It’s that time of year again. The time when it seems like every other night you find yourself wandering the aisles of your local liquor store on your way to some coworker or friend or in-law’s house for dinner, staring open-mouthed at the infinite labels and trying to decide which $10 bottle of wine looks obscure enough that your host will never even find it in the most determined Google search let alone discover how much it cost. The time when getting totally shnackered and showing up to work drunk is pretty much a daily occurrence, and HR works overtime to mediate new, awkward relationships born of the infamous Holiday Office Party.

Yes, folks, this is the time of binge drinking and boozy gift-giving. Whatever your denomination, the entire month of December may as well be erased from history because it’s not like anyone every really remembers it anyway.

It was in this spirit that Champagne and Hotdogs created the first annual judgment-free holiday Q&A. It was your chance to ask any ridiculous wine-related question you could think of, beseech us for juicy advice and generally air your dirty, Merlot-stained laundry, anonymously. For the first time, you would not get verbally flogged by your stuffy Wine-Spectator-subscribing friends for not knowing the difference between Premier and Grand Cru, nor would you receive an eyeroll from your local wine merchant because you interrogated them for 30 minutes about the “nose” on that bottle of Santa Margherita. We were the Dan Savage of wine. You asked. We gave thoughtful, clever, only-very-mildly abusive responses. Here are some of our favorites:

How do I avoid red wine teeth at parties?

There are several ways to avoid this. One is to drink white wine. Or, if you’re me, Champagne. But if you simply must have your holiday Cabernet, the obvious solution is to simply rinse with sparkling water between sips (or glasses). You can also stick to less inky wines – think Pinot Noir, Grenache, Gamay, Zweigelt, Lagrein and anything with an alcohol level under 13%. Oh, and seriously. Wipe your mouth. There is nothing more off-putting than chatting with someone sporting a wine mustache.

What are the best late-night food pairings for hangover prevention?

Ever wake up next to a beer that has about one sip taken out of it, because the 15 you had before it simply weren’t enough and you just couldn’t go to bed without it? No? Ok, me neither. In any case, I hear water pairs amazingly well with Advil. Not quite the greasy binge you had in mind? I say go big or go home. Pizza and a bottle of Yellow Tail. Carne asada fries and more beer. You’re going to have a hangover anyway, so you may as well make it a good one. But if you do insist on being smart about your dumb decisions, think lighter style wines and good old fashioned artery-clogging, carb- and fat-heavy food. Better to go to bed with bacon than that 3 who magically turned into a 9 thanks to a few shots of Red Stag.

No really, what the hell is a ‘tannin’?

It’s what we do on a beach in a bikini (Eh oh! Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be here all night). All comedy aside, we get this question at least once a day. In a very unhelpful nutshell, it is a polyphenolic compound found in red wine that comes from the stems, skins and seeds of the grape. Here are a few ways to get an idea of how to recognize tannins in wine:

  1. Go steep about four teabags in a cup of hot water for about 15 minutes and take a sip. Notice how dry and awful your mouth feels?
  2. Go take the stems from a bunch of grapes and chew them for a while. Notice how dry and awful your mouth feels?
  3. Go smoke a gang of weed. Notice how dry and awful your mouth feels?

The bottom line is that tannins have a drying effect on your mouth. Tannins can actually contribute to the longevity of many of the great wines out there, but, when left unchecked, can be somewhat unpleasant. And yet when they are balanced by acidity and body in wine, they can be magical. Some particularly thick-skinned grapes yield more tannic wines than others – for example, Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc and Nebbiolo. Others are generally lighter in tannin, or softer as we often say, like Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel. The main thing to remember is the astringency they create in a red wine. So stop going around and waxing poetic about how tannic your bottle of Santa Margherita was. 

What is the best bottle of wine to give as a gift?

Well, that depends. Do you have a lot of money? If so, you really cannot go wrong with a bottle of Champagne. But this time, stick to “grower” Champagnes – you want your dollars to go toward the quality of the wine, not some massive wine house’s PR budget, right? Our favorites include Gatinois, Chartogne-Taillet and Vilmart. If you can’t afford fancy Champy, a bottle of Spanish Cava is an excellent option. It’s festive, it’s bubbly and it’s made in the same method as Champagne is (as opposed to, say, a bottle of Prosecco). You can find some fantastic Reserva and Gran Reserva options for a fraction of the price of an entry level bottle of Champagne. Can Feixes, Mont Marcal and Castillo Perelada make some stunning versions.

I want you to WANT to do the dishes!
My girlfriend gets really emotional and cries a lot when she drinks. How can I avoid this?

