Lose the booze redux – DRY sparkling and Naked Mind book

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We wrote recently about Dry January, a UK-originated movement to abstain from alcohol for the entire first month of the year. Interesting idea. But for a lot of wine, beer and spirit lovers, the lack of serious and sophisticated alternatives to booze can be a big barrier to even considering such a radical idea.
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DRY sparkling Lavender in 750ml bottle
DRY sparkling Lavender in 750ml bottle

A newcomer to the market, DRY Soda, is helping eliminate this problem with a new concept in beverages. DRY sparkling soda is a bubbly non-alcoholic option that contains a small amount of natural cane sugar along with some unusual and complex flavorings. They’re satisfying, perhaps because the natural sugar replaces some of the sugar you would normally get in alcohol, and don’t make you feel deprived because you’re not drinking booze. Because the blend of sugar and acidity is balanced – just as winemakers do with dry wines, balancing sweetness and sharpness – the flavors are appealing on their own, go great with food, and also mix beautifully with juices, champagne, wines, vodka or other spirits.

DRY Blood Orange in 750ml bottle
DRY Blood Orange in 750ml bottle

Pick from unique flavors like rhubarb, ginger, blood orange, vanilla bean and lavender that go beyond the club soda idea by contributing their own refreshing fizzy flavors to whatever cocktail – or mocktail – you build. The blood orange has a distinctive fresh-orange-y taste without being overly sweet. While we’re not usually fans of cherry-flavored anything, the DRY Rainier cherry sparkler tasted good with a balance of just-a-touch of fresh-dark-cherry flavor and not too much sweetness. We particularly liked the vanilla bean – smooth, aromatic like real vanilla, and with perfectly balanced flavor. Delicious on its own and almost good enough to sub for dessert!

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Ingredients include filtered, carbonated water, pure cane sugar, natural flavorings and phosphoric acid (used to give a sharp, acidic twist to the flavor of many colas and other carbonated drinks).
DRY Vanilla Bean is a 4-pack of 12 oz bottles
DRY Vanilla Bean is a 4-pack of 12 oz bottles

DRY offers recipes that help you cut out some alcohol: “No Champagne, No Gain” makes a nice alternative to a traditional champagne toast. “Holiday Trail” mixes vanilla bean DRY, orgeat syrup (a sweet almond/orange blossom concoction – here’s how to make your own orgeat) and bourbon. Mix pureed strawberries and vanilla bean DRY in a “Caliberry Spritzer.” Or just pair and enjoy these drinks with your meals.

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DRY comes in elegant tall cans and in 355ml or 750ml bottles. In Chicago find DRY at select Jewel and Target stores as well as a few other outlets like Plum Market. Use their Web site’s handy “Find DRY” locator by inputting your zip code. But you may want to call ahead, because some places don’t have it or have only limited quantities in stock.
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And if you’d seriously like to consider losing the booze altogether, check out the book The Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life by Anne Grace.  Raised in a shack with no running water, she became a hugely successful C-level marketing exec who started drinking gradually and eventually found herself drinking way more and enjoying it way less.
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The book talks about how people are afraid to even ask the question, “Am I drinking too much?” because it might mean they have a problem. Try reading this book instead of stealthily checking online at night to see if you’re drinking too much. For some who read it, the most powerful message may be the straight talk about how negatively heavy drinking affects both the present and the future of one’s children. But it’s also a clear-eyed look at the negative effects on anyone.
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Read a story on her website about a high-functioning, successful business man who, after stopping alcohol for only a few days, discovered dramatic positive changes in his feelings about his wife, his children and himself.  He was more patient and felt more connected; it’s a strong statement. On that same page, in return for your email address, you can download the first 40 pages of the book for free.
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Big business sullying the game of fine wines

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Scandal in the fine wine business
Scandal in the fine wine business

Saint-Emilion, located in Bordeaux, a crucible of fine French wines, is also the hotbed of a scandal detailed in a new book called Vino Business: The Cloudy World of French Wine by Isabelle Saporta, acclaimed French investigative journalist. In this book she’s dug up scandal and controversy in the vineyards of Bordeaux and beyond. The gold standard industry magazine Wine Spectator says that in discovering “gossip as poisonous as pesticides, anonymous informants, rampant greed…Vino Business…has caused a firestorm for its criticism of the French wine trade.”

The scandal is not about the many dedicated and passionate winemakers who are still, as always, committing their lives and their money to making fine, natural, unadulterated wines. It’s about the greed-driven controversies over wine additives, pesticides—France’s vineyards occupy 3% of farmable land and use 20% of the country’s voracious appetite for pesticides—and, in particular, the outrage that arose over the 2012 classification of the wines of Saint-Emilion, the most prestigious appellation of Bordeaux’s right bank.

St Emilion Grand Cru Classe from the French wi...
St Emilion Grand Cru Classe from the French wine region of Bordeaux (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saint-Emilion is an area increasingly dominated by big international investors, especially from China, who are keen to speculate on the area’s wines and land, some of which has increased in value tenfold in the last decade alone. In the 2012 classification, as Saporta shows, certain chateaux were promoted to a more prestigious class because of insider deals that altered the scoring system for the classification of wines into premier crus and grand crus. In a recent tasting in Chicago, most of the 2012 vintages of these “grand crus” came off an incredibly poor second to those from 2010. After reading this book, one must wonder if it was more than the growing season that caused the discrepancy.

