There are few relationships more complicated than that between women and wine.
Mine started at the age of 14 in Italy, where I was gallivanting around Rome, Florence and Venice on a not particularly well-supervised spring break trip through my high school. In the evenings we were allowed to go off on our own for dinner, and being American teenagers in a foreign country where the drinking age is a loose suggestion and fermented grapes are practically a national treasure, we ordered wine. Lots of it.
At 14, drinking wine feels like a small, sophisticated rebellion. It's classier than stealing your parents' Wild Turkey from the basement and trying to mix it with orange juice (spoiler alert: not a great combination), but still produces the desired tipsyness and slightly lowered inhibitions. As I grew up, my drinking habits did as well.
Wine became a staple of "girls nights" and conversation-heavy dinners during college, and office happy hours once I joined the workforce. When I moved apartments in May, the home decor purchase I was most excited about was the wall-mounted wine rack, which my roommate and I always have stocked with Trader Joe's prosecco, pinot grigio and vinho verde. After a stressful day, I love dipping into our supply while sitting at the dining room table rehashing the previous 12 hours with my roommate. With a few sips and some conversation, my anxieties seem to lift.
As someone who is solidly a part of the generation of women who watched "Sex and the City" a good 15 years before entering their 30s -- and as someone who aspired to be one of those fabulous New York ladies who had deep conversations with her girlfriends over drinks -- I've always seen wine as primarily a means for connection and relaxation. It's also always struck me as a very female ritual. (An idea, of course, happily perpetuated by marketers.) Over the last few years, the "ladies drinking wine" trope has inundated the popular culture. A glass of wine is Tami Taylor's nightly ritual, Maya Rudolph tells Kristin Wiig about her engagement at their "magazine and wine party" in "Bridesmaids," and the "Cougar Town" crew guzzles it on such a regular basis that when Courteney Cox's character, Jules, decides to abstain for a few days her best friend tells her: "Nothing could ever make me stop loving you, except you not drinking."
Wine means different things to different women. It may make us feel beautiful, or be what helps us calm down or open up or connect with our peers. Often women's emotional connection to wine is benign and positive, but as with any substance, there is a darker side to the daily rite. And whereas no one would hesitate to declare that someone who was kicking back glasses of vodka on the rocks every night had a problem, doing so with wine seems more harmless and is unquestionably more socially acceptable.
Over the last decade many female writers have discussed the way alcohol -- and wine in particular -- has become a way for women to get through the day, especially when that day includes an increasing number of tasks and roles and the pressure to complete them all with a smile on your face.
"Whether the effect is physiological or psychological, a glass of wine calms me: Okay, I can handle this if I just have a drink first," wrote Laurie Abraham in an essay excerpted by Elle in 2006. "A drink is the modern (time-worn) 'mother's little helper': our generation's answer to Valium." And the head of the women's addiction program at Toronto's University Health Network told The Daily Beast in October 2013 that the one common thread she sees among the professional women who enter her program is "perfectionism." Wine companies have exploited this truth and begun crafting marketing campaigns that explicitly address the stresses that working mothers feel. In 2012 the New York Times reported that wine brand Cheateau Ste. Michelle introduced an ad campaign targeting women, which included the copy: "It's where you become you again -- not mom, not colleague, not chauffeur, cook or cleaner-upper."
I think the temptation to self-medicate exists not just among mothers -- I have yet to become part of that demographic -- but also among unmarried, 20-something working women (and men). A sentiment I hear echoed often amongst my peers is that we drink more now than we did in college. (At least more frequently if not more quantity-wise.) Often this drinking is used as a way to cope with post-collegiate uncertainties -- at work and in our love lives.
A few months ago on a Sunday I woke up feeling incredibly anxious for no particular reason. As morning turned to afternoon and my entire body was still in overdrive, I made my way to the roof of my building with a neighbor and proceeded to drink a half a bottle of my favorite white wine. It was only after I stood up and went back to my apartment in the early evening that I realized I was drunk. There was absolutely nothing glamorous or relaxing about stumbling into bed and passing out at 8 p.m., only to wake up Monday morning with a pounding headache. I know I'm not the only one of my friends who has had an experience like this.