Ah, if I had a dime for every time I heard this… Here’s the deal, and trust me on this one: Talk to your girlfriend about her issues, insecurities and pent up frustrations frequently. Be a good listener and a proactive communicator. Solve problems in real time, instead of letting them pile up. Because when you let them pile up, all it takes is one glass of Chardonnay, and you’re suddenly gazing up at the heavens while she’s blubbering into her cocktail napkin about how you never take her out anymore, and why didn’t you hold the door for her that one time six years ago. The solution, however, is not – and I repeat not – to suggest to her, no matter how gently, that she perhaps lay off the juice until she can get control of her emotions. And you thought this was just a wine column…

Please use your inside voice.
Which wines are less likely to give me a headache? What should I look to avoid?

The two most important things to avoid in wine if you would like to avoid a headache are alcohol and sugar. Notice what was not listed among those factors? Sulfites. Contrary to what an alarming number of wine drinkers believe, sulfites, while capable of causing respiratory symptoms in people with severe asthma, are not what’s giving you a headache, and the odds of you actually being allergic to them are really, really low. It has become strangely de rigueur to blame sulfites for every headache and post-binge-drinking barf-session, and to then go on a quest to find sulfite-free wine. There is a reason sulfite-free wine is so hard to find. It’s because it tastes like dirty bong water. Sulfites are added to wine as a preserving agent; without them, wine will oxidize easily, be prone to off-odors and have a shelf-life of about six months, and only under the most regulated and carefully monitored conditions (read: not your Ikea wine rack). Further, your average bottle of wine contains about as much SO2 as a piece of dried fruit. So, unless those prunes you eat for breakfast are also giving you a headache, chances are there is something else behind any adverse effects you are feeling from wine, namely a fun little thing called overindulgence. There has also been some study of histamines in wine contributing to headaches, but the research is still inconclusive. For now, common sense is your best friend. If you have a favorite wine that you know doesn’t give you headaches, stick with it, and go easy. Food is also a best friend, as is water, regardless of how much I may mock that humble beverage. When in doubt, always consult your doctor about any particular symptoms you might be experiencing. As dynamite as I look in a sexy nurse’s outfit, a medical professional I am not. But for now, think about sharing that bottle of Zinfandel sporting a 16% alcohol level with friends instead of plowing through it on your own, and save the sweet stuff for poaching pears.

Still have questions? Reach out to us and we will do our best to demystify… or at least entertain you in the process.

May your holidays be filled with good juice, fierce hangovers and calls from HR! Lots of love from the ladies at Champagne and Hotdogs.

There’s hail the size of golf balls. And there’s a back-end the broad side of a barn. Today I saw a snot bubble the size of a baseball.

Of couse Magnus, our youngest - only a hair past a year - was due for his follow-up flu shot, but raging so high with a fever, I elected to postpone his appointment. Alternating between various fever-reducers, water, apple juice, lullabys, pacing, snuggles and kisses (now waiting for my symptons to kick in) we trudged our way through what ended up being one of our longest days yet.

Staying home with your kids while they’re really sick and cranky and not sleeping is no walk in the park. I mean, this isn’t my first rodeo. But the snot bubble this kid blew today definitely was...

I instantly reached for my camera, instead of the kleenex, so that I could pass along the visuals of this Guiness calibre bubble. To Devin. Because I know she dang-near loses her cookies over a sight like this - a sight that, to other mother veterans, is nothing. A sight I insist she identify with, and deal with, well before it’s shooting out the nose of her first-born, directly into her freshly blown out hair. True Story. The things Devin will see once she’s in the saddle will shock the crap out of her. (Also, something she and I share equal fear-for-our-lives over.) (And also something I dealt with during this flu-from-hell week.) Where was I...

When I couldn’t locate the camera, I ultimately, however reluctantly, grabbed the last box of 200-count Kleenex J picked up from the drugstore. We’d plowed through the other three boxes in no time.

My second reach was for lunch. I was starved. You’re thinking, “How does she eat after staring a snot bubble the size of the Blob breathing in and out of her kid’s mouth?” Oh yeah - I didn’t mention that? The snot ball didn’t blow out his nose. It breathed, like a ventilator, out of his mouth.

The cupboards and fridge were empty. The apartment was a biohazard. All 900 square feet - palatial by Manhattan standards. I had barely showered this week, let alone placed my FreshDirect order. Honestly, I was so tired and hungry, I can’t even tell you if I washed my hands first.

I stood in our kitchen wearing wool socks up to my knees, along with bottom-of-the-barrel, saggy-ass American Apparel leggings you only wear when you SWEAR no one will see you and only because all your real clothes are dirty and the apartment is too cold to just parade in your husband’s long hoodie. I balanced a snotty, fevery, crying Magnus on my hip, and with my spare hand, found myself actualy wiping back greasy strands of hair out of my face so that I could peer into my fridge and cupboards - hoping to prove wrong my worst nightmare: no food.

