How Breast Cancer Changed My Relationship With Wine

Last Drop illo Monica Simon
Illustration by Monica Simon

September 17, 2021, Victoria’s Secret finally restocked their Body by Victoria Full Coverage bras. Waiting for my imaging tech to perform my annual mammogram, I ordered eight to replace my stretched-out, nearly decade-old collection. On the way home, I stopped at the wine shop to restock my favorite bottles, planning to host small gatherings, which had been absent for much of the last two years during the height of the pandemic.

October 9, 2021, I entered my doctor’s office expecting good news. Instead, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

The following weeks were blurred with tests, oncologist visits and treatment plans. I sobbed in the shower. I smiled at well-meaning friends and family letting me know I would get past this. I gave away bottles of Gloria Ferrer Brut and Felino Malbec—wines I loved. Those brand-new bras in romantic pink lace, leopard and nude moved to the back of my underwear drawer, never to be worn again. Like so many things I lost with the diagnosis, underwire no longer had space in my daily wardrobe, and wine was no longer part of my diet.

I poured myself into figuring out how a food and wine writer (and human who loves a spicy glass of Tempranillo) moves forward when their oncologist limits alcohol intake to 0–1 glasses of wine per week. I couldn’t attend tastings. I no longer wanted to look at restaurant wine lists. Every glass would feed the hormone-positive beast raging in my chest.

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Beyond work, I wanted beverage options with complexity—and that tasted good—for those moments I would normally pour a glass of wine.

Cancer was not going to steal this joy. I turned to fellow food and beverage writers for suggestions. Then I tried vats of varied non-alcoholic options, from seltzers to dealcoholized wines. Nothing fit.

Until one night as I was scrolling Twitter (as writers do) and saw a tweet from Allison Robicelli touting Kally’s No. 70 Vanilla Smoke as the drink for sober people looking for “fancy-ass” beverages you can “say smart, pretentious things about.” Writer and non-alcoholic beverage queen Julia Bainbridge responded with her endorsement for Kally and its sister brand Lili. I dove down the rabbit hole and ordered samples of everything.

In March 2022, I celebrated “the ringing of the bell,” a radiation milestone, with a flute of Lili Golden Sparkler. The verjus-based bubbles redolent with honey and jasmine felt indulgent, an elevated beverage without alcohol. And it was certainly worthy of commemorating kicking cancer’s ass.

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2022 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

Published on June 20, 2022
Topics: Last Drop