I Tried ‘Vinotherapy,’ aka Bathing in Red Wine

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Photo: Heritage Images/Getty Images

Amar’e Stoudemire, professional fashionista and occasional power forward for the New York Knickerbockers, knows how to live well. So when the NBA’s highest-paid sixth man took to Instagram to share a photo of himself submerged in a tub full of red wine — and told reporters that the wine baths helped improve his circulation — I was curious. Could wine baths help me? Might they stop the crippling charley-horse cramps that plague me at inopportune times? (Like during sex, for example?)

As it turns out, vinotherapy, the fancy term for stewing in a vat of grape juice and your own sweat, is more than just filling a tub with red wine and water and diving in. The Caudalie Spa, which originated vinotherapy, uses a mixture of red-grape seeds, branches, and vines (rather than straight red wine), and throws them into a swirling hot-tub bath filled with massaging jets. But since any sort of produce that isn’t flash-frozen and sold in a plastic bag is hard to come by at my local bodega, I’d have to go with the method Amar’e told the New York Daily News he swears by: 40 minutes spent soaking in a big old tub filled with red wine and water. 

“You’re going to ruin your bathtub, you know. Red wine is really acidic,” cautioned my friend Jake. “Do you even know how much red wine it takes to fill your bathtub? There’s no way you’re getting your security deposit back next month.”

Vinotherapy is not cheap. The ten bottles of the cheapest Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot I could find weren’t going to fill even a third of my tub, and those alone cost almost a hundred dollars. But wine is heavy, and I am cheap, so ten would have to suffice. After my friend Ariana and I had emptied the contents of nine of the bottles into my tub, she filled up the tub with hot water, and the bath quickly turned from a dark purple to a dried-blood brown. Pleasant! I changed into the rattiest swimsuit I owned and threw myself into my tiny, crappy bathtub, ready to soak my way into 40 minutes of better-circulated blood bliss.

Photo: Beejoli Shah

Things did not go as planned. For starters, if you decide to one-up Olivia Pope and drown yourself in a giant tub of wine, mixing blends is not your best idea. I know precious little about wine varietals, but if there is one thing I have learned in ten partially illegal years of excessive liquor consumption, it is this: Jungle juice is not your friend. Wine-flavored jungle juice with a twist of body odor? Even worse. But with 39 minutes still left on the clock, I had precious little to do to entertain myself, which is how I convinced myself that drinking from the wine bath might be a good idea. It was not. As someone who once used to make out with my arm in junior high (just to practice), I’m reasonably confident that it was not my own blend that threw off the taste — but whatever it was, the cupped handful that I drank tasted nothing like wine and everything like old socks, crushed-up malaria medicine, and grape Dimetapp. (When I shot Jake a text about my ill-advised drink, he instantly texted back, “WHY WOULD YOU TRY THAT.” If you’ve offended the delicate sensibilities of a male sportswriter, you know you’ve crossed a hygiene line.)

By minute six, I was already bored. Also a little drunk. I debated washing my hair in the wine, but Ariana reminded me that it’s beer that’s supposed to give you shiny hair, not wine. By the ten-minute mark, I had attempted to swim in the tub twice. Both times I hit my head on the faucet. Around minute 13, I had twice told the incredibly boring story of how I once begged my sister to draw me a bath in her fancy spalike tub, complete with bath salts, bubbles, and waterproof pillows, only to get out five minutes later because it was “too warm and waterlike.” Neither time was particularly gripping, but as it turns out, there’s really not a lot to discuss while lolling around in a tannin-soaked prison of your own making. At minute 20, Ariana made me promise to give it five more minutes before giving up. When I threatened to drink the body-wine again around minute 22, she finally let me out.

Incredibly sticky and even more confused, I was pretty sure the wine bath had zero discernible effects (especially given the fact that I had just texted every athlete I knew “What does increased circulation even feel like by the way?”), until I stood up to rinse off. My legs, my now slightly purple legs, felt tingly and magical in a way that’s generally only achieved by lower-extremity paralysis or excellent foreplay. Wobbly kneed and dripping wine all over my bathmat, I screamed, “My legs are drunk!”

They were not. Ariana’s guess was that the majority of the time I spent sitting on my legs in the tub while hanging out the side of it whining had probably put them half to sleep. Jake weighed in by text with the theory that all the sugar had possibly clogged the pores in my legs. My mom offered a far less diplomatic theory: “You’re insane, and the rest of your body is only now catching up.” Whatever it was, within an hour after the bath, the tingling had subsided, as had the giant ring of red wine that I feared would stain our acrylic tub.

Did the wine bath improve my circulation? Debatable. Given that vinotherapy rejuvenation is being touted by an athlete who’s been on the injured reserve list for almost as many games as he’s played in his career, I wasn’t necessarily holding my breath on that one. But if we’re looking at the muscle-rejuvenation efforts that actually matter, consider this. Have I had a mid-coital charley horse since my bath? Not a single one.