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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Fuzzy memories: Friday Fizz

wpid-dsc_0758.jpgIt’s difficult to remember a time when each day of the week didn’t have a cute name that encouraged us to drink wine. As though we needed additional excuses to imbibe, social media has hastened the spread of such occasions as Wine Wednesday or Thirsty Thursday.

Before it became fashionable to get tipsy mid-week, Friday was the day when the floodgates would open. No special name required. Friday was the word.

In this era of alliteration, simply calling it Friday would not do. But what in the wine world will match Friday? Fetească Regală Friday? I think not. I could see there being a Fino Friday, but you won’t want to drink too much given that it’s 15% ABV.

Helpfully, the British have an insatiable thirst for sparkling wine and Prosecco in particular. Last year, Prosecco overtook Champagne as the favourite fizz of the UK. Sales of the Italian sparkling wine soared to £182-million compared to £141-million for Champagne. Overall, volume sales for Prosecco amounts to 21-million litres in 2014, with Champagne at 6.5-million and Cava at 13-million.

It didn’t take long for someone to name a day of the week in honour of all the sparkling wine we drink. Hence Friday Fizz. But before we all ventured off to Aldi for ration of Prosecco at the start of the weekend, I had a friend who was honouring Prosecco Friday with a pallet of bottles bought from a Mancunian discount store that sold it for so cheap that it made Aldi and Lidl look like Fortnum & Mason. So cheap that you’d be mad not to bathe in it.

Except the thing with most Prosecco is that it satisfies that desire for something fizzy, but it doesn’t do much else. And so it can be a real challenge to write anything profound other than to say it’s a crisp, fruity and fizzy means of delivering a desired amount of alcohol into my bloodstream. QED.

All of this build-up relates to the fact that, quite a few months back, I was sent a picnic basket containing a fairly useful wool blanket and three bottles of Italian fizz: two sparklers from Piedmont and one Asti Spumante. There was also a Presecco DOC for good measure. Sample bottles from Gancia — okay, freebies.

If you read Sediment Blog last week, you’ll know they forgot to taste the sample bottle they were tasting. I can say it’s easy to suffer the same fate. Because in this case, I’ve done exactly the same thing. First, I kept putting it off. I’ll review them another day, I kept saying. The problem is that, in my house, Friday Fizz almost always has a disastrous effect on my Saturday mornings. Opening a bottle of fizz is not the same as opening a bottle of Fino. You don’t merely have one glass and then stash the bottle in the fridge until the following day. No. Fizz is of the moment. Once those bubbles are released, their existence is fleeting. So you open a bottle, drink the contents and then wake up the following day feeling as though someone has hit you over the head with a mallet.

So. Those bottles from Gancia. The problem is that while I recall where those bottles went, I can’t recall the exact location of my tasting notes if any were written. The bottles in question were:

I hate to disappoint the folks at Full Fat PR, but my review has been nothing short of a failure. The fizz was superb, but I’ll be darned if I can muster precise tasting notes that go beyond preferring these bottles of Gancia to your garden variety Italian sparklers. It seems none of this will matter all that much, for even though the folks at Gancia announced a big launch into the UK last spring, it looks nigh on impossible to buy in the retail trade right now. Pity.

Picking up the pieces: Lessons learned from a Champagne sabrage on New Year’s Eve

ID-10082783It was about 4:30 p.m. in British Columbia, Canada, when my sister’s iPhone buzzed merrily to tell her she had just been sent a video on iMessage.

The caption: ‘Four minutes of me and K.N. swearing while I open a bottle of Champagne. Happy New Year!”

Not the most traditional of New Year greetings, but first consider the circumstances. The night began with us savouring bottle of Domaine Jasmin Pinot Gris 2012 from a tiny vineyard on Thetis Island, B.C. Very likely the only bottle from this winery to wend its weary way to the U.K., we were sure to enjoy it while out taste buds were still capable of appreciating what we were drinking.

Then we progressed to the Prosecco, a fine example from Conegliano, which we dispatched in good time. And because we hadn’t yet eaten dinner and the night was still somewhat young, there was the humble but entirely appropriate Bottega Vinai Lagrein Dunkel 2011 to go with dinner. It was at this point that I started to lose the ability to appreciate whatever was in my glass. My head was growing a bit fuzzy and my palate tired. But this was New Year’s Eve and I wasn’t going to let a little fatigue slow me down.

So of course I felt that it was now coming up to just the right time to chop off the top of a bottle of Champagne. And even better, it absolutely must be recorded, I announced with all the confidence of someone who appeared to have done it dozens of times before – but had only ever stood next to someone who did.

I had my moments of doubt, of course, but I learned from my father the trick of closing one’s eyes and just hoping for the best. Using this method, similar to the Hail Mary play in American football, things tend to pan out for the best nine times out of time.