The wine scoring system in France now takes into account the facilities of each chateau’s tasting room, the capacity of its warehouse, and even the size of its parking lot. With these new suspicious categories, the quality of the wine counts for a mere 30 percent of the total score for the wines of the top ranking: premier grand cru, classe A.

As for the insecticide-pesticide fiasco, the author says there’s a whole bureau set up specifically to devise ways to disguise the residues of such chemicals in some fine wines. One method they invented couldn’t be used because, when it removed the signs of the residues, it also removed the color of the wine.

Plus, the book says that some vineyards practice environmentally sound growing only on the vines in areas immediately surrounding the estate/villa where visitors can see, yet freely use chemicals and other unsafe practices on the rest of their properties.

Perhaps less surprising is that some well-known wine journalists (for example, from prestigious wine publications) are paid to give good reports and/or are presented with wines specially made for them that are not representative of the whole of a vintage. With huge profits at stake, this sort of thing happens in many industries. Still, wine lovers dearly want to believe in the sacredness of the winemakers’ process, labeling and products.

For Vino Business, Saporta conducted two years of research and reporting to reveal the secrets of the money-driven side of Bordeaux. But she gives full credit to the many winemakers, large and small, prestigious and unknown, who are focusing on taste to make beautiful wines while respecting the environment. Her book offers a unique portrait of the good and bad in French viticulture that’s sure to fascinate eonophiles and appeal to anyone who likes a good scandal.

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Want to lose the booze? New sparkling drink options

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Heard about the “Dry January” campaign in the UK? The idea is to go a month with no alcohol and see how you feel. Some data indicate people tend to drink less, then, over the following six months. Others say there’s no evidence it changes anything.
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A recent book, This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life, by Annie Grace, talks about an intelligent way to change your mind about how much you drink. Her approach, which explains our unconscious bias in favor of drinking and also brims with facts about the extraordinary dangers of alcohol – like it’s literally poison (ethanol) and that it is progressively addictive to anyone who drinks it, not just to so-called “alcoholics” – is based on the highly praised work of Dr. John Sarno in helping people rid themselves of chronic back and other pain.
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Those who choose to forego alcohol or indulge only sparingly have always been hampered by a lack of sophisticated drink alternatives. Club soda with a lime is okay, but it gets boring fast. Most flavored club sodas have a distinctly unpleasant metallic and fake taste. And some diet soda sweeteners are under severe scrutiny. So what’s a non- or light-imbiber to do?
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The fruit juice/sweetened variety and the organic-only sparkling option
The fruit juice/sweetened variety and the organic-only sparkling option
A newcomer to the market known as Cascade Ice Water sparkling beverages sent some samples recently. The brand comes in 30 lightly carbonated flavors, all of which are sodium, sugar, caffeine and gluten free. The zero-calorie flavored sparkling variety is made with 1% fruit juice and, honestly, we would love to know how they manage to make the aroma of fresh apples greet your nose when you open the McIntosh Apple. Seriously, it’s reminiscent of standing in the cellar-temperature apple shack we used to trek out to every October in Cleveland, Ohio to see the magnificent fall colors and buy apples.
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And how do they get the Strawberry-Orange-Mango to smell and taste like that when the only fruit-related ingredient is pear juice? These guys clearly have some blending magic tricks under their cloaks. By the way, if you’re still drinking red wine, mix some into that Strawberry-Orange-Mango water and you’ve got yourself instant sangria.
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The flavors in this line are lightly sweetened with sucralose, an artificial sweetener considered safe by the FDA. We found it refreshing, not too sweet and at the same time affording some unique flavor sensations. And then we happily realized we’d consumed no sugar or caffeine and hadn’t been dosed with aspartame (said to contribute to cancer, stroke and other risks).
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Another variety of Cascade Ice is its zero-calorie organic sparkling fruit waters. These are lightly carbonated and contain no sugar, caffeine or artificial sweeteners of any kind. Ingredients in the organic waters include only purified water, carbonation and essences from fruit oils and extracts. We were truly surprised and delighted by the clean, fresh, non-fake taste of the flavors of the samples of this variety. Talk about healthy alternatives!
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Cascade Ice’s zero-calorie fruit sparkling waters are made with small amounts of various fruit juices as well as a few traditional long-name ingredients like potassium benzoate (a preservative) and artificial colors. The zero-cal organic water comes in a multitude of mixed fruit flavors like blueberry-acai-pomegranate, coconut-mango, pink grapefruit, raspberry lemonade and 15 others, but keep in mind, these are not sweet. They’re nice-flavored sparkling waters made with organic fruit essences.
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Zevia - sweetened only with all-natural stevia
Zevia – sweetened only with all-natural stevia

And if you want a regular soda that’s just sweet and fizzy without any artificial sweeteners, check out Zevia, soda sweetened with all-natural stevia. It comes in a bunch of flavors. The only ones we’ve tried were black cherry and ginger ale. The black cherry was too strong and too sweet for us, but we like the ginger ale for just plain sipping.

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