Someone once described New Year’s resolutions as “a to-do list for the first week of January.” That would certainly be true for me – so much so that it’s been a long time since I even thought of compiling one, and several incarnations since I stuck to one for more than a month.
On the other hand, I’m always amazed – and impressed – when folk, who are not naïve, go to the trouble of composing a numbered list of resolutions, and then proceed to publish their “notes to self.” I know that psychologists would argue that it’s the very public nature of these undertakings which sets them in concrete: once you’ve told the world you’re going to lose weight, or go to gym, or stop abusing hadedas, you’re expecting the wider community to hold you to account. That’s a little like making them signatories to a peace agreement between other warring parties: as Britain discovered when it was obliged to enter the First World War because it had undertaken to protect the territorial integrity of Belgium, suretyships of this kind can lead to great unhappiness.
I guess the appeal of new year’s resolutions is that, after the Christmas holidays, everyone feels renewed and ready to impose the benefits of the blank slate of the year onto their own habits. Invariably these resolutions include wishful thinking relating to alcohol, and almost all of them are about drinking less. “Dry January” is evidence of this trend (I have refrained at this stage from using the word “madness.”) Over 4m people in Britain have signed up for the pledge.
Chef Alain Ducasse, probably the most successful Michelin-starred chef in the history of the eponymous guide, has a less generous view of going teetotal at any time, and especially in January. I imagine that he believes that if you consume in moderation, you don’t have to do anything as immoderate as total abstinence. Certainly he’s ready to declare war on the concept. Taking a leaf out of a well-known serpent’s book, he has decided that the best way to deal with a cult given to self-deprivation is to introduce irresistible temptation. For the month of January he’s slashing wine prices in all his restaurants, urging diners to “drink by the bottle, not the glass.”
I’ve no doubt that there are health benefits to “going dry” for a bit, but I’m not in a hurry to establish what these might be. The health benefits of moderate consumption are well documented, and that’s good enough for me. Those who don’t overdo it can expect to live three to five years longer than abstainers. Still, very few people include the idea of “drinking more wine” in the list of their new year’s resolutions, but UK guru Jancis Robinson has announced that this is exactly what she intends to do.
Jancis is probably the most influential wine writer in the English-speaking world, with an appetite for work unequalled by anyone since Thomas Edison and Charles Dickens. However, no one would describe her as a “sybarite.” This is probably because her work schedule does not leave much time for indulgence. You can’t do all that tasting, and write and edit all those articles and books, and still find time for the occasional glass of wine, simply for the pleasure of it.
Clearly, she’s worked that out – and hence her resolution. Wine isn’t really made to be tasted, scored, and analysed: it’s actually made to be enjoyed. The fact that she has resolved to do just that serves as a reminder that wine shouldn’t be subjected to the same scrutiny as a financial investment. It’s there to drink, and while it should be approached critically, it’s not necessarily the lifeless artefact of a cynically commercial enterprise. The new year’s resolution I’m hawking this January is an injunction to remember that wine was made to be enjoyed. Don’t drink the bottles which don’t give pleasure, and embrace the one’s which do.