The case for moderation


Giving your liver a break from alcohol for a few days every week  has an upshot: as you drink less wine, you can drink better wine.

As one of the two traditional dry months (November being the other) comes to an end, you may wonder what you have achieved. I have given up alcohol for an entire month myself on a few occasions, but in my line of business it isn’t easy. I work in one of the few areas where the phrase “bringing your work home with you” has a rather more attractive meaning than most.

In any case, most health professionals argue in favour of a more long-term, year-round strategy rather than a complete purge once a year.

One of the biggest health risks associated with drinking wine is cirrhosis of the liver, something the French, with their obsession with “la foie” are very aware.

The liver looks after processing alcohol and cleansing the blood. It is one of the very many functions it provides for us. Overindulgence can lead to the destruction of liver cells, a build-up of fat deposits, liver inflammation, cirrhosis or even liver cancer.

The good news is that the liver is the only organ in the body with an ability to regenerate. All it needs is time.

The bad news is once you reach cirrhosis stage, which can happen very quickly, no regeneration is possible. The theory is that if you give your liver three days out of seven to recuperate, you can let loose for the remaining four. It is an idea that I have clung to for years but probably honoured more in the breach than the observance.

Then, a year or so ago, it was remarked by members of my family that the Wilson figure, never noted for being exactly svelte, would shortly be directed to what my father used to call “the portly rail” at the tailors.

Urgent action was called for. I therefore reached one of those compromises in life. I would avoid wine (and any other alcoholic drink) on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (and possibly one other day) thus giving my liver plenty of time to recover.

A knock-on benefit would be that I would also lose weight, partly because of my lower wine intake (and all alcohol has calories) but also because I would be less inclined to reach for those nibbles that go so well with a glass of wine, both before and after dinner.

A visit to my doctor in September confirmed that the first part of my plan had worked. My poor liver, despite being battered by years of constant tasting, was in pretty good shape.

The diet side worked too. Without too much difficulty I shed a stone in weight, although anything more than that proved impossible without drastic measures. And drastic measures are not what it was all about. Long-term lifestyle change is what the experts demand. I needed to find life livable, to be able to still enjoy my two biggest weaknesses in life – dairy produce and wine.

I also discovered that my tolerance for alcohol went down with my weight, so I tended to drink less wine.

It was all going so well until the hectic months of November and December. Not only did I begin having a glass or two almost every night, the entire two months turned into one long feast. It only took eight weeks for all that weight to find its way back on to my waistline.

I avoided the January 1st diet syndrome, but have slowly eased back into a life of semi-abstinence. It is working so far, with a loss of four pounds the first week, and three the second.

Despite what the books and countless articles promise, I don’t leap out of bed like a gazelle every morning, my skin hasn’t turned a wonderful rosy colour and I don’t look or feel 10 years younger. Perhaps I am a lost cause.

However, I do find that I have more energy in the evenings, and instead of slumping in front of the television, I find myself reading and writing far more, and able to do all sorts of little tasks that were beyond me before.

The other reward is a straight swap of quantity for quality. If you drink less wine, you can afford to drink better. Now, if I am only going to drink a few times a week, I make sure that I enjoy something good.

Below are my suggestions for a few bottles of fizz for St Valentines Day.


Tesco’s Finest Alsace Riesling 2009, Crémant d’Alsace, 11.5%, €16.99, currently €10 Beginning to take on an attractive honeyed note, balanced by crisp apple fruits and dry finish. Excellent value at €10. Stockist : Tesco

Beaumont des Crayères Champagne Grand Réserve, 12%, €32 down to €29.99 Well-priced, with a lightly toasty floral nose, medium bodied, with fresh fruits and grilled almonds on the palate. Stockists: O’Briens

Bulles d’Or NV, Baumard, Péttillant de Raisin, 5%, €15.45 Off-dry, deliciously light and fruity; perfect wine for those who wish to remain sober. Stockists: Some O’Briens; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock;

Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir, 11.5%, €15-€17 Despite the duty increase, still a great value bottle; crisp fresh apple and citrus with a good creamy mousse. Stockists: Widely available