WineInk: Dry January
The Benefits of an Empty Glass
First of all, to those of you who made the resolution to go dry this month and abstain from alcohol — and are still doing so — hang in there. You are just about week away. The hard part is over. And, for those who began the year with the best of intentions and have imbibed some, no worries. Good on you for making the effort to improve both your health and your self control.
You are all to be commended for even considering a Dry January.
Every once in a while, in world where there is a time to reap and a time to sow, there are advantages to taking a break from the drinking of brewed beers, distilled spirits, and, yes, wines. There has been a growing national trend of late for people to take full calendar months and make a commitment to not drink. Sober Octobers and Novembers, the months before the holiday season, have been popular, but, for many, the beginning of the new calendar year seems to be the most appropriate time for taking a break.
And, Dry January has become a thing. In fact, January 2023 marks the 10th anniversary of the event that is a trademarked entity by a British non-profit called Alcohol Change UK (alcoholchange.org.uk). It seems that, back in 2013, a woman named Emily Robinson, who had first tried the practice when she was training for a half-marathon, founded a campaign to encourage people to go dry for the month — 4,000 people signed up that year. This year, it is estimated that millions globally will accept the challenge.
As this is a column that celebrates all things wine, it may seem incongruous to write a column that supports and encourages its readers not to be consumers of fermented juice. But, as in all things, moderation and balance help to create more sustainable paths. Being in control of your habits — both good and bad — is super empowering and beneficial. That is why setting aside time to alter and restrict your level of consumption can, and should, be a regular practice. Just being aware of your drinking routine offers you a level of information that is healthy.
Here in Aspen in particular, the concept of a Dry January is a positive. So many of us are employed in hospitality positions that require freakish hours being around continuous alcohol consumption. It is easy to fall into a routine that can initially be stimulating and fun but eventually dissolves into a destructive routine. Just taking a break for a while may be the best thing that we do for ourselves all year.
January — which began with the busiest week of the season, has the Gay Ski Week party people in town in the middle and then sees the invasion of the X Games at the end — may be the most difficult month to go the route of the empty glass. But, there are other months, like February, (which has just 28 days!) that would be equally helpful for participation.
And, studies show that there are benefits to doing just that. Most of the analysis has been done in the United Kingdom, home of the movement. A 2016 study in Britain of 857 adults who partook in a Dry January indicated: “Findings suggest that participation in abstinence challenges such as Dry January may be associated with changes toward healthier drinking and greater DRSE (drink refusal self-efficacy) and is unlikely to result in undesirable ‘rebound effects.’”
Another British study in 2013 saw the staff of New Scientist magazine turn themselves into subjects of an experiment where they measured analytics during their sober month. A liver specialist who analyzed the findings said that “Among those in the study who gave up drinking, liver fat, a precursor to liver damage, fell by at least 15%. For some, it fell almost 20%.” And, blood glucose levels also fell by as much as 16%. Those results may not pertain to everyone, but the indications are positive.
While I am not participating this month, I have done so in the past in concert with my wife and our friends. It sometimes helps to have friends for support. And, we have all seen the benefits. As I discussed in this column, following a dry month, I seem to sleep better during a lengthy abstention than I do when drinking. No waking in the middle of the night.
“And, in the morning, it’s just easier to get up,” a friend who also stopped drinking reported. “I don’t feel so foggy.” The result was that she found it easier to get to a planned morning exercise routine, as well. It felt like less of a burden than an activity she now looks forward, too.
And then, there is the matter of productivity. Most people just have more focus when they abstain. I know that I have more time to get things done. If I don’t have a glass at, say, 7 at night, I am more likely to continue working on stuff (like this column) until later in the evening.
Many cite the benefits of weight loss and renewed energy as the biggest benefit of a month without alcohol. Simple caloric math can help explain it. There are, give or take, depending upon the wine, around 130 calories in a five-ounce glass of red wine. If you regularly drink and average a couple glasses a day, by taking off for a month you eliminate over 7,500 calories right there. That’s the equivalent of the calories you’d burn running, say, 70 ten-minute miles. Pretty impressive.
And, beyond just the calories cut, many people believe that they eat better when they go dry for a month. It is easier to make better food choices when you haven’t already had a couple of drinks. When you are out at a bar and have that second drink, it is just easier to order another basket of those truffle fries.
Another plus is the financial benefit of not drinking. Getting a check without the added expense of drinks or wine on it is much more reasonable especially when you consider the inflated cost of dining these days. And, here in Aspen, that could add up to a small fortune. The advantages of reduced consumption can show up in dollars — not just in terms of added hours of sleep or extra time at the gym.
Finally, have you ever heard the term “palate fatigue”? Well, it refers to syndrome that can affect wine tasters who simply overstimulate their system with too many wines. This usually happens in a single tasting event, and it is not really clear as to whether the cause is the palate or the sensory exhaustion that occurs in the brain. But, basically, you can’t differentiate the tastes you are experiencing.
Now, I’m not saying that regular wine consumption can have the same effect, but my personal anecdotal experience has been that, when I take an extended break from drinking wine, my palate returns revived and refreshed. I am more in tune with the nuances of the way my wine tastes. Perhaps it is just that I appreciate the opportunity to once again drink the wines, but, for whatever reason, they seem exciting once again.
Again, congratulations to those of you who had the awareness to try a break. I’ll look forward to tasting with you again in the new year.
Giesen New Zealand Merlot
The brothers Theo, Marcel, and Alex have been making great wines in Marlborough, New Zealand, for years, but they have also gone all in on de-alcoholized wines. This past summer, I tasted a sampling of the 0% wines and was really impressed. This Merlot is sourced from the Hawkes Bay region on the North Island. The process begins by producing a full-strength wine and then putting it into a spinning cone device, which gently distills the wine into three layers: aroma, alcohol, and the body of the wine. The alcohol is removed, and the aroma and body recombined before it is augmented with a little grape juice and then bottled. Under screw cap, by the way. Perhaps something for your next Dry January.
“Without any exception the worst snow storm known since the advent of the railroad west of Leadville has been raging over the crest of the continental divide since last Thursday,” asserted the Aspen Tribune on January 31, 1899.