When it comes to wine and entertaining for the holidays everyone seems to have the same concerns: how much to have on hand and exactly what to serve.
Quantity seems to be the most pressing issue when entertaining. As we all know, and as I have observed, people’s capacity and consumption of alcohol varies enormously. My advice is always play it safe with too much on hand rather than turning up short. A good rule of thumb is that one (750-milliliter) bottle of wine will equal about five (5-ounce) glasses. For dinner parties and evening affairs that will last several hours plan on 2 to 3 glasses per person throughout the evening. For lunches and afternoon gatherings you can scale back to 1 to 2 glasses per person. You can never buy too much — just save the excess for your next party and remember that running out of wine can swiftly change a festive mood.
Start with what I like to call “entrance wines” or the drink offered to your guests as they arrive. These should be simple, refreshing and most importantly lower alcohol. These wines can also be used for large gatherings when only offering appetizers. Champagne and sparkling wines are ideal because not only do they check all the boxes but add an even more festive, celebratory feel to the occasion. For budget-friendly alternatives to expensive French bubbly consider sparkling wines from Argentina and California.
Nonblubbly wines to consider include unoaked chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, chablis or viognier.
For large gatherings the key is to keep it simple. This is not the time to bring out your expensive cellar collection wines. For anyone who has cleaned up after large parties or as guests are being seated to dinner it can be heartbreaking for your prized wines to be found in glasses only half drunk on a living room table.
- NV Pascual Toso Brut, Argentina (about $16 retail)
- 2016 Calera Central Coast Viognier, California (about $38 retail)
Wine with formal dining is something most of us don’t do day-to-day considering our everyday meals generally involve one dish, one wine and one utensil. So, with multi-course dinners it can be confusing and awkward. Start with your budget. If this is where you want to impress your guests buy the most expensive wines you can afford. Or open one of those special occasion bottles you have been saving. This is that “special occasion” to share with friends and family. Depending on your dinner menu, if you’re planning to serve multiple wines over the course of the evening, a general rule to serve wines “from lighter to fuller bodied wines and younger wines to older wines.” For example, salad or soup course with a light bodied white wine, main entree with a full-bodied red wine and dessert with your prized sweet vintage Port.
- 2016 Bell Lake County Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $17 retail)
- Ramos Pinto 10 Year Tawny Port, Portugal (about $48 retail)
And finally, the most important entertaining tip: be sure to have designated drivers or call a car service or taxi for any guest who has overindulged. Just as you planned each aspect to ensure your guests the perfect evening, do the same by seeing that only safe drivers leave your party.