Parties and Wine Tastings
When you are hosting a dinner party or supper club, decide in advance what wines you would like to serve, selecting ones that will complement your menu. If you are planning a party where everybody contributes a bottle of wine, ask each guest to bring a different wine until all the wine slots are filled. If you have friends who are interested in wine, you might even want to hold an informal wine tasting.
The first consideration for a dinner party is whether to plan the wine around the food or vice versa. In most cases, the menu usually comes first, but if you want to show off a special wine or series of wines, then work forward from the wine.
Planning the Menu
In general, it is most satisfactory to move from lighter to heavier foods and wines. Plan the menu course by course?or wine by wine?and decide which wines will work best with each dish (see links at right on matching food and wine).
How Many Wines
For a simple dinner shared with good friends, you might prefer to open only one wine and serve it right through to the dessert or cheese and fruit course. If the wine is to be in the spotlight, however, you could serve a different wine with each course, in which case you will need to consider glassware. If you do not have enough glasses for each course and want to avoid washing them between courses, take a cue from wine professionals: When you are finished with one course and wine, pour a small amount of the next wine into the glass, swirl it briefly, then empty it into a pitcher or dump bucket. This works perfectly well going from white to red wine, but less well going from red to white.
Before you sit down to dinner, a glass of sparkling wine is always a welcome aperitif. Alternatively, you could serve a white wine, such as Chardonnay, Mosel or a light Alsace wine. A classic aperitif is a well-chilled Fino or Manzanilla sherry. The distinctive flavor of sherry, combined with its delicate aromas, makes it a memorable welcoming drink. It is always a good idea to serve appetizers with the opening drinks. Olives or salted nuts go particularly well with a glass of dry sherry.
Wines that can segue from one course to the next should also be considered. For example, you might start the meal with a soup of clams and garlic, served with a medium-weight California or Australian Chardonnay. The next course could be grilled ahi tuna, which would also pair well with the Chardonnay. A mature red Bordeaux or Cabernet Sauvignon would be a good choice with a grilled steak in red wine sauce and could be continued into the cheese course that follows.
The choice of a dessert wine depends on the meal preceding it. If it has been an extensive and heavy meal, you might want to serve a lighter, less alcoholic wine, such as a sweet Riesling or Muscat. For serving after dinner, the classic digestif is a tawny or vintage port.
For a four-hour party with a few nondrinkers, most caterers recommend one-half to three-fourths of a bottle of wine per person. Of course, your knowledge of your guests may alter this rule of thumb. Most hosts would prefer to have wine left over than to run out before the guests leave. Many wine merchants will let you return unopened bottles.
Adapted from The Wine Guide (Time-Life Books, 1999)