As it happens, sabring a bottle of Champagne is actually incredibly easy. It is also incredibly easy not to put any thought into where the top end of the bottle will be fired. Particularly when you are operating on the pinot gris, proseccco and lagrein that came earlier in the evening.

Note the position of the window in the video below:

When my sister watched the video, by which time it had become distorted and blurred by the compression process needed to sent over the mobile network, she likely didn’t see the look of concern that fell over my face just a few seconds after I popped the cork. This moment, in which my face dropped from pure satisfaction to genuine worry when I wasn’t sure if I had just caused irreparable damage to half of my kitchen, was ultimately too blurry to catch and, thankfully, rather brief.

However, the following are, very likely, not ideal places to aim a bottle of Champagne when deciding to carry out a sabrage:

  1. Windows that you would prefer not to shatter
  2. Wine glasses
  3. Glass tables
  4. Drying racks full of fragile dishes and crockery
  5. Coffee mugs and tea cups
  6. Cats
  7. Small children
  8. Big children
  9. People and living creatures in general
  10. Other people’s cars
  11. Televisions and computer monitors
  12. Light fixtures
  13. Paintings and other works of art
  14. Bedding

In this case, my cork-shaped missile was launched in the direction of numbers 1, 4 and 5 above. It narrowly missed the window and the coffee cups, but I made a direct hit against a large ceramic mixing bowl and the rest of the contents of the drying rack.

Much to my delight, I hadn’t broken anything. But the following day I was charged with the task of carefully unstacking the dishes, sweeping up all of the glass shards that were scattered on the just-wash dishes, a re-washing anything that looked remotely tainted by small flecks of green glass.

Just as the Hail Mary pass can help you get away with a desperate move from time to time, I got away with it on this occasion.

Next time I’ll aim the bottle in the other direction – and hope that it doesn’t fly through our kitchen’s glass ceiling.

Credit: Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fizz for £10. What’s not to like? Quite a lot in fact

On the same day we were remembering our war dead, the Daily Mail was busy celebrating this year’s crop of ultra-cheap Champagne offers in the run-up to Christmas.

In an attempt to win the hearts of consumers all over the UK, supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda are slashing prices on their Champagnes, sometimes to as little as £10.

Now, shops like Lidl and Aldi have always sold their wine on the cheap, so finding a bottle of bubbly there for £12.99 doesn’t come as much of a surprise. But to see the big supermarkets cut their prices by more than 50 per cent is a little worrying.

Sure, we all like a good deal and if it’s at the expense of the big supermarkets’ bottom lines, is it really such a big deal?

Yes. But not for the reasons you might think.

The problem isn’t that the supermarkets are more than likely making a loss on these wines (and if they aren’t, they have simply squeezed the producer’s profit down to almost nothing). It’s that the big supermarkets are discounting these bottles so heavily to the point independent wine retailers are suffering because they’re unable to compete.

Even though the likes of Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco are selling Champagne brands like Dubois-Caron, and De Vallois at cut-rate prices rather than finer marques like Bollinger and Louis-Roederer, the damage it causes to small retailers is the same.

For the average consumer who simply wants to pop a bottle of Champagne for the lowest price possible, the name on the label is probably not of great importance.

Some will say those customers are unlikely to buy from a specialist wine merchant on the high street anyway, but the fact is many of these people *do* visit them and, if they’re used to seeing fizz selling for £10 at Asda, there is a good chance they’ll recoil when they see the real price for good Champagne.

Whether or not £25 or more for a bottle of Champagne is justified in any case is up for debate; the sticker value might reflect how much it costs to produce the wine but might also be set at a level to push it into the luxury bracket.

Nevertheless, selling Champers for a tenner still isn’t good for the market, particularly when it is for less than what other retailers pay for their bottles on the wholesale market. So while Tesco is sending their bottles out the door at a loss hoping to make up for it elsewhere in the Christmas rush, the high street specialty wine shop is losing sales – and customers – because they simply can’t afford to make a loss.

It also does no favours for merchants selling English sparkling wine, which are seldom sold at deep discounts due to the young market’s economics.

Faced with the choice between a £10 generic Champagne and a £25 bottle of Ridgeview, will the average person care if one is better than the other? They are likely to see a massive price different and simply go for the better deal. This not only hurts the shop selling English wine, but also the producers who make it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I visited my local Lidl recently and, during a moment of boredom in the interminable queue, I decided to buy one of its £12.99 Champagnes.

Did I feel proud getting such a good deal? No, not really. I bought it because I was curious to see if it was any good. It is currently in my cellar, sitting next to bottles of Bollinger and Dom Perignon, as well as English sparklers like Ridgeview and Breaky Bottom. It might have competed on price, but I doubt it will be able to compete on quality.