Oxford Town Wines

John JuergensSurviving New Year's Eve

It's getting down to the wire, balls and all.

Well, here we are on the shank of the holidays for 2007 already. If you didn't get enough to eat and drink since the kickoff at Thanksgiving, you've got a few more days to top off your tank in style.

Although I'm probably preaching to the choir, I thought I would give you a few tips on how to survive and actually enjoy the hedonistic whirlwind that sucks us through the maelstrom of New Year's Eve and into the glaring reality of a brand new year.

For as long as I can remember, I have watched myself and others struggle to find the Holy Grail of a "meaningful" way to celebrate the passing of the old year and welcoming in the new. To tell the truth, I don't recall ever hearing anyone say they would actually miss the old year. It is more like, "Damn, I'm sure glad this year is over!"

Over the years, I have tried all sorts of strategies to capture the essence of New Year's Eve, including the miserable Times Square thing in NYC, a Korean traditional costume ball in New Orleans, a swimming pool in Australia (now that was cool!), lots and lots of explosives, and languishing in bed with the flu. I never could bring myself to go to one of those fixed-price deals at a restaurant or a club to hobnob with a couple hundred strangers. Guess I was too cheap for that sort of thing, plus, I wasn't really sure what I was supposed to do, and it sounded kind of boring. Sort of like my senior prom.

But for me, the most consistently fun venue has been some sort of wine tasting event with close friends. Rather than sitting at a table in a restaurant or nightclub with a band so loud you can't talk to the person next to you, an evening focused on wine, food, and camaraderie really pulls my cork. I know this isn't for everyone, but for those of you who are past the bar and nightclub scene, this can be a good alternative.

It's all very simple: You just chat up a group of people you like and would enjoy spending a fun evening with, and then decide on where it will happen. Everyone contributes some great food, and brings some of their best and favorite wines. That's it. The rest takes care of itself. I try not to over-plan such things, but on occasion I have had a theme. For example, one year we had about eight of the finest Champagnes in the world with live lobsters flown in that morning from Maine. It was a hassle and a lot of work, but worth the memories -- especially the fate of 30 gallons of smelly lobster water at 2 a.m. New Year's morning.

If you decide to go the wine tasting route for New Year's, one of the challenges is how to approach the inevitable gaggle of wines that appears. Usually there are no two wines alike and all of them look interesting, so you don't want to miss a taste of any of them, but you have to be careful. Here is how I go about it to make sure I get to taste everything at the party but still manage to see the ball drop.

Number One: Try to restrain yourself during the day if friends and relatives drop by for a visit and a cup of "eggnog."

Number Two: Drink a lot of water during the day to get well hydrated.

Number Three: If you have really been hitting the party scene since before Christmas, try to get a good night's sleep on Dec. 30, and don't eat too heavily during the day. Take a nap if you were up late the night before.

Number Four: When you get to the party, scope out the number of wines and the types, but keep in mind that more probably will show up as the evening goes on. Start with the lighter wines and work your way through to the heavier wines, but take just a small sample, about one or two ounces at most, to see what each is like. It is very easy to toss down the equivalent of a bottle of wine in the first hour if you are not careful. Been there, done that. Lost my t-shirt. You can then go back and focus on the ones you liked the most.

Number Five: Depending on the number of wines available, in the middle or at the end of doing your preview of the lineup, stop and drink a big glass of water or two. The absorption of alcohol is dependent on the concentration in your stomach and small intestine. The higher the concentration, the faster the absorption. And yes, it's true that carbonated beverages increase the rate of alcohol absorption. So drinking water regularly throughout the evening will dilute the alcohol and slow its absorption. This will also help keep you hydrated and reduce the drying effects of the alcohol and tannins.

Number Six: Eat. Food also dramatically slows the rate of absorption of alcohol, as much as four hours, so you won't get a sharp spike in your blood-alcohol concentration, which causes all kinds of problems and contributes most to the "morning after" effects.

Another point to remember is that your peak blood alcohol concentration occurs anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes after your last drink, depending on the concentration of the alcohol and what you have had to eat. So sitting and having a cup of coffee at the end of the party probably isn't a good strategy; you will just be wide awake with a buzz and overconfident in your driving ability.

For those of you who tend to be sensitive to wines and experience headaches, I suggest pre-medicating before the party or before bedtime with ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or some other anti-inflammatory medication if you are able to take them. But not Tylenol (acetaminophen), which works through the liver. A couple more glasses of water also help. Sure, you will have to get up to go to the bathroom a couple of times during the night, but you will be better for it in the morning.

But, in all cases, decide who is going to be the designated driver - not just the person who is least buzzed. The police will be out in full force again this year, and it just isn't worth the risk to drink and drive. And I want you around to read some of the stuff I have coming up in future articles.

Wine picks of the week

Here is a new line of wines in town that make for great party wines and go with all kinds of foods. The name is Hobnob and they have a Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay, and a Shiraz. What is really interesting about these wines is that they come from France, but are made in more of the new world style, which is evident from the use of the Australian term "Shiraz" instead of "Syrah."

All of these wines have a lot of bright fruit and are unusually heavily extracted for French wines. In fact, if I tasted these blind I would never have guessed they were from France. The Pinot needs to be aired out for about 30 minutes to allow its flavors and aromas to open up. I usually don't drink much Merlot, but this one is very nice and even tastes like a Merlot. The Shiraz is dark and inky, and has pronounced flavors of coffee, vanilla, and black cherry. The Chardonnay has lots of tropical fruit flavors and goes down easily. These are straightforward wines but with some interesting character. And at about $12 each, they are great values.

Cheers and Happy New Year.

December 2007

To contact John Juergens, write him at wineguy@vista-express.com

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