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.
When it comes to holiday entertaining, it’s hard to beat the fun and ease of a wine and cheese party. It is such an effortless gathering considering there is rarely, if any, cooking and prep time involved other than shopping and setup. How do you find perfect wine for cheese pairing?
The menu can be as simple as wine and cheese. But if you want to have more substantial food offerings, you can add crusty breads and other complementing foods such as charcuterie, olives and nuts or an array of fruits such as pears, apples and grapes.
Wine and cheese have many similar characteristics, even the language used to describe them. Fermentation, acidity, light-bodied versus full-bodied, region identity, and even the “terroir” are used to describe cheese. Cheese is deeply connected to the animal from whose milk it’s made and to the animal’s environment. A cheese made from the milk of a goat that was feeding on the juniper grasses on the hillside pastures of Corsica will have a definite “terroir,” just as red wines include flavors and aromas from eucalyptus trees growing close to the vines from which its grapes are grown.
In the past, most of us followed the time-honored rule of “pair cheese and wines that share the same home.” Italian gorgonzola with chianti and French brie with Champagne. But the rule is not as sensible when you consider what wine to pair with cheese made from the cows of Wisconsin.
It’s not that some of the rules should be disregarded. It’s just sometimes best to use them as a starting point and then let your taste buds create new rules!
Stick with reputable wine and cheese retailers to guide you on specifics while helping you stay within budget. And keep in mind that quality is better than quantity. Here are some of my favorite combinations.
Sparkling wine and brie
- NV Zonin Sparkling Wine, Italy (about $14 retail)
- NV Gaston Chiquet Champagne, France (about $49 retail)
Sauvignon blanc and chevre goat cheese
- 2015 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $14 retail)
- 2015 Bell Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $16 retail)
Chardonnay and camembert
- 2014 Apaltagua Chardonnay, Chile (about $11 retail)
- 2015 Paul Hobbs Chardonnay, California (about $40 retail)
Merlot and pecorino fresca
- 2014 McManisFamily Vineyards Merlot, California (about $12 retail)
- 2014 Robert Mondavi Merlot, California (about $26 retail)
Cabernet sauvignon and aged gouda
- 2014 McNab Ridge Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $15 retail)
- 2013 Spann Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $30 retail)
Port and Stilton
- Dow’s Late BottledVintage Port, Portugal (about $25 retail)
- Graham’s 10-Year-Old Tawny Port, Portugal (about $45 retail)
This time of year I think many of us are looking for ways to save money on entertaining. Whether planning a large cocktail party or intimate gathering, these tips can help keep you on budget for holiday wine buying.
Remember the basics
Buy by the case, shop on the retailers’ discount “wine day,” check for in-store specials and always shop around for the best savings. These basic tips can sometimes save you up to 20 percent off on your wine buying.
Quality wines at value prices
For quick savings substitute vintage Champagne with blanc de blanc; cabernet sauvignon with malbec; pinot noir with merlot; and vintage port with late-bottled vintage port (LBV).
Don’t shy away from blends
Many wineries have a blend labeled simply “red wine.” This can be a great place for savings because many of these blends are created from other single varietal bottlings not used for the vintage. It offers the consumer a lower price point, but from a reputable winemaker and vineyard.
For large parties 1.5 liter bottles or boxed wines can be a great value. Many quality boxed wines contain the equivalent of four standard bottles and are usually priced less than $20 a box. And if you don’t want your guests to see you’re serving boxed wine, simply pour it into decorative carafes.
Step our of your comfort zone
Consider wines from emerging regions with little or no recognition. Chile and Argentina continue to offer remarkable value, but also consider lesser-known regions in California and up-and-coming wine regions such as New York state.
Get to know your retailer
Make friends with your wine shop staff. With simple conversations your retailer will begin to understand your likes and dislikes, guiding you to the best wines available. Throughout the year you may have a certain wine as your everyday wine but this time of year your retailer may guide you to a similar style at a special price.
And always remember, the best way to find great deals is to ask.
