Fit to Drink

Fine wine and gourmet dining can be part of a healthy lifestyle, as long as regular exercise is included in the blend.

It was only 7:00 a.m., but the temperature was already 70 degrees and the humidity oppressive. Still, I picked up the pace, jogging along the road that parallels Hong Kong’s spectacular harbor. The glistening waters were chockablock with jitneys and ocean liners. Close by were the first rows of gleaming office towers. Looming overall were stunning mountain peaks piercing the clouds. I ran past people contorting into odd shapes and striking heroic poses, as they practiced the ancient art of Tai Chi. I circled knots of bankers and financiers in their pinstriped suits who were walking so briskly they were probably burning as many calories as I was.

As I pounded along and absorbed the scenery, I thought back to the previous evening, which I had spent at Vong, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurant atop the opulent Mandarin Oriental Hotel. In my mind I again savored the delicious Thai-French tasting menu that my friends and I had married with several cult California wines. It was a decadent seven-course meal and when I retired for the night I was feeling a bit worse for wear—a feeling not uncommon to those who occasionally overindulge. The remedy I chose for this malady was as natural as the wine I had enjoyed—a wonderful run though the streets of Hong Kong. Now, with my hotel within sight, I slowed to a walk, breathing hard and dripping with sweat. I felt a sense of euphoria as delicious as the luscious Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that had enhanced the meal I was working off. What a perfect way to start the day.

Over the years, I’ve found that exercise and wine go hand in hand. People still talk about The French Paradox (How do French people stay so slim and healthy with that high-fat diet?) and the American Heart Association’s 1998 report (drinking the equivalent of a glass of red wine every day may help ward off heart disease) as if they were linked, as if they were fact. Both items are interesting, both merit closer study, but the only thing I know for sure is this: Without an exercise regimen, I wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy the wonderful food and wine that I have had the privilege to indulge in over the years. By exercising regularly, I’m increasing the chances that I’ll live longer, to enjoy more wines and savor more exciting dishes than I would if I lived a sedentary lifestyle.

To reinforce the message that exercise and wine can be a perfect complement to one another, we present Bernie Libster’s article on bicycling in wine country (see page 24). What better way to see the marriage of earth and bottle than to glide quietly past the vineyards? The spontaneity that is such an essential part of touring by bike can lead to close observation of the winemaking process, delightful tasting-room visits and long-lasting friendships.

The affinity of wine and the great outdoors is also celebrated in Peter Kupfer’s article on gourmet camping (page 58). Food always seems to taste better outdoors, and wine…well, a good glass of wine tastes great indoors or out, but primitive surroundings and a day’s hard work helps you appreciate things you sometimes take for granted, like good companionship, the miracle of the grape and the skill of a great winemaker.

Exercise of a different sort is involved in tasting 150 top California Chardonnays, but our tasting panel was up to the task. The more popular Chardonnay gets, it seems, the more expensive it gets. We wondered if wine enthusiasts are getting full value for their money. For the answer read our feature on Chardonnay. And if our Chardonnay story whets your appetite for tasting and evaluation, check out our Proof Positive feature on vodka. Vodka would seem to be an unlikely subject for a tasting, but as Gary Regan demonstrates, there are more flavors and nuances to this clear spirit than you might expect.

Also in this issue, Steve Heimoff visits the winemakers of the Sonoma Coast, an emerging wine region with a rustic charm all its own. Pioneering growers and winemakers have been working the coast for decades, and now larger companies are taking a look. It’s beautiful, unspoiled and…well, let me put it this way: a tourist trap it’s not.

Finally, let me also recommend that you read Steve Heimoff’s lively and absorbing profile of Gary Heck, CEO of Korbel Champagne Cellars. This is a man who exemplifies the principles I was pondering during my Hong Kong jog—the beneficial effects an active lifestyle and positive attitude can have on a person’s health and longevity.

Published on July 1, 2001