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.

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Italian reds. Two for drinking, one for cooking

This blog originally appeared in Ella Mag as part of my wine of the week series.

LET’S SAY YOU want to cook a lasagne. In itself it’s a fairly big feat; layer upon layer of pasta, meat, sauce and other ingredients require careful attention in order show their best in the final product.

But what to drink with it? And what kind of wine should go in it?

Assuming this is going to be a rich, meaty lasagne with a savoury tomato sauce (as opposed to a creamy, vegetable-based version that might demand a white wine), not just any old bottle will suffice. This calls for something Italian.

If the theory goes that a region’s cuisine developed hand-in-hand with its wine, we could then assume Italian food goes best with Italian wine. I know this rule is not always ironclad, but for the sake of fun, let’s just say it is.

Any number of wines could be selected to go with a rich, meaty lasagne. Italy’s varied geography gives it some of the best vine-growing conditions in the world. It is because of this that viticulture and wine production exists in nearly every region running up from Sicily and Puglia all the way to the mountainous border region with Switzerland, thanks to steep slopes, sunshine and a temperate climate.

For this week’s blog I have opted for two wines plus a wildcard. My two main recommendations are made from the barbera and sangiovese grapes: Barbera d’Asti and Chianti. I will reveal the wildcard in a moment.

Barbera is mainly produced in the Piemonte region famous for Barolo and Barbaresco. It used to be that barbera was considered a ‘common’ grape and, as a result, it garnered little respect from wine drinkers. But these days it is Piemonte’s second-best grape after nebbiolo (which goes into Barolo and Barbaresco) and produces wines that are ready to drink at a younger age and have big, bold flavours that consumers seek.

As a wine, barberas are rich with cherry and plum notes that go nicely with dishes that have strong flavours and seasonings.

Chianti, meanwhile, is no stranger to most dinner tables and might be one of the most famous Italian wines. Produced in the region stretching between Florence and Siena, Chianti is made of a blend of sangiovese, trebbiano and canaiolo nero, although each blend is predominantly made up of sangiovese, if not entirely.

This wine has different quality levels, ranging from basic Chianti, the cheapest of the bunch. The finest of them all is Chianti Classico, easily identified by a label with a cockerel motif on it, but this is also the most expensive example because it is considered one of Italy’s finest wines.

Chianti also consists of other subzones: Chianti Rufina, Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Colli Fioerntini, Chianti Colline Pisane, Chianti Aretini and Chianti Montalbiano. However, these examples might be difficult to find in the average British retailer, although M&S stands out as having a good range

The wildcard here is primitivo. One of the predominant grapes of Puglia in the south, this is a wine that can produce high alcohol levels (15% or more sometimes) because of the hot climate where it grows and its tendency to ripen unevenly. But these wines will have flavours of cherries, leather and liquorice with lots of fresh acidity. This could be a good wine to pour into your lasagne recipe given its strong flavours and aromas. If it is not available at your retailer, consider a dry zinfandel from California, since it is in fact genetically identical to primitivo.

Wines to try

Barbera

Olim Bauda Barbera d’Asti DOCG “La Villa” 2008 (£7.87, Marks &Spencer)
Spicy like barbera ought to be, fresh and full of classic plum and cherry flavours.

Walter Massa, Sentieri Barbera 2010 Colli Tortonesi, Piemonte, Italy. (£11.39, Waitrose)
Rich with the typical plums and cherries as well as a herbal aroma. Good acidity to cut through rich, fatty foods.

Vinchio Vaglio, I Tre Vescovi 2009 Barbera d’Asti Superiore, Piemonte, Italy (£8.99, Waitrose)
This is a wine I’ve written about before and earns my approval for offering good value for money. Needs a few minutes of air to let the fruit flavours come alive.

Chianti

Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico 2008, (£14.24, Waitrose Wine Direct, also available at Tesco and various retailers)
Savoury, full of plums but not overpowering,this is a bargain for Chianti Classico and can be found for less than £10 when on offer (recently at Co-op this was £9.99). This may be a better match for lasagne than barbera if you prefer your wines more restrained.

Primitivo

Ogio Primitivo 2010, Puglia, Italy (£4.99, Tesco Wine by the case)
Very affordable, rich, spicy, blackberries and cherries. Medium-bodied and likely a good candidate for pouring into a sauce or a cheeky drink before dinner.

Photo: piyato

Supermarket gems

A colleague asked me if I would write an article recommending dinner party wines to people who might find the entire process intimidating. The objective, of course, was to keep the price per bottle at less than £10 and find them at supermarkets in the UK.