I still maintain that sipping a glass of wine with friends is one of life's greatest pleasures. The ritual nature of an after-work drink is both what makes it so comforting -- and potentially dangerous. I want my love affair with wine to be slow and steady. And like any romance, I want to want it -- not need it.
HuffPost Women wants to continue the conversation about women and wine. What's your connection to it? How do you use it and where do you draw the line? Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a story to share.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/coq_au_vin/">Coq au Vin recipe from Simply Recipes</a></strong> <strong>Wine needed: two cups red (pinot noir, burgundy, or zinfandel).</strong>
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/30/baked-onion-soup-with-a-g_n_1391467.html">Baked Onion Soup with a Gruyère Cheese Bread Crust</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: 2/3 glass of dry red.</strong>
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/grilled-flank-steak-with-_n_1058443.html" target="_hplink">Grilled Flank Steak with Sichuan Peppercorns</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: a couple of sips of a dry white.</strong> If you have just a tiny bit left in that bottle of white, save it and use it to enhance your flank steak. The flank steaks are seasoned with a simple but potent blend of peppercorns and black bean garlic paste (which you can find at any Chinese grocer).
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/southwest-seafood-chowder_n_1061080.html" target="_hplink">Southwest Seafood Chowder</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: One glass of a dry white.</strong> Do you love clam chowder, but refrain from making it knowing that it has a serious affect on your waistline? This southwest version of the New England classic is lighter and healthier, and still just as comforting as the original.
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/lentils-with-red-wine-and_n_1058526.html" target="_hplink">Lentils with Red Wine and Herbs</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: quarter glass of a dry red.</strong> With herbs and a scattering of mâche (a sweet and tender green), this stewy lentil dish becomes a perfect combination of a soup and salad. French green lentils work best here because they hold their shape when cooked. If you can't get your hands on mache, arugula or spinach make fine substitutes.
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/braised-chicken-allarrab_n_1058245.html" target="_hplink">Braised Chicken all'Arrabbiata</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: a glass of a dry white.</strong> In chef Robert Holt's recipe, he braises the chicken with five kinds of peppers in a wood-fired oven. If you want to opt for an easier option, you can spice your chicken with poblano and chile flakes, then braise it. For extra kick, toss in some hot pickled cherry peppers.
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/chorizo-poached-in-red-wi_n_1058325.html">Chorizo Poached in Red Wine</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: two bottles of dry red.</strong>
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/chopped-lamb-steak-with-g_n_1058324.html" target="_hplink">Chopped Lamb Steak with Garlicky Spinach</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: couple of sips of dry red wine.</strong> A chopped steak is really just a glorified hamburger. But substituting ground lamb for the traditional beef takes this diner out of the realm of just another burger and makes it a gourmet meal.
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/mahimahi-with-herbed-whit_n_1058532.html" target="_hplink">Mahimahi with Herbed White-Wine Sauce</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: quarter glass of a dry white.</strong> This is an easy, yet elegant dish. Perfect for a weekend dinner when you would rather spend more time at the table with others than in the kitchen preparing your meal. The natural flavors of the fresh thyme and marjoram herbs really shine through when paired with this meaty fish.
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/orecchiette-with-veal-ca_n_1058586.html" target="_hplink">Orecchiette with Veal, Capers and White Wine</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine Needed: half a glass of a dry white.</strong> The tender veal ragu is perfectly paired with the shape of the orecchiette -- the sauce just hangs onto the pasta. With each bite, you will be thankful that you had that half a glass of wine left over to help make this dish.
