Drinking Tips from the Trade; or how to drink this Christmas without losing your liver

Shelves of Wine

Wine image taken from Tobyotter’s Flickr photostream and used under Creative Commons license

I’ve been in the drinks business for over seven years, starting behind a city wine bar, then working with lots of top restaurants and independent wine shops, and now sourcing and selling wines to some of the bigger retailers like Waitrose and Majestic. There’s as much travelling, tasting and visiting beautiful vineyards as you might imagine, but also possibly more excel spread-sheets than you would expect.

Working in the wine trade, I laugh in the face of seasonal excess. With a year-round schedule of trips, dinners and entertaining, my job has given me a good grounding in how to survive constant opportunities to eat and drink without developing first degree liver disease and trebling my bodyweight.

Between now and January 1st, if you’re not jumping at every opportunity to drink and make merry then you need to give serious consideration to your priorities in this, most festive of fortnights. As if the excuse of cold weather and warm pubs wasn’t enough, there are the added incentives of office parties, Christmas drinks, post-Christmas-shopping emergency whiskies (Really? Just me?), Christmas Day itself and of course the mother of all calendar-imposed piss-ups, New Year’s Eve.

Here are a few tips for making it out the other side:

  • Drink water. I cannot emphasise this enough. Drink so much that your friends will worry you’re in the first stages of diabetes. Drink water before and drink water during – if you’re sober enough to remember to drink it afterwards then you probably don’t need any of this advice.
  • Exercise. The wine trade used to be full of corpulent old men with noses as red as their trousers who displayed their years of drunken dinners around their massive girths. Now you’re more likely to see winemakers and merchants strapping on their trainers for a jog before their day of sales visits, or cycling up the nearest mountain road the morning after a late and extravagant night. If you’re going to throw yourself face-first into a vat of wine and a trough of turkey, throwing yourself into some exertion is a damn good way to assuage the indulgence.
  • Don’t underestimate the medicinal power on your digestion of spirits like grappa or weird, black bitter drinks like Unicum or Fernet Branca. I only fully appreciated the purpose of grappa while groaning through the ninth course of dinner at a winery somewhere near Verona. I can’t promise that they’ll react brilliantly with the three bottles of wine you’ve consumed before this, but if you’ve got a dusty bottle lurking somewhere, a small glass might help shift your Turkey Baby around 5pm on Christmas Day.
  • But do always eat when you drink. Not only tasty but massively sensible. You know how Continental Europe is known for drinking in a mature grown-up way and not getting all bingey like we do here? I swear it’s nothing to do with drinking less, just to do with eating more. The Italians and the French simply don’t drink wine without food, and they take their time with both.
  • Pour small servings. Yes, this sounds mean, and meanness of any kind with food and drink is sad and inexcusable. But seriously, we’re talking about a time of year when excess is king – that there is more where that came from is nearly guaranteed. The theory behind serving size is really nothing to do with how much you’re drinking, it’s either done for white wine and cold drinks so that you can keep them at the right temperature as you drink them, or for red wine and rich, full drinks so that you’ve still got room in the glass to swirl them around a bit in order to release and appreciate the aromas. But if it also means that 5 drinks is a headache and mild woozy feeling the next day rather than near-death, then that’s got to be a bonus.
  • Know your limits. It may comfort you to know that the vast majority of the wine trade doesn’t know theirs, but hey, at least have a guess. Then stop drinking one drink before that. Then go home.
  • Have the odd night off. Like the water tip, this may come naturally to you, in which case my experience and advice will be a waste of time for you anyway. Or maybe you enjoy a small glass of wine every night with dinner and put the cork back in the bottle – please also move on, nothing to see here. Presuming you’re still with me, this will sadly only become more necessary as you get older, as many of my more experienced colleagues admit. So, not because David Cameron tells you to but because you want to, spend a couple of nights a week off the booze. If nothing else, it will make the first drink the day after taste even better.
  • Live your hangover. Let’s just presume for one moment that even in the face of such measured, sage, proven advice, you’ve done what any sane person actually does and just gone out to have a damn good time and screw the consequences. Don’t try and pretend you’re OK the morning after. You’re not. You’re broken. Give in completely and eat whatever is necessary to help you get back on it the following day. It’s not embarrassing or shameful, it’s merely a war wound and it proves you’ve lived.

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About author
Amy has been working in the wine trade for about seven years now, getting into it through a combination of working in bars and a disproportionate interest in what she drank and ate. She currently sources and sell wines to some of the larger supermarkets and wine retailers as well as smaller independent customers. She currently blogs about her experiences working with wine at http://lastnightidrank.wordpress.com/
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