Pro Tips for Drinking Well Through the Holiday

An insiders’ guide on how to survive a season of drinking indulgences

The holiday season is also the season of indulging—not only in gifts, but food, drinks and sweets. Many experts offer up tips for healthy eating during the holidays—UC Davis Health has a list of eight; Harvard Health offers a dozen and the Centers for Disease Control, curiously, offers only five. Of these, only Harvard included a couple related to alcohol.

So, I asked the experts—industry insiders who know well the pitfalls of keeping up with the season’s festivities. With so many responses, the topic merits two stories, assuming you’ll be invited to a party or two. This installment focuses on resetting your mind and body, and prepping yourself to get through the season in good health. Part two will include practical tips from the pros that will help you enjoy the festivities.

Rebecca Hopkins, the San Francisco-based founder of A Balanced Glass, an education platform and forum to help wine professionals manage mental and physical wellness, and work/life balance says because the holidays are a heightened time for interpersonal connections and potentially triggering situations, “self-awareness and setting well-defined boundaries are key before the parties start.”

“Be clear on why you are attending a gathering, set limits on how long you want to stay, how much you plan to drink (or not). Be aware of potential triggers and lean on your support systems to navigate tricky situations,” she said. “This game plan will set you up to enjoy a more mindful and balanced holiday season.”

MIND OVER MATTER

December brings more opportunities to enjoy alcohol than any other month of the year. Be mindful about what you drink and don’t drink something that you aren’t truly enjoying. Rather than just drink everything you are offered, think about it. Do you like it? Is it worth the alcohol or calories? If it is: enjoy it! If not, set it down, pour it out or just say no thank you. —Amy Gross, national president of Women For WineSense and CEO of VineSleuth/ Wine4.Me, Houston

My best advice is to make it deliberate—it is so easy to get caught up in mindlessly consuming, especially with all the holiday events. My approach is to plan ahead and only consume beverages that I absolutely love. I take the time to pair wines carefully with my meals and then really pay attention and enjoy the pairing mindfully. Sharing with others and discussing the wines, our impressions … brings the wine to life and makes just drinking wine more of an experience to be savored. —Carol Wolniakowski, owner and sommelier of Cuvée Wine Travel, Inc.

Drink something memorable when you’re taking it easy at home. Pull the cork on a nice bottle you’ve been holding. Take your time and enjoy it. Think of wines that evolve in a couple of hours, like Burgs, Barolo or old Bordeaux. Tap several bottles for your own little “By The Glass Program” at your house using a Coravin. You can check back with them over the next few days: It’s more of an analytical experience than just drinking. —Jeremy Hart, importer-turned wine entrepreneur (inknowology, Somm.ai, Sommpreneur), Houston

Don’t feel pressured to drink if you don’t want to. You don’t have to drink at every event. There are so many wonderful non-alcoholic wines, beers, and spirits these days that alcohol isn’t always necessary when wanting to drink something festive and delicious. —Alexandra Cherniavsky, Brokerage Director, SWIG Partners, Philadelphia

I try to be very selective on the wines I drink. If the host has many bottles set out for guests, I usually taste quickly through them and then pour a glass of what I liked most to enjoy. I drink a lot of water throughout the night. Two Advils before bed. —Jennifer Scott, Pressed PR, Napa

Address your mental health. Most alcohol excess happens because of stress, especially over the holidays. There are apps like Headspace or Balance that offer 60-second resets. They help tons to get grounded and reconsider whether or not to chug a drink after a heated argument with your racist uncle at dinner. —Julieta Acevedo Correa, sommelier/manager, McCarthy and Schiering Wine Merchants, Seattle

AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION

Because my job is centered around wine and spirits, the opportunities to consume alcohol are nearly limitless. As I have gotten older and the hangovers have gotten gnarlier, I generally curtail my consumption during the week when I need to be productive. When not traveling, I rarely have more than one glass of wine on a weeknight (if anything at all), or I may keep to the low-alcohol side of the spectrum. When traveling or at industry events or business dinners, I make sure to drink lots of water and watch my caffeine intake during the day so I can get enough sleep, which I think is one of the most important factors in maintaining a balance between fun and responsible consumption. —Chris Langan, SVP national sales, Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Austin

I keep electrolyte powder sticks in the house. If I fear a big drinking day, I use them to hydrate, before and after the madness. —Ellisa Cooper, wine educator and owner of the Decanted Diva, New York City

I know everyone is busy, but don’t let exercise fall off the routine. A high functioning body will rebound faster from a night (or month) of overindulging. And your inner voice is less likely to berate you after a few crunches! —Viktorija Todorovska, owner of Sip, Taste, Share, Chicago and Provence (France)

My key to navigating healthy drinking thru the holidays is hydration. I make drinking water a priority before and during parties to counteract the dehydrating effects of alcohol, and it reduces my mindless eating. —Teresa McKinney DipWSET, president, Delectatio Wines, Magnolia (TX)

Hydration and good sleep. The better your body is functioning, the higher your liver performs. —Julieta Acevedo Correa, sommelier/manager, McCarthy and Schiering Wine Merchants, Seattle

SUBSTITUTIONS ALLOWED

My basic plan for the drinking gauntlet that is Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve is lowering my overall ABV intake. I employ a combo strategy of choosing a highball over a cocktail for sipping—like a vermouth or amaro and a good quality artisanal tonic—and I choose a “winter rosé” or chilled light red in place of a heavier, more histamine-y red. I always choose biodynamic and the smallest scale I can find, which keeps my choices clean and non-reactive, as I’m highly sensitive these days. —Chimene Visser Macnaughton, beverage director, Honest Man Hospitality, East Hampton (NY)

The holiday season at my house often includes sparkling wine and grapefruit. Swapping out sparkling water for the wine keeps me in check. I splurge on fresh squeezed Texas Ruby Red grapefruit juice and add a splash to my Topo Chico. Finish with a squeeze of lime for an easy mocktail. —Shelly Wilfong, wine educator and host of This Is Texas Wine podcast, Dallas

I love Champagne and martinis during the holidays, but there are so many brilliantly delish and fun non-alcoholic options, too. It doesn’t have to be boring—and they keep the party and festivities season going longer. There are really well-thought out no-alcohol options these days, but the best place to drive it all is at home. Be thoughtful and playful with glassware, garnishes, ice, straws, etc. Alinea’s new Zero book is brilliant, making non-alcohol beverages delicious and thoughtful. It my favorite book in that world. —Greg Randle, wine & spirits business consultant, Austin

If at a holiday event that has a mediocre wine offering, I’m happy to stick with ice water and citrus. The season is a perfect time for hot apple cider at night while reading or watching shows instead of alcohol. At age 51 and a recent breast cancer survivor, I drink a ton of water daily and limit myself to three glasses of wine a week or one Negroni. —Alison Smith Story, owner, Smith Story Wine Cellars, Healdsburg

There are so many NA spirits out there, you can easily craft identical mocktails. Use fruit and high-quality garnish to make them special. Be festive about it! If you’re insecure to not imbibe, throw some grapefruit juice and seltzer with a few fresh cranberries and rosemary garnish and save room for the cookies. —Karen Jensen Hatcher, food and beverage manager, The Pell, Middletown (RI)

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