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/wild-mushroom-and-red-win_n_1058799.html" target="_hplink">Wild Mushroom-and-Red Wine Risotto</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: half a glass of a dry red.</strong> Risotto is the perfect comforting dish for a cold winter night. And regardless of what you may have heard, it is an easy dish to put together. Yes, there might be quite a bit of stirring, but that is as hard as it gets. This risotto dish stands out from others in that it uses red wine rather than white to give it that extra kick.
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/white-wine-braised-clams_n_1057361.html">White Wine Braised Clams</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: two glasses of white.</strong>
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/chicken-breasts-with-pota_n_1058289.html" target="_hplink">Chicken Breasts with Potatoes and Mashed Peas</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: a little more than half a glass of a dry white.</strong> The classic chicken breast with a side of greens and potatoes gets a slight makeover with a few new tricks. While we all like the healthiness of chicken breast, let's be honest, sometimes it is lacking in flavor. A nice remedy for that is to quickly brown the breast in a bit of butter, and then finishing off in the oven.
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/penne-rigate-with-spicy-b_n_1058609.html" target="_hplink">Penne Rigate with Spicy Braised Swordfish</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: half a glass of a dry white.</strong> Swordfish is a meatier white fish and holds up nicely in pasta dishes. Paired alongside tomato sauce makes this a warming, hearty dish; and the addition of jalapeño gives it a nice, fiery kick. Feel free to adjust the amount of jalapeño according to your spicy-food tolerance.
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/chicken-cutlets-with-baco_n_1056879.html">Chicken Cutlets with Bacon, Onions and Red Wine</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: 2/3 glass dry red (preferably burgundy or pinot noir).</strong>
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/carrot-osso-buco_n_1061057.html" target="_hplink">Carrot Osso Buco</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: a glass of a dry red.</strong> Looking for a light winter meal? Carrot osso buco might just be it. A vegan take on the beloved veal shanks recipe, braised carrots take the place of the meat in this dish. Ground dried porcini mushrooms give the dish a rich, meaty flavor.
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/butchers-rag-with-fusil_n_1059510.html" target="_hplink">Butcher's Ragù with Fusilli </a>recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: a glass of a dry white.</strong> This ever-so-slightly creamy ragù made with ground beef, pancetta and ham, is flavored with tomato paste instead of canned tomatoes. A nice variation from you traditional tomato-based pasta sauce.
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/velvet-corn-soup-with-cra_n_1059214.html" target="_hplink">Velvet Corn Soup with Crab and Ham</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: quarter of a glass of a dry white.</strong> A rich and hearty soup, this unusual recipe will warm your soul. Crab and ham make an unlikely pair, but their flavors complement each other harmoniously.
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/chicken-with-red-wine-and_n_1057218.html">Chicken with Red Wine and Prunes</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: 1 1/4 glasses red.</strong>
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/baked-potatoes-with-wild-_n_1058217.html" target="_hplink">Baked Potatoes with Wild Mushroom Ragù</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: a glass of a dry white.</strong> A simple dish of baked potatoes can easily become a vegetarian dinner with the topping of wild mushroom ragu. The recipe calls for a mix of wild mushrooms, so chose your favorites here, or whichever look the best at the store.
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/salmon-with-shiitake-and-_n_1058660.html" target="_hplink">Salmon with Shiitake and Red Wine Sauce</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: two glasses of a dry red.</strong> Did you open a new bottle of red wine that you just didn't love? Well, whatever you do, don't dump it down the drain. Get your money's worth and turn that not-so-great bottle of red into a luxurious sauce for this salmon dish.
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/white-wine-poached-pears_n_1059330.html">White Wine Poached Pears</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: one bottle of white.</strong>
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/chocolate-red-wine-cake_n_1058322.html">Chocolate Red Wine Cake</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: 1 1/4 glasses dry red.</strong>
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/wine-souffle_n_1061496.html">Wine Souffle</a> recipe</strong> <strong>Wine needed: 1/2 glass of white.</strong>
Follow Emma Gray on Twitter: www.twitter.com/emmaladyrose