You don’t have to choose between fully embracing dry January or turning your face away from it and continuing to swig as if it’s Christmas.
There’s a middle way, of course, and it’s the one I choose every year – drink less and lighter for the month. Cutting down on quantity doesn’t need explaining (although I do recommend using smaller glasses, just like some dietitians suggest smaller plates…) but lighter could do with the lowdown (apt word).
I’m sticking to wine here and do note that alcohol levels for “normal” table wines vary widely. We don’t look often enough at a label to see how strong our wine is, yet it can vary between a featherweight 5.5% to a hulking 15% (that’s for naturally occurring alcohol and ignoring the deliberately engineered no- to very low-alcohol wines, most of which are horrid).
In January I look harder than ever and mainly for whites and fizz at 12% or under. Reds are almost always stronger so I don’t drink much of that around now.
That rules out a lot of white from hot climates which climbs into 13+% territory. Better to look for lighter whites from cooler spots where the grapes simply don’t get as ripe.
Germany, for example, and its fine riesling, ranging from off-dry to sweet, with plenty of bright flavour at relatively low alcohol levels – try Kendermanns Riesling Spatlese 2020 (9.5%, Morrisons, £8) for a medium-dry, juicy apple of a white that’s delicious with cold pork or chicken.
You’ll want that lively fruit in the winter – lower alcohol whites shouldn’t be too weak in character. Head to northern Portugal where vinho verde has improved no end in recent years, now more often dry than sweetish, and succulent, perhaps slightly spritzy.
Try Sainsbury’s Alvorado Vinho Verde NV (10%, £5.25). English whites also often weigh in at 11% or so; do note all the styles mentioned so far match with a healthy January diet of more salads, more vegetarian dishes and more fish, so it all works rather well.
Other wine styles that come in on the lighter side include many sparklers. Sparkling wine needs to be made in a relatively cool spot, for the required crisp acidity that makes it so refreshing.
Many English sparklers have abvs of less than 12%; L’Atzar Cava Reserva Brut 2019, Spain (11.5%, Waitrose, £11.99) is a mouth-watering, fruity aperitif.
But best of all, if you’re aiming at a light January, are the sweeter sparklers from Italy. Asti and its rather more sophisticated cousin Moscato d’Asti, both from the north-west, are not called on often enough in the UK.
They’re both wonderfully refreshing, honeyed bubblies, tasting of green grapes and sugared almonds, perfect for a not-so naughty treat in the dark days of a new year, and happily delivering no more than about 7% alcohol. Enjoy.