A last resort. The freezer. I opened the door and realized as the cold air gushed out at me that I now had also been infected with this horrendous flu. I was both “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, cool air, I’m so hot” and “Frickkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk, this is so frigid, I need more wool socks.”

A lone, resealable bag of “Purdue Whole Grain 100% Chicken Breast Nuggets” stared back at me. I felt compelled to actually quote the name instead of just saying “chicken nuggets.” These are really good - especially during a Tuesday late-afternoon pinch! Which this definitely warranted. But, not a pinch, I tell you - a life or death situation for yours truly.

I cranked the oven to ELEVEN! -  preheating it to broil because I now stood in an igloo. I hoped to thaw out a bit while also cooking the nuggets. I was suddenly so congested and so paralyzed with the roots of my teeth, now individually puncturing my sinus wall, causing my face to swell, my eyes to water and my cheekbones to rupture that I was either going to grab the Le Crueset dutch oven off the pot rack and begin ramming it against my face to knock them all out... or have a glass of wine. 

My fear of dentistry is another lifetime of writing. And therapy.

Conveniently, just to the left of the oven was a near-empty bottle of Bodegas Atalaya "Laya" - a bottle we had served among 348 others at Thanksgiving this year. If I didn’t drink it right now, I’d run the risk of cooking this sucker. And at $9.99 a bottle, and probably a little less than one glass left - I couldn’t justify letting this one go to waste.

I got Magnus settled on the floor in a cocoon of cozy blankies and leopard throw pillows. Thankfully, he agreed to hold his bottle of juice as I slowly crouched down beside him, hoping to eat my first real meal in easily 2 days. (Simultaneously, I was baffled that my first meal in 2 days was the frozen chicken nuggets I had purposefully bought soley for my 8-year-old.) I was also looking forward to any medical advantages the little glass of Laya would offer, given that my OceanSpray Sinus Irrigation failed me, Sudafed failed me, and the Le Crueset was too pretty to bang against my ugly, flu-stricken face.

I loved the Laya at Thanksgiving, but it had been layered with numerous other delicious reds. And honestly, it didn’t get a chance to stand on its own. Yet today, the Laya had the floor. Virgin tastebuds. An untouched liver. A near-empty stomach. (Which would also make this shy glass feel more like a full glass. Points in my corner.)

I gracefully lifted the glass to my nose and secretly peered out of my right eye to see an early Christmas miracle: Magnus’ eyes rolling back into his head; his suckling slowing to a gradual, sleepy, lip movement. I closed my eyes and took a massive whiff of this fairly heavy, Spanish red - 70% Garnacha (score!) and 30% Monastrell. The color was dark and almost inky, which I suspected someone of the higher powers orchestrated to match the generic BBQ sauce smeared messily around my plate, thanks to the power of the nugget.

I love this wine. I love that it was under $10. I love that it was the laiden with the pefect Lindsay Storm: spicy meets peppery meets super dark fruit meets coffee meets gorgeous alpaca poncho meets nag champa. A real WIN if you genuinely love some fruit on your wine but aren’t a fan of a fruit bomb, or if you really dig some earth in your glass, but aren’t quite ready to plant a garden. Laya beat the pants off OceanSpray Irrigation and Sudefed, too. Win.

I silently picked my way around the plate of nuggets - scared to even chew in fear I may wake this sleeping baby. Swallowing whole was my solution. Washing the nuggets down with a swig of the Laya turned one of my strangest pairings yet into one that was necessary - albeit integral to survival. And it was delicious. 

I didn’t even finish my shy glass. Becoming so sleepy, yet so awkwardly fulfilled by what I prayed would not be my Last Supper, I scooted down to the rug from my sitting position to a horizontal one - ever so careful to let sleeping dogs lie. I curled up next to Magnus and took a sigh of relief. He was sleeping. I had eaten. I had sipped some incredible wine with every attempt in the world not to waste it. 

And now I was thankfully going to get my first nap in 13 months.

The bar's that way...
You had a rough day that included some "feedback" from your boss. You finally got that proposal to put vending machines in the staff break room approved. You got in an epic argument with your significant other and, in a show of just how angry you are, have decided to sleep on your own lumpy couch. Your toddler is blowing snot bubbles. Bottom line is you need – no, you deserve – a drink. Don’t get me wrong; these are all fantastic reasons to imbibe. But I assure you nothing makes you feel like you have straight up earned your right to get liquored like a solid workout.

