Wines to Pair With Breast Cancer (Part 1 of 5)

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Because I am a sommelier, I naturally pair life situations with wine. In no way does my pairing wine with my breast cancer journey mean that you should use wine in any way other than moderately. And if you are at risk of getting cancer or have had cancer, you should talk to your doctor to discuss whether you should be drinking any alcohol at all. After my own education about the connection between alcohol and cancer, I guarantee you that I am limiting my consumption.

Have you ever driven at night in the mountains? If so, you know that you should watch for deer. They often lurk just off the sides of the road, in the forest -- the cute, soft brown creatures. Your kids scan the trees and gleefully point them out as you drive carefully, with your high beams on, trying to anticipate where they are moving.

You keep your fingers crossed that they don't jump into your path. But now and then, you run into bad luck, one jumps into the road in front of you and BAM, you hit it.

Poor deer. Your kids freak out. You shake. You call the authorities. And now you have the inconvenience of having to do bodywork on your car.

I always thought of my family history of breast cancer like the deer alongside a mountain road; I have to be aware of the risks and take precautions to minimize bad outcomes. With both grandmothers, my mom, and a sister all having had breast cancer, I watched my own health carefully with yearly mammograms. I held my breath, as all women do, waiting for the results each time.

A couple years ago, I saw a new doctor who suggested that, with my family history and particular type of hard-to-see-through front side, I get an MRI breast scan as a baseline to use for comparison for the rest of my life. Sounded prudent to me. Insurance was paying, and since I had a clean mammogram six months earlier, I didn't even hold my breath waiting for the results.

Maybe I should have.

Not that it would have helped.

Turns out there was a half inch tumor hiding inside one of my breasts. No need for that baseline for the future ... I had the real thing right off the bat.

I had hit one of those damned deer. I shook. The kids were going to freak.

And the sommelier inside my head immediately turned to, "What wine would I pair with venison?" I needed to focus on something that calmed me down.

I'm not sure if you've even tasted venison -- I've only had a few opportunities myself -- but it presents a strong, gamey taste, almost like you added extra macho, manly, meaty sauce on top of a steak. You want a big wine as a complement, something you can taste even with that rough and tumble flavor in your mouth.

"I need a Syrah," I immediately calculated.

Also known as Shiraz, it has characteristics of big, black, ripe fruits, extremely dense aromas and flavors. In fact, it often carries a gamey, or meaty aroma, like bacon. And pepper, as well. It's grown all over the world, making it both accessible and reasonably priced. So basically, this wine is the perfect sauce for my newly acquired venison.

As the nurse from the cancer center relayed all the details about the deer I'd hit, I wrote them down, knowing that I'd be surfing each phrase at my computer, ASAP.

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I grabbed a wine glass when I got home, uncorked a South African Shiraz made by Fairview and poured to the rim as I thought "THIS is a wine that can stand up to whatever life throws at you." I headed in to my husband's office for a hug.

With all the women in my family having had double mastectomies, the impending bodywork process loomed as we talked.

Wait a sec ... I realized I would soon be sporting a new rack.

There are deer in the forest somewhere laughing.

Because I am a sommelier, I naturally pair life situations with wine. In no way does my pairing wine with my breast cancer journey mean that you should use wine in any way other than moderately. And if you are at risk of getting cancer or have had cancer, you should talk to your doctor to discuss whether you should be drinking any alcohol at all. After my own education about the connection between alcohol and cancer, I guarantee you that I am limiting my consumption.