Up to my neck in it – Bathing in Red Wine!

Head massages are given while soaking in the wine bath, lit only by candles

Carol Wright recently had a bath in red wine. She describes the experience here in some detail, in case you’d like to try it

I went seriously into the red recently; happily not the financial, but the wine sort of red. I experienced a bath in wine at the London branch of Aire who are taking existing vineyard spa vinotherapy experiences into big city centres.

Aire started in Seville in southern Spain in 2001 and offer wine baths at their properties, including those in New York, Chicago, Copenhagen, Barcelona, London and soon in Toronto. Palatial mansions and old factory buildings provide the space for the company’s reinvention of the Roman idea of relaxing and spending time bathing and cleansing in waters hot to cold.

The London Aire opened in 2021 not far from the Indian High Commission in Aldwych. The property in Robert street, a quiet cul de sac off the Strand, is a magnificent 18th century town house that once belonged to J M Barrie and was where he wrote Peter Pan.

Stepping inside the Georgian front door I was ushered into the Library; a high-ceilinged room lined with leather-bound books. Huge lanterns with fragranced candles aided relaxation along with cups of jasmine tea. Next, I was escorted down stone- flagged stairs to the changing rooms. The only thing one is asked to bring is a swimsuit. My locker contained a Merlot-hued hooded bathrobe and towels to match. This marked me out as a bather in wine; everyone else had white robes and towels.

Dressed like a medieval monk in my long robe, I descended further down into the earth to a vast cellar space where once wine was stored. The high, arched ceilings and raw brick walls were lit only by candles. The company reckons that in 2018 alone they used 183,000 candles in their properties.

Red wine flows into a marble bath, converted from a 17th century Venetian well

The red wine bath experience is described as a three-hour ritual, and I was encouraged to start by trying the various big pools. I began with the bath of a 1,000 jets that pummelled my back, moved on to the gentler Flotarium that aped the buoyant properties of the Dead Sea, splashed about in the warm Calderium, but avoided the Frigidarium of cold-water options (ranging from cold to very, very, cold) and instead sweated gently in the Vaporium steam bath before an hour-long, totally relaxing full body massage using grape seed oil which has a high concentration of Vitamin E to hydrate and nourish the skin.

Finally, I was ushered into the Vinoreum, the candlelit wine bath room, where shards of blue light seeped in through walls made of 1,400 empty wine bottles. A gnarled vine clung to one rough brick wall near a wine barrel marked Matarromera, the winery in Spain’s Duero valley with which Aire works on its wine products, from massage oils to bath water. (In 2021, Matarromera’s Crianza was listed among the world’s best 100 wines by the American publication Wine Spectator).

In the centre of the room was a large creamy, clover-shaped, marble bath which I was told was a 17th century Venetian well, big enough for a couple to enjoy. It was empty and I sat nervously on a ledge at one side of the bath. Suddenly a thick pipe, arched over the bath, and spewed out the wine, slightly pink and frothy at the edges, some what akin to Lambrusco. The wine, chambered to around 35°C, was creeping up my legs and quickly enveloping my body. I cautiously licked a finger, and tasted nothing. There was no bouquet at all. The flow stopped just below my neck. A light at the base of the bath highlighted the blood- like colour, glinting in the candlelight.

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A self-indulgent soak in a bath of red wine with a glass of wine in hand

I was immediately legless — without tasting a drop. The wine was remarkably buoyant and my legs flailed inelegantly till the masseuse told me to brace my feet against the end of the bath and lay my head back on the burgundy shaded towels draped over the edge, while she massaged it and rubbed a honey-based nutrient through my hair before leaving me to enjoy my bath. Which meant wallowing in a concentrate of Tempranillo grapes with warm water that purifies, hydrates and tones the skin.

As an aside, the ancients of Sparta would test the strength of new-born babies by putting them in a wine bath. If their skins did not shrivel, but remained smooth, they were considered fit enough to be allowed to live.

It took Aire, working with the Matarromera winery, 18 months to develop their exclusive bathwater so that it retains wine’s beneficial antioxidants which help prevent ageing, while purifying and toning the skin, making it smooth and soft by eliminating wine’s high alcohol content, which can dehydrate and irritate the skin. The bathwater includes a patented polyphenol extract found in the Tempranillo grape, the main one grown at Matarromera, where the grape, in order to combat climate extremes, has developed higher concentrates of polyphenols. Water that maintains the correct pH balance is added to prevent drying of the skin.

After about 10 minutes of solo soaking, an attendant appeared with a board of snacks paired to a flask of Matarromera’s Tempranillo red wine (I was given an option of white but preferred to match my bath) borne in by a waiter who poured me a glass. The frosted flask and goblet were both of plastic, suited to the slippery setting.

I was left alone in the bath to enjoy sipping the wine and nibbling at the cheese, grapes, salted almonds and rich, dark chocolate truffles. Each item aroused the palate between sips of the wine while the bath wine kept me warm and smoothed externally. I glowed from within and without.

If the idea of bathing in wine seems a sacrilege, then one can try different Aire baths. The London one, fine for teetotallers, is to bathe in tea: Earl Grey to be exact. The ritual is similar, the massage uses tea-based oils, and while in the bath, there is a tasting of different teas accompanied by specially chosen chocolates. In Copenhagen, where Aire is set in Carlsberg’s former factory dating back to 1881, a foaming beer bath is the speciality.

After about 35 minutes of totally indulgent vinotherapy, I was led back to the changing rooms to shower away the Tempranillo, dress and return to the real world, feeling refreshed both inside and outside.