Initially I thought this would be a challenge, but in fact there is a lot of great wine to be had. The following is the result of my expedition (and I admit it’s heavy on Waitrose wines, mainly because its selection is simply superior to other supermarkets).

Putting on a dinner party can be a stressful experience, so the last thing you want to do is find out the wine you’ve chosen is a dud.

The good news is matching wine to food isn’t difficult once you know a few basic rules. And you don’t have to spend a lot either; impressive bottles can be found for £10 or less. The best way to do this is to understand which wines go with which kinds of foods and, above all, to be adventurous and try things you haven’t had before.

For dishes that tend to be salads, white meats, fish or shellfish, white wines tend to be the best matches. If the flavours in the food are subtle or more savoury, go for a wine that isn’t too acidity or sweet, such as a chenin blanc or a pinot blanc. For oysters and other shellfish or seafood, you could even do well with a Muscadet. The trick is that you don’t want the wine to overpower the food you’re eating.

For something spicy, you will want a wine with more backbone, so a riesling or sauvignon blanc might go best with hotter foods. And if the dish has some spice to it, an off-dry or slightly sweeter wine will stand up better than something that is particularly dry.

For red wines, the wine served should complement the style of the dish, so try to match heavy reds with heavy meals and lighter reds with dishes that have more subtle flavours or are lighter in their consistency. For example, a cabernet sauvignon or perhaps one of the bigger Italian wines will go nicely with a roast beef or steak.

If the dish is lighter and has more delicate flavours, or is something like a soup or stew, you could opt for a merlot or a cabernet franc. If you are serving roast turkey or chicken, or perhaps a tuna steak or even pasta, you might want a pinot noir or even something like a Beaujolais.

There are no hard and fast rules in the end, but what you want to do is make sure you aren’t serving a tannic cabernet sauvignon-based wine with something that has delicate flavours or a light and supple wine with a brooding T-bon steak, otherwise neither the wine nor the food will taste as it should.

And finally, when it comes to dessert, the basic rule is that the wine has to be sweeter than what you’re serving. For example, you can’t serve a dry red or white wine with a very sweet dessert. Two good examples of versatile dessert wines are Sauternes and Tokaji.

WHITES

Cave de Lugny Chardonnay 2010 Macon-Villages, Burgundy, France (£7.49 Waitrose)
Macon-Villages is a bargain. Classic buttery chardonnay but with crisp lemon notes, it pairs well with poultry and soft cheeses.

Triade Campania Bianco 2010, Italy (£8.99 Waitrose)
This is made from three grapes – greco, fiano and falanghina – and works well with fish and shellfish. With a creamy texture and an aroma of vanilla and peach, an excellent wine at a very low price.

Cave de Beblenheim Pinot Gris Reserve, France (£9.49 Waitrose)
Alsatian wines don’t get enough publicity. This example is off-dry, meaning it is a bit more sweet and floral, but this makes it excellent as an aperitif or a partner for spicy dishes, such as Asian stir fry. It also goes well with smoked hams or fish.

Springfield Estate Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa (£8.99 Sainsbury’s)
Sauvignon blanc is a go-to white wine for most people. In flavour this sits somewhere between the minerality of a French sauvignon from the Loire and the fruitiness of Marlborough. Perfect on its own as an aperitif or even with mussels or a rich seafood dish.

REDS

Vinchio Vaglio, I Tre Vescovi 2009 Barbera s’Asti Superiore, Piedmont, Italy (£8.99 Waitrose)
Barbera is a grape that makes for versatile wines with wonderful flavours and a strong backbone but is often ignored by the average consumer. With flavours of cherries, dried fruits and woods, this wine goes well with game, venison and meat dishes with deep flavours.

Les Nivieres Saumur 2010, France (£7.99 Waitrose)
Cabernet franc is a grape normally known for making up blends in Bordeaux varieties but in the Loire Valley it stands on its own. Fruity and balanced with some tannin, this makes for a fairly versatile dinner wine that can be matched with meats and cheeses.

Domaine de Marie Faugeres 2010, France (£7.99 Waitrose)
If you want a beautiful red from the south of France but don’t want to pay for Chateauneuf-de-Pape, this blend of grenache, syrah and carignan will likely tick all the boxes. Full-bodied, rich and spicy gives you mulberry fruit and lots of earthy flavours that will go well with roasts and meat dishes.

Gran Tesoro Garnacha 2010, Spain (£4.07 Tesco)
If you want to go even cheaper than the Faugeres, this is an absolute bargain and yet still peppery and spicy like a good grenache-based wine ought to be. This has flavours of cherries and belies its sub-£5 price tag, going well with grilled meats and other robust dishes.