Hey, Nick and Emily here. We’re going to begin this story with a brief, imagined Q&A:
Q: What’s better than going to a spa?
A: Going to a spa where they serve wine.
But let’s back up. You remember, a decade or so ago, when red wine became a health food? Yes. A glass or so a day was revealed to have wide-reaching positive effects, with studies suggesting that your dinnertime Cab was not only taking the edge off, it was packed with free-radical-fighting antioxidants, could help increase HDL “good” cholesterol levels, lower your risk of heart disease, improve brain functioning (maybe stave off its decline....! Which, by the way, is never how we feel after drinking it but, hey), reduce the chances of developing certain cancers, and, yes, possibly BLOCK FAT CELLS from growing. Suddenly, wine was the happy-hour equivalent of a Flintstones multi-vitamin gummy. If that gummy was also alcoholic and thus made you feel better about everything.
While all of this bacchanalian wine-awakening was going on, the minds behind the cult French beauty line Caudalie—husband and wife duo Mathilde and Bertrand Thomas—were busy in the vineyards of Bordeaux, investigating ways these powers might be harnessed for skincare. They emerged, after 17 years of research, trials, and assorted tribulations, with three patented vine and grape-seed extracts, which form the basis of their range of creams, tonics, and oils. Et voilà: Vinothérapie!
Here at ITG HQ, we’ve always been partial Caudalie’s Beauty Elixir, a zingy mist that delivers a boost of radiance after your computer’s all but drained the life from your face, and the Divine Oil, an amber-hued concoction pour les corps filled with grape oil that deposits moisture and a did-you-just-get-back-from-vacation? glow to any place you rub it.
But full disclosure: we’re partial to anything that involves wine. Which is why, in late February, when Caudalie invited us to “experience the new Premier Cru facial and a wine tasting” at the Caudalie Vinothérapie Spa at The Plaza Hotel, we cleared our Friday schedule and hightailed it uptown to kill so many birds with a single fruity, full-bodied, oaky, buttery stone: a skin-plumping face massage, a lesson from the brand’s in-house sommelier, Cliff (yes, the spa has it’s own wine spirit-guide), and the best end-of-week happy hour we could imagine. (Our escapade ended with lobster rolls and mille feuille cake in the basement of the Plaza. Then, we went back to work. And were productive?)
After the treatment and before our wine lesson/wine haze—perhaps in anticipation of it—we quickly compared notes on the 60-minute facial, the cornerstone of which is the brand’s super-luxe Premier Cru product line. It’s a pair of anti-aging creams—one for face, the other for eye—that utilize all three of their patented ingredients, a first for the company. “I refer to it as ‘ La crème de la crème,’ meaning it’s the best of the best when it comes to creams,” founder Mathilde Thomas told us of the duo. “It has Resveratrol-Oleyl from the vine stalk to firm the skin, grapevine sap Viniferine to brighten, lighten, and even the skin tone, and grape-seed Polyphenols, the most powerful antioxidants in the plant world.” Our faces, post-facial, were plumper, mainly—not unlike the ripe green grapes we snacked on later during our lesson.
Now Cliff, our sommelier buddy, knows a lot about wine; he studied for years and years to become certified. And despite our predilection for the libation, we knew next-to-nothing. He talked a lot about what to look for in—and how to taste—wine. We each received a two-page, bullet-pointed, step-by-step pamphlet that will come in handy when we have in-laws to impress, but in the meantime, we decided to pull out the most exciting/interesting things we learned:
Know why you’re swirling the glass : “The issue with swirling is that it is easy to look pretentious, especially because many people when they’re swirling don’t know why they’re swirling,” Cliff told us. Agreed. You’re swirling to introduce oxygen into the wine and release aromas. Now ya know.
Fun ways to describe wine include : chunky, round, hot, ethereal, age-worthy, elegant, racy, angular, herbaceous, austere, horsey, and brambly. Wait, what?
angular : “Generally high in acid, so they are typically kind of sharp, with a cutting edge”
racy : “Racy wine is a more acidic wine that has a lot of verve. It’s like Woody Woodpecker, full of nervous, kinetic energy.”
austere : “Wines that are kind of lucid in their characteristics—very complex, but very subtle”
horsey : “It’s a negative term and related to possible yeast contamination”
brambly : “Wines that come from very hot, dry Southern parts, like the South of France, southern Spain—places where there is a lot of dry earth and stones and wild herbs that lend themselves to sunbaked aromas”
Gargle your wine : Yes, just like your morning Listerine. You’re doing this in order to get the full taste and effect—sucking the wine into your mouth and swishing it around helps coat your palette, exposing all parts of your tongue to the flavors. Also, it looks (and sounds) bizarre. Not recommended for the aforementioned dinners with your loved one’s parents. Or your own parents.
The truth about supermarket wine : When a vineyard has a bad year (for whatever reason, often weather-related) and the wine is sub-par, all hope is not lost. Vineyards either sell off their stock to the Franzias of the world, or, if it’s really undrinkable, sell it to companies who make spirits such as grain alcohol. Remember that frat party you went to in college where the only beverages offered were beer and a Kool-Aid-flavored “juice” served out of a cooler? That had grain alcohol in it, maybe even from France!
And finally, if anyone’s been wondering about Cuba Gooding Jr.’s whereabouts post-“Show me the money!” we are happy to report we saw him, shuffling into the Caudalie spa just as our wine lesson wound down. Clad in a cream-colored robe and shower shoes, he chatted excitedly with a few other spa-goers before being ushered into one of the dimly lit treatment rooms—of course, he was there for a facial. Or maybe a glass of Bordeaux.
—Nick Axelrod and Emily Weiss
** * *** Of course, with every extra glass (or two, or three) of wine, the benefits dwindle, the hangover gets more…hangover-y. Alcohol, at the end of the day, is still alcohol: best used in moderation—if you’re really jonesing for antioxidants, a glass of Pom Wonderful will do, and, no matter how much of the stuff you chug, it won’t leave you with a throbbing headache. Neither will the Premier Cru creams! Just super-nice skin.
Find the Premier Cru collection here.
Photographed by Emily Weiss and Nick Axelrod at the Caudalie Vinothérapie Spa at the Plaza Hotel in New York on February 22nd, 2013. This feature is brought to you by Caudalie.