If I were a winery owner about to appoint a winemaker, I’d be curious: what sort of wines do they have in their cellar? What sort of wines do they actually buy? I ask the same questions of wine journalists: I want to read the work of someone who actually enjoys drinking wine, to the point that they’re not willing just to swill commercial samples, but they actively seek out interesting bottles.
Don’t trust a wine writer who doesn’t actually enjoy wine. Or the act of drinking itself. Good wine writers are professional drinkers. So, here are my thoughts on what it takes to be a good professional drinker, based on my experience so far.
Sustainability is key. We talk a lot about sustainable wine growing. What about sustainable wine drinking? Booze consumption has to be maintained at a level where your health is not overly compromised over the long term. This point will be different for everyone. Government drinking guidelines are hideously conservative. It’s fortunately rare to see colleagues succumb to alcoholism (at least, of the sort that stops them functioning and kills them young). And it’s actually quite reassuring for me to see a good number of colleagues who drink at least twice as much as I do, and who still run marathons, climb mountains and cycle Tour de France routes – and who don’t seem to be dropping dead.
Learn to calibrate your inebriation. If you are going to make a success of the big nights, then you must learn to recognize your level of drunkenness. Visible drunkenness (slurring, swaying and – worst of all – spewing) is ugly and shows you have got it wrong. The best strategy? Get mildly drunk, and then drink slowly to maintain this level of modest inebriation through into the early hours, slowing gradually so that when you wake up the next day you are mildly sluggish but no more. A hangover equals a fail. But if you drink too little, you will find the latter part of the evening insufferably boring, when in fact it isn’t.
Keep your curiosity. I am a curious drinker, eager for new experiences. There’s room in my life for drinks other than wine, so occasionally I will stray and give my affections to beer (quite often, these days), or gin, or negronis, and sometimes even to whisky. But I return to wine, every time, fresh and ready for more.
Learn to read the evening, and be flexible. Some evenings have run their natural course by 11 pm, which is about the earliest you can slope off without seriously damaging your reputation. Recognize the signs and be flexible: if this is the case, then leave. There’s nothing worse than going out with the premeditated intention of staying up until 3.30 am. There’s something sad and desperate about holding onto a dead evening, trying to coax a craic out of it. You can’t plan a craic: it either happens or it doesn’t. Sometimes the unexpected ones are the best. But remember: evenings out have rhythms. Occasionally there’s a natural lull in what is ultimately going to be an epic night, and this can be confused with the rigor mortis of a dead party. You must learn to spot the difference, or you might end up missing out on something special.
Nurture the ability to forget every conversation you have after midnight. Memory loss sounds like a BAD THING, and usually it is (after all, what are we without our memories?), but for a professional drinker, forgetting early morning conversations is actually useful. First, it saves you from a next-morning sense of shame (about the things you have said), and second, it means that you can have the same conversation on multiple occasions (there are, after all, only so many things to be said) without growing too bored.
I welcome further tips from readers. After all, I’m still quite early on in my drinking career.