How to stay on the wagon

"Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation" - Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. I've noticed that an increasing number of wine drinkers agree with Saint Augustine and renounce alcohol in January. It shouldn't need a doctor or dentist (the corrosive build-up of tannin and acidity takes its toll) to tell you that the medical and dietary benefits are obvious, but my original motivation was simply to prove to myself that I wasn't totally hooked. I first thought that a month was out of the question. But after four years, I find it gets easier each time and I actually now look forward to the challenge and the benefits that extend beyond the obvious virtues of the detox.

As I stacked the dishwasher with a seemingly endless number of New Year's Eve dirty wine glasses last year, my wife pointed out that at least there would be no dirty wine glasses to wash. True up to a point, although she hadn't taken account of the fact that my self-denying ordinance didn't extent to tasting and spitting.

January is as busy a month as any for wine tasting, and to keep pace with the new vintages, not to mention lecturing for Leiths School of Food & Wine, I attend an average of a tasting a day, sometimes two or three. Do I end up swallowing a little? Probably, although simultaneously exercising critical faculties and spitting is a world away from the joys of recreational drinking (that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it).

Giving up with a partner or friend makes it much easier to bear. The first week, of course, is the hardest but you gather a can-do momentum and by the second week the feeling of being more lucid and bright-eyed in the mornings sweeps you along. The cold month of January is the perfect time for all recipes demanding chilli, and alcoholic cravings can be extinguished by a good Thai or Indian curry.

Last year, one of my best intentions was to make all manner of interesting fruit drinks, even dusting down the juicer for the purpose. In the end, I couldn't resist the proliferation of fresh fruit drinks, probiotic smoothies (recent research shows that probiotic drinks can boost immune systems) and brands like Fentimans, Fever Tree, Amé, Duchy Originals and Bundaberg. Lazy perhaps, but at least I became acquainted with a host of interesting new non-alcoholic finds.

After a week, I find that you really do start to shake the habit of drinking. Like stopping smoking, if you can overcome that initial effort of will, it gets easier as you go along. Though alcohol in moderation is well-known to be good for the heart, our hearts don't seem to suffer. The liver and brain, meanwhile, perk up no end. Soon, your attitude changes. Instead of wringing your hands with the awful denial and sacrifice you're making, you start giving yourself little mental pats on the back. We even managed two parties without drinking, which was a lot easier than a dry evening out at a local Italian that recalled Brillat-Savarin's maxim that "a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine".

Giving up an average of three glasses a day also means losing some 2,000 calories a week. One final benefit: the first wine you drink on the first day of February is invariably amazing. And the downhill slope needn't be quite so slippery when you know that you can do it if you try.