- 2012 Force of Nature Red Blend, California (about $13 retail)
- 2014 Mark West Chardonnay, California (about $12 retail)
- 2013 Norton Malbec, Argentina (about $10 retail)
- 2014 Candoni Pinot Grigio, Italy (about $15 retail for 1.5 liters)
- NV Treveri Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine, Washington (about $14 retail)
- 2014 La Playa Merlot, Chile (about $9 retail)
- 2014 Black Box Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $24 retail for 3 liters)
Brides are finalizing their spring and summer wedding plans — some with extreme relief and others with overwhelming stress. With a wealth of wedding planning advice, most have confidently confirmed the dress, flowers and cake, but the celebratory drink sometimes is a last-minute thought.
The most important first step in choosing the ideal wine is your budget. Knowing how much you want to spend for your wine and beverages is the starting point for your caterer, retailer or consultant.
Exactly how much wine to buy depends on the time of day, number of guests and overall format of your reception. A daytime toast with wedding cake will require considerably less wine than an evening of dinner and dancing. For evening receptions, most wedding planners figure on each guest drinking two glasses of wine every two hours. If you’re without a consultant to tally how much wine to order there are many websites with wedding wine calculators. RealSimple. com offers an easy calculation based on the number of guests, type of beverage and time of day for the big event.
With your style in mind, make your plans based on how many people you will be serving at the reception. If you plan for 300 guests, an expensive vintage wine most likely will not be necessary. However, if your wedding will be intimate, in a home or small setting, you may want to give more attention to detail and stay with my past advice: Buy the best wine you can afford.
Choosing the style of wine for a reception can be straightforward if you are only serving cake and sweets. A glass of Champagne or sparkling wine lends a celebratory touch and an easy resolution. If your menu is more complex, select food-friendly wines such as chardonnay, pinot grigio, merlot, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon. And if you still want the bubbly toast, choose a sparkling wine from California or Australia, where many finds are under $10 a bottle.
- NV Seaview Brut, Australia (about $10 retail)
- 2011 Chateau Bonnet Bordeaux Blanc, France (about $14 retail)
- 2011 Santa Rita 120 Merlot, Chile (about $11 retail)
- 2007 Argyle Brut Sparkling, California (about $34 retail)
- 2010 Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay, California (about $28 retail)
- 2009 Clos Pegase Napa Valley Merlot, California (about $31 retail)
During the Christmas season I am always looking for ways to ease the stress of my party planning. Choosing the wine – whether you are planning a large cocktail party or intimate dinner – shouldn’t be the most complicated part of your planning. With just a few helpful tips, your wine choices can be the most effortless part of your party planning.
Start with the amount of wine you will need. Ask any host or hostess who has had to rush out to the retail store or a neighbor’s house in the middle of the party – don’t be afraid to overbuy. A safe rule of thumb is one 750-ml bottle will equal about 5 (5-ounce) glasses. You can never buy too much – after all, there’s always the next party – and remember, running out of wine or food can swiftly turn a festive mood into a restive one.
Know your budget. If it’s a large cocktail party, choose a wine that sells in the $8 to $12 range. Retailers often offer party-season specials and discounts on quality wines this time of year. For a dinner party, always consider this sound advice: Spend as much as you can afford. If you’ve slaved in the kitchen preparing luscious appetizers, entrees and desserts,be sure to showcase the meal with the best wine your budget will allow.
Once the quantity and budget are in place, give some thought to other details. Keeping white wines chilled when refrigerator space is tight can be a challenge for large parties. Large plastic tubs filled with ice can do the job, or fill one side of the kitchen sink with ice. If you worry about red wine spills, have a bottle of Wine Away stain remover on hand. It’s inexpensive and easily removes those dreaded stains.
And finally, the most important host responsibility: Call a taxi for anyone overindulging in the festivities who doesn’t have a designated driver.
- 2009 Brancott SauvignonBlanc, New Zealand (about $14 retail)
- 2009 Oroya Tierra de Castilla, Spain (about $11 retail)
- 2009 Concha y Toro Xpolorado Chardonnay, Chile (about $9 retail)
- 2009 Hugel Pinot Gris, France (about $20 retail)
- 2009 Montinore Estate Gewurztraminer, Oregon (about $19 retail)
- 2009 Mt. Difficulty Sauvignon Blanc , New Zealand (about $22 retail)