It’s February, at last! Time to open some wine… Not a phrase uttered in my household, as you might imagine. But I understand why people feel that a dry January is right for them after the indulgences of Christmas and New Year.
So, I thought I’d share a few of my tips on how to create some new habits that last far beyond one month of the year.
Build in regular nights off the booze - every week
This is something Mike and I try to stick to. I’ve just had three consecutive dry days, then a night enjoying some Muscadet and Nebbiolo, and then a small glass of red the next day. Yes, it does take willpower at first - and often, we do two days not three. But killing a bottle every night for us is a thing of the past. Except, perhaps, if we are on holiday by some sun-drenched Mediterranean beach… remember those? Even then, on some nights it might be a couple of beers.
On our nights off, if feel we need to unwind, we’ll drink 0% beer (we really like Lucky Saint), or a non-alcoholic spirit with tonic plus loads of ice and a citrus and herb garnish. I am currently loving The Pickle House spiced tomato juice - fiery and satisfying - on ice with a slice of lime and maybe a spring of rosemary. Check out other alternatives on this website.
Drink less but better
If you are drinking less, then why not spend a bit more on the wine you are drinking? With your local independent bottle shop, obviously...
Measure out your wine
At least until you can judge how much you are pouring. It’s easy to get through a bottle very quickly if you are pouring freely into big glasses. A steel wine measure of 125ml or 175ml is easy to buy online. I’m a fan of the smaller measure - which is still the base legal measure in a bar or restaurant, even if it’s not advertised as being available. But I might pour a larger one for a Bordeaux or rich, complex Tuscan red because I know I am going to drink it slowly. Yes, I do all that swirly, savouring stuff...
Drink a glass of water before you crack into the chilled or white rosé
This is especially important on warm summer nights. The easiest way to get tipsy is to pour a glass of ice-cold wine and drink it quickly to slake your thirst. Wine waiters will love you, you’ll buy more. Your head won’t. Drink water first. And during. And then after too. You know it makes sense.
Also, don’t overchill your wines. Most fridges are set to 2C which means your wine is pretty cold. This also kills a lot of flavour and the warmth of alcohol, which means it is easier to drink your wine faster. So instead of putting it instantly back in the fridge or the ice bucket, keep the bottle out for longer and pour smaller measures. We’ll often keep a wine out for 20 mins or so before chilling it again.
Don’t be fooled by wines branded ‘skinny’ or ‘clean’
Wine has calories. Fact. While there is some debate over how many calories we absorb from drinking wine, it’s still important to understand that some wines have more residual (unfermented) sugar than others. Articles on low-cal wines often come from the US, where there is a trend for commercial, sweeter wines and, as a result, the ‘skinny’ alternatives business is booming.
According to wine website Wine Folly, based on a US standard pour of 150ml, a 14% dry wine will have around 120 calories a glass. A 12% dry wine, around 90. In short, light, dry, crisp whites and rosés and light, dry reds are the best choice if you want to drink skinny.
There is also a trend for so-called clean wines. While there is no consensus on what this actually means, those promoting ‘clean’ wines (like Cameron Diaz) talk about wines free from colourants, concentrates and preservatives, like this is something new. It isn’t. We’ve made a business out of wines that are less manufactured and more honest, that are produced following organic or biodynamic principles - though often these wines are a little cloudy because they are unfined and unfiltered.
Finally, if you are tempted by sprays or drops to ‘clean up’ your wine, remember this. Wine contains alcohol, which is a toxin. Drink too much, or too quickly - while not drinking enough water or eating food at the same time - is much more likely to give you a headache than sulphites ever will. And why would you want to add a chemical to your glass in an effort to make it more ‘clean’?
Invest in a wine preservation system
Good quality wine should still taste good a couple of days after opening. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Just well made. Make sure you stick the cork or screwcap back in between glasses though. You want to keep exposure to oxygen down to a minimum. We’ve just kept a Luis Cañas white Rioja going for two days following this method.
Vacu Vins do a decent job in the short term, and are the most cost-effective solution. You can also buy argon gas sprays you squirt into your opened bottle which are generally effective. At home, we use a Coravin - which is also based on gas as a preserver. This is not a cheap option; it’s a bit like buying a printer - after the initial outlay for the Coravin, it’s the gas capsules that you’ll spend the most on. It really does work though. We use it on our more expensive wines (above £15) when we fancy a glass. We might go back for another two weeks later. I am hearing good reports of the ETO, too. Again, an investment but one that doesn’t need capsules.
Obviously, being surrounded by fabulous bottles of wine for my job, it is important to find a balance between my unfettered love for fermented grape juice and staying mindful of my alcohol intake. I hope you find some of these tips useful. Or maybe an affirmation of what you are already doing. Let me know if there are any tips you have that helps you keep that balance.