I’ll admit it. I host dinner parties as an excuse to open great bottles of wine. While I live in the restaurant mecca of New York City, I find dinners at my place give me a chance to drink much better wine than I can typically find out. With my 500 bottle+ collection, I’ll take any excuse to open some great wines.
Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years.
Plan the wines out in advance so you aren’t rushing at the last minute. Keep the whites chilled and remove them about 20 minutes before serving for a pleasing temperature. Decant your reds to allow them to open up. And most importantly keep your palate cleanser prepared so you are equipped with something refreshing to greet your guests with.
How much? People will generally want 1-2 glasses of each wine, but take into consideration the timing of the course. Keep 2 glasses per person on hand of your palate cleanser if your guests will stagger in, and 2 per person for the entrée pairing. One glass is fine for the other courses. I like to keep one bottle per person total on hand, but then again my main goal is to lubricate my guests enough to think my cooking is mind-blowing. Half a bottle per person total is usually fine depending on your crowd.
Finally: don’t neglect the end. Inevitably even the people who say they don’t like sweet wine (they are ALL lying) end up raving the most about the dessert wines I serve.
Now on to your questions.
Carletta Moore: “Without knowing your guests likes, dislikes how do you make a safe selection for red and white, or just wing it?”
I find that even people who say they only like reds or whites can be converted if you choose a great wine, particularly if it suits your dishes well. I cover all my bases by offering a different wine for each course. I start with a cocktail or light wine like a sparkling prosecco, and then move progressively heavier through the night.
When in doubt, the two safest food wines are Pinot Noir and Riesling. You generally can’t go wrong with either because they both have enough acidity to make your mouth water, thereby refreshing your palate for more food. And they happen to be my two favorite grapes.
Robert M. Vacera: “Is it okay that I find myself buying great wine then realizing I don’t really want to share it with anyone, I would rather hold it/hide it until I know I can enjoy the entire bottle alone, so therefor I go and buy something cheaper with less quality to share with a group……..am I an ass or is this normal!?“
Robert, this is hilarious. I have a huge collection built up of many wines I bought at auction and you bet I don’t share these with just anyone. Is this a bit snobby, or downright selfish? Yes, for sure.
Here are my thoughts: one, it is heart-breaking to open a special bottle only to have it downed by someone drinking it like it’s a Bud. I learned my lesson on this one and refuse to open special bottles for friends who aren’t mindful of what they are drinking. On the flip side, there are few things more satisfying for me than converting a new wine lover. If your guests are open to a wine experience, you’ll find you end up enjoying the wine even more when sharing it. To get the best of both worlds, open your special bottles with those likely to reciprocate and you’ll expand both your drinking pleasure.
Charles Antin: “Here’s my question: when you bring a bottle of wine to a dinner party, do you expect the host to open it then, at the dinner? Or is it truly a gift, which he can throw in the cellar if he chooses? Does the price of the bottle dictate your expectations?”
Charles, when you come to my house, I will most definitely not open the wines you brought! Come on, it is called a host gift for a reason. In some cases I will open your bottle if you are bringing over something particularly crafted for that evening’s dinner such as Zinfandel for my masala chicken. Or if you tell me that you’ve been dying to try this wine, I will probably take the hint depending on how many glasses in I am. Technically though, it is a gift for your hosts, so take something you won’t be devastated for missing. And most importantly, don’t mess up your host’s well-laid plan for the evening. If you are taking a special bottle that is meant to be opened, let your host know in advance so she can plan ahead.
There were lots of other great questions this week that Dini will get to in future columns. Next week’s theme is difficult food pairings, so leave your questions here or on the Lot18 Facebook page!