How to survive New Year’s Eve

ID-100277It’s the midway point between Christmas Day and the New Year that is the most daunting of the festive period.  For many, there will be the inevitable leftovers of Christmas dinner to polish off. And for others there will be the repeat dinners at the homes of in-laws and aunts and uncles that not only require making room for yet more turkey and yet more bread sauce, but monotonous motorway journeys and interminable conversations with Uncle Harry about the current status of his gastrointestinal plight.

While the indulgences of Christmas itself are now a fuzzy memory, you know that there will almost certainly be yet more to come on New Year’s Eve — if not before. So, if you are going to make it through to New Year’s Day with your dignity (as well as your liver) intact, you need a plan.

Rule #1: Don’t drink during the day

I can hear your cries; only a killjoy enforces a no-drinking rule during the day. But how many of us feel genuinely good in the morning following an entire day of indulgence? If you stay away from the booze until the evening you are at least giving yourself a fighting chance. While this is a good plan for New Year’s Eve itself, it also applies to the entirely of the festive season. Everyone has that family member who starts sipping the whisky from 11am each day over Christmas. Just ask yourself, do you want to be that person?

 Rule #2:  Pace yourself

In many ways this is connected to the first rule. The festive period is a marathon, not a sprint, and the opportunities to revel are plenty. But if you have any intentions of remaining upright and conscious at midnight on NYE, you might want to sip your drinks slowly rather than guzzle them as though it’s your last day on Earth.

For some, this can prove challenging. I recall one New Year’s Eve when a friend of a friend clocked my bottle of Irish whiskey, apparently his favourite, and chugged it as though it were Powerade. On the same night, someone who had been drinking neat spirits out of a pint glass ended up lying prone in the middle of the street with traffic having to divert around him. Hint: If you’re already slurring your words before 8pm, you’re doing it wrong. No really, you are.

Rule #3: Take a break

One the best things I did this year was to sip my drink slowly and stop drinking wine midway through dinner at my company’s Christmas party. By the time the event ended and I headed for home, it was almost as though I hadn’t drunk anything at all. If you have any hope of lasting until the wee hours of New Year’s Day, there’s no harm in putting the drink down for a while.

Rule #4: Beer (and fizz) before wine…

This is perhaps the most important and was the inspiration for this blog. Looking back at every celebration that ended in pain, a key component of my undoing has been mixing the wrong kind of drinks at the wrong time. Most of the time, this undoing was caused by the (over) consumption of some form of sparkling wine following an evening of drinking more than enough still wine, the only outlier being an ill-fated decision to knock back an after-dinner espresso martini a couple of months back.

Let’s not skirt around the issue: sparkling wine can and will get you drunker faster if decided to mix it with other drinks. While often regarded as a myth, there is some evidence that carbonated alcohol, such as Champagne, accelerates inebriation.  Anecdotally, I would agree. Sadly, this sort of reaction does not bode well for New Year’s Eve if preferred drink for midnight is Champagne or one of its analogues. There is also some evidence that beer or another other fizzy alcoholic drinks can have the same effect, but I can say from experience that the only culprit for me is sparkling wine, whether English fizz, Cava, Champagne or Prosecco.

Rule #5: Eat

Your liver typically process one standard drink per hour. The quicker you knock them back, the harder and longer your liver has to work after you drink. Growing up in Canada, the typical night out didn’t start until well after 9pm, which usually meant having a sensible dinner earlier in the evening. Upon moving to the UK in my mid-20s, I quickly realised that priorities were much different as nights out usually began straight after work. Anyone in the UK who has Canadian or American friends knows what I am talking about.

The  fact remains that your body absorbs alcohol more slowly following a meal, up to three times slower depending on the type of food consumed. Think about it; that can make all the difference between a romantic midnight kiss with your significant other at midnight or making an unsuccessful and embarrassing pass at your best friend’s sibling.

A weekend in La Clape – Part 1

dsc_0239.jpgI had an inkling something was up as we crept through the Friday afternoon rush on the northern outskirts of Montpellier.  But it wasn’t until we were stuck in the narrow Roman streets of Béziers that my suspicions were confirmed. I had fallen victim to a fat-finger error when programming my SatNav.

So it goes that what should have been a one-hour drive to Narbonne from Montpellier–Méditerranée Airport became a two-and-a-half-hour mission through the Languedoc’s most frustrating and congested roads. There are surprisingly few alternative routes available when you’re stuck in a traffic jam in the French countryside. Credit to my passenger, who, despite having to endure my complaints about a suspiciously faulty SatNav, maintained optimism that we would reach our destination prior to our grandchildren graduating from university.

The destination, Chateau l’Hospitalet in La Clape, is the seat of Gerard Bertrand’s wine business and we were headed there for its annual vine pruning celebration. Most of us approach the task of pruning anything in the garden with a degree of reluctance, keen to avoid it in the hope that someone else will do the job for them. But for the vignerons of France, especially those in the Languedoc, vine pruning is just as important as making the wine itself, so it is important to honour the labour that goes into it. It is also a great excuse for a party.

As the website for Gerard Bertrand says:

Vine pruning is without a doubt the most difficult task of winegrowers. This meticulous work represents the beginning of the vine life cycle and every winter the wine growers are working to give birth to what will be the fruit of a whole year’s work. It is with these excessive temperatures that on our vines, the wine growers accomplish 15 million pruning movements with infinite precision influencing the next harvest as much as the vine for the rest of its life.

It was for this reason that we were headed to Gerard Bertrand’s vineyard for a celebration that included outdoor activities, a wine tasting and a gala dinner. All we had to do was get there. But first we had to endure a drive fraught with calamity. First the wrong route on the SatNav. Then an attempt to deviate from the ill-fated route to find the toll highway only to second-guess my judgement and turn back. And finally when presented with the last opportunity to pull onto the autoroute à péage we found ourselves whizzing by in a blur of confusion and ineptitude.

It’s amazing what crosses the mind when you’re stuck in a line of traffic in the centre of Béziers.  None of it will do anything to get you to your destination any faster. Even when the only option is to keep pressing on, the mind wills you to give up. To pull to the side of the road and throw the SatNav into the River Orb. To get out of the car and lob obscenities at the traffic that is impeding your journey.

It’s not as though I have no sense of direction. Some would say I can read a map and remember a route better than most. And it’s not as though I haven’t driven this route in the past. In fact, I’m well-acquainted with the roads between Montpellier and Narbonne. But I’m also a man of a certain age and, therefore, I’m predisposed to errors not only of the navigational variety but also of the male brain. Get in rental car. Turn key. Pull out of parking lot. Immediately and with blind confidence turn the wrong direction or willingly follow the wrong route on a SatNav.

In the end, we made it. But only with enough time to check in at reception and race up to our room for a wardrobe change before heading straight to the restaurant for drinks and dinner. The real work would take place the following morning in the form of a masterclass tasting of Gerard Bertrand’s latest vintages. That will have to wait for next time.