers, if they sit too long on a shelf. In fact, many winemakers eschew the half bottle for both of these reasons, which does make it harder to find.
As for the notion that an open bottle isn’t quite as good on day two or three, I’ve found this to be both true and false. Many wines will flatten, and the fruit may fade, after the bottle has been opened. But some wines-reds that are big and tannic and/or young-get softer and more accessible with a bit of time and air.
Opened wines bottled under screw caps seem to hold up particularly well, based on a completely unscientific tasting experiment that I conducted over several weeks. Oxygen has a deleterious effect on wine, and screw tops are close to airtight.
My friend’s opposition to drinking alone extends beyond the walls of his home to restaurants and bars, for fiscal reasons as well. He’s outraged that “a glass of wine costs the same as the entire bottle in a store.” (The standard rule of restaurant pricing dictates that one glass should be the wholesale cost of the bottle.)
Some people, including my husband, Roger, have emotional reasons for avoiding a solo glass. Roger won’t drink wine by himself because he thinks it seems sad. (Several friends also used this word to describe solo drinking.) Roger prizes the social aspect of wine and would rather forgo wine altogether than partake alone. And he doesn’t miss pairing it with food. He’s just as happy to drink water as wine with dinner-something I don’t relate to at all.
I always drink wine with dinner, even if I’m dining alone. Drinking alone may make some people feel sad, but a dinner without wine makes me feel sadder yet. And I don’t necessarily drink something cheap just because I’m dining alone. I’ll open a good bottle as readily for myself as I would for anyone else. A good wine is likely to be better than a cheap wine on the second day anyway.
A wine collector friend of mine also won’t drink alone based on the price of the bottle-all of his wines are simply “too good” to drink by himself. This seems decidedly odd. If the collector isn’t worthy of the wine that he purchased, who is? But this friend wants to be able to discuss the wine with someone-or perhaps share his appreciation of its rarity or cost. (Never mind that he could do what others do: share via Facebook or Instagram.)
And then there are the wine drinkers-invariably women-who won’t open a bottle when by themselves because they’re afraid they might not be able to stop. Instead of something that enhances a meal, that solo glass of Chardonnay is seen as the first step on the road to wrack and ruin, as scenes from the movie “Days of Wine and Roses” begin flashing through these wine drinkers’ heads.
Gabrielle Glaser, author of “Her Best-Kept Secret,” a look at women’s relationship to alcohol, agreed that this was a particularly feminine attitude. “I don’t think men give a second thought to drinking alone,” she said. “They don’t think drinking alone means ‘I have a problem.’ ”
In some people’s minds, a woman alone in a bar is unsavory-a “floozy” was one term Ms. Glaser recalled being used. And apparently this perception makes some women self-conscious about drinking alone, even at home with a meal. Ms. Glaser doesn’t find anything untoward about drinking wine alone, although she does fall into the camp that regards solo drinking as sad.
I wondered what an addiction expert thought of the practice of solitary drinking. Was it actually dangerous to consume a glass or even two all by yourself? I contacted Stanton Peele, a New York-based psychotherapist, lawyer and expert in the field of addiction.
Mr. Peele is also the author, with Ilse Thompson, of “Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life With the Perfect Program.” He had this to say: “The idea that drinking alone is unhealthy is a reductio ad absurdum of the idea that alcohol is a dangerous, uncontrollable force.” Mr. Peele, who lives (and drinks) alone, said he found the idea that a solo drink put someone on the path to addiction spurious indeed.
For alcoholics, drinking alone or with others is problematic. (Mr. Peele pointed out that some people tend to drink more-and more inappropriately-when in a crowd than when alone.) He would never tell a patient where or how-or even how much-to drink, he said. It isn’t the place or the circumstance that matters to Mr. Peele but the legal, social and medical consequences of someone’s drinking. If alcohol has a negative impact on any of these things, then it could be a problem.
I once ordered an entire bottle of wine while sitting at a bar in Woodinville, Wash. I didn’t like any of the wines available by the glass, and it was one of the most interesting wines on the list. I figured I could take the rest of the bottle home (in some states, such as New York, this is legal).
Instead, I ended up sharing my wine with the man next to me, who turned out to be the restaurant chef. We had an interesting and entirely impromptu conversation about wine and life, and it would not have happened had I not been at that restaurant’s bar by myself.
Whether guided by fear or cheapness or the feeling of unworthiness, the people who choose not to drink wine by themselves are, in my opinion, sacrificing an opportunity to experience pleasure (and maybe even meet a fellow wine lover as well).
Pleasure is what wine is ultimately about, after all. This is why a lawyer friend, who has no compunction about solo drinking, told me he believes “you should always drink wine-whenever you can.”