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.
- Fruit - How noticeable are the berry aromas and flavors in the wine?
- Acidity - How much does the wine make your mouth water?
- Tannin - How grippy or sandpaper-like is the feeling in your mouth when drinking the wine?
- Alcohol - How alcoholic is the wine? Wines with higher alcohol are typically more viscous and dense in the mouth.
- Body - How mouth filling is the wine? When compared to milk, is the wine like skim milk, whole milk or cream? (Keep your eye on this category as it figures into the story later.)
I enter my plastic surgeon's office after my double mastectomy to get my first expander fill up, and thoughts of red wine are far away. Instead, I am filled with trepidation at the thought of adding any more volume to the rock-hard chest expanders that the doctor has inserted under my pec muscles during my surgery.
As the doctor explained, if you opt for breast reconstruction after a mastectomy, expanders are inserted under the pectoralis muscles in the chest and are slowly filled over a couple months to make space for breast implants.
Expanders are not shaped like breasts. They are shaped like a stack of pancakes, maybe five high - flat and round with pats of butter standing in as your nipples. The stacks are covered with a beige, medical material that feels like rubbery burlap. Add a metal ring at the top of the stack, close to the butter pat, that outlines a port, which allows a needle to poke in and out of it without leaking. Pretty cool medical stuff, but not necessarily made for comfort.
The doctors insert these under your pecs with a small amount of liquid in them at your mastectomy. Don't hold me to the exact numbers, but as I recall, my 450-cc (cubic centimeter) expanders were first inserted in my chest with 300 ccs of liquid already in them.
So I have 150 ccs, plus or minus, to play with as I decide how large my future rack will be. I don't think of my breasts in ccs, so here's what Jill, the plastics nurse tells me: one tablespoon is about 15 ccs. Doesn't sound like a lot ... until it's inserted under your pec muscle, which formerly laid flat against your rib cage.
At my first expander expansion appointment, Jill walks into the room with what looks like a cartoon syringe. If Porky Pig wanted to give Daffy Duck a shot, he would carry something this big.
She is very kind and begins chatting with me about a breast-cancer fundraiser she will attend the coming weekend and how her dress needs a bra, and how nice it will be for me since I can go braless when I want after the reconstruction.
She takes out a magnet and rubs it around on my skin, looking for the little metal ring that indicates the port's location. She draws a little X on the spot, holds up the cartoon syringe and asks me sweetly, "How big are we going today, Kirsten?"
Suddenly, I can't think about breasts and cc's. All that is coursing through my brain is "What wine would I pair with THIS?"
BAM - Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is perfect.
The most striking connection between the filling of my expanders and Napa Cab is that they both command attention. Cabernet from Napa offers one of the beefiest profiles of cabs from around the world. It pegs out at 11 on the "body" scale of 10, offering a mouth full of berries, leather, chocolate, and ripe tannins that are demanding on your palate.
Napa Cabernet is the Hollywood of Cabs: Glamorous, bold, voluptuous.
And my expanding rack, with the added ccs, is becoming way more Hollywood than I ever envisioned.
I lay there as Jill pushes down the syringe plunger, filling me up--I continue to search for the perfect Napa Cabernet.
BAM - "Dancing Bear Vineyard" Cabernet by Cakebread.
This vineyard sits on Howell Mountain, where the vines are planted on the steep slopes. The vines struggle to survive as they hold to the rocky, volcanic land, searching for water. These vines don't have the cush life that their friends have on the valley floor. In their fight, they save their strength and only produce a few, densely complex grapes.
I could relate to the Howell Mountain vines' motto: "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger," as I watched the cartoon syringe empty into my chest.
A fun aside:
Bears love grapes.
This is a problem if you're trying to make wine. And Cakebread Cellars had this problem in one of their vineyard locations on Howell Mountain.
The winery owner and key operations staff put their heads together to try to figure out how to keep the bears out. They installed motion-activated cameras, to see what was happening. They put up fencing then added barbed wire, but the bears still got in. In fact, they would help each other over the barriers.
The Cakebread leadership team decided to resort to an extreme.
They wired speakers all around the vineyard, and hooked up a Brittany Spears playlist--the most objectionable music they could think of--to play at a decibel level that would make a pre-teen cringe.
They laughed as they left that night, wondering if they would see dancing bears on the videos in the morning.
Apparently, what was scary for the people of Cakebread wasn't so scary for the bears, as they didn't hesitate to help each other over the fence while Brittney sang, "Oops, I Did It Again." The bears didn't make any sweet dance moves, but were videoed munching grapes while the music played.
The team finally had to put in electrified fencing to keep the grape-loving fur balls away. And "Dancing Bears" became the name of the vineyard, which produces some of the most sought after, complex cabernets in Napa.
This is the wine that would pair perfectly with a nurse asking, "How big are we going to go today?"
If you have expanders under your pecs and don't have any Dancing Bears Cab, pop a cork of any cabernet, preferably from Napa. Cabernet will knock your socks off with its big fruit, robust tannins and commanding power.
And more importantly, it'll stand up in body to match your new body as it's created.
As for "mouth filling," I won't even go there.