To be honest, I’ve only very recently learned this myself. This is because, up until only very recently, the idea of working out made me dig deep into the darkest depths of my excuse-making capabilities like my life depended on it, and the last time I actually did something that involved running or weights or a sport was waaaay before I could even reach the bar, let alone legally drink. For the longest time, I actually had the metabolism to back this aversion to athletic endeavors up. I was the kind of girl who would go shopping with my other skinny friends and say things like, “Whoa… these are all mediums? Everything here is going to be WAY too big on me. Aren’t there any double zeroes in this place?” super loudly while tossing my hair and reaching into my bag of McDonald’s.

But lately I’ve felt a little…soft. Not fat. Just…not thin. On one particularly harrowing day, I went to put on what I thought of as my “fat jeans,” and could barely get them over my thighs. I then broke the zipper clean off on the next pair I frantically tried to cram what I was increasingly viewing as “my huge ass” into. As I crumpled into a pathetic, blubbering mess on the floor, blowing snot bubbles of my own and reaching for my sweatpants, I knew. I could no longer shovel chicken wings and beer into my piehole at alarming speeds without consequences. And trust me. I panicked.  

I wasn't exaggerating.
I feel the need to preface this whole story by putting something out there. My husband, Tim, is an athlete. And I don’t mean some jock who goes to the gym and does bicep curls while grunting in the mirror. He’s the kind of athlete who, on his first try, ran a 2:40 marathon and then went straight to the bar for a marathon of an entirely different sort. He came in second in his first 50-mile race and did it in less time than it takes most people to run 26.2. He can clean and jerk grown men and then be the last man standing in a knock-down, drag-out bar fight. At about 3% body fat, he’s legit.

Fortunately, he’s never imposed his lifestyle on me, especially given my passion for food and wine…and food. But it’s pretty tough to start feeling soft when the love of your life has nothing but 90-degree angles on his body. So, on a desperate whim, I decided to run.

On my first day in the gym, I ran one mile and I wanted to die. But I felt proud, mostly because I didn’t projectile vomit after. In fact, I felt like I still had something in me. When I called Tim to let him know the good news, he responded with an encouraging “Get the fuck out of here.”

His unique way of showing support aside, I vowed I would do it again… in a couple of days. I then showered, took extra care doing my hair and makeup, donned a super cute outfit and headed to my office. Feeling suddenly like Giselle Bundchen, all tight and ready to get the phone call letting me know when my Sports Illustrated photo shoot was scheduled, I sipped my ice cold generic Pinot Grigio and was overwhelmed by how incredible it tasted.

I didn’t think much of it, but, after a few days of walking like I’d just had a colonoscopy with a fire hose, I was ready to try this running thing again. And then again. And then the following week. I also started doing sets of pull-ups. And weighted squats. And bench presses. I mastered the plank, and felt no shame walking into my apartment and posing down my dogs WWE-style as they watched in embarrassed horror.  

I still didn’t fit into my fat jeans. I didn’t really look any different. Aside from a newfound ability to take a full breath of air, I didn’t really feel any different either. But I couldn’t shake the strangest sense of satisfaction. And then it dawned on me. For the first time ever, I was actually earning my wine every night. For the first time ever, there was no guilt as I downed two pints of beer while furiously typing out blog posts. You better believe I deserved it after all that hard work I just put in at the gym.

And it went downhill (or uphill, I suppose) from there. I began running faster, harder. Grunting as I finished my third set of ten. Flexing unabashedly in the mirror. I also began truly believing that I was running for a cause. Some people run for Chrohn’s & Colitis. I was running for happy hour. Nay, for my liver! I was going to start accepting a whole new kind of sponsorship!

As in all great things in life, the law of diminishing returns eventually reared its ugly head. While I may have earned that post-workout glass or two, I’m not sure this new sense of entitlement was meant to be extended to another two glasses and a round of shots. I began to feel sluggish going into my runs. I couldn’t actually get through those two miles without breaking into a walk.  My formerly productive writing frenzies were turning into meandering Facebook sessions and goddamn it I still wasn’t fitting into my fat jeans.

And so I landed on a middle ground with myself. Working out a few times a week didn’t mean also going on a “well-deserved” bender a few times a week. But it did mean I was able to find renewed appreciation for something that had become both work and a luxury I took for granted every night – and I am actually not referring to my husband here. I started to truly savor that first sip of wine that is poured while preparing dinner. It somehow just tasted better after a workout. And this realization allowed me to really think about what I was tasting and ponder why it was so delicious, or refreshing, or comforting. Maybe that beer was just a little bit colder today, or that Super Tuscan just a little bit more luxurious thanks to the extra $5 I spent on it. But the combination of sensations – of pride in what I had done, and passion for what I was doing – made me feel on top of the world.

Whatever your virtues and vices might be, have faith that the two can always be mingled with great results, and are far more closely related than you might think.

Now, if you don’t mind, I have some magnums of Chianti to lift…