How to Bring Wine to a Party
Posted November 16, 2007
Updated November 22, 2007
It's a look wine shop clerks know well. That overwhelmed, glassy-eyed stare that afflicts people as they wade through aisle after aisle of wine in search of the right bottle to bring to a party.
But arming yourself with a little advice and doing a bit of planning can make it easy to break out of the wine shop stupor and get the right wine for the right event for the right price.
Step 1: Relax. It's just wine. And most shops are jammed with great $10 bottles, so it's hard to make an awful choice.
Step 2: Think about where you're going. Is it a formal dinner where your wine will be considered and discussed? Or is it a party where your offering might be one of a dozen bottles opened for the crowd?
Step 3: Think about how much you want to spend. Dinner with the boss might merit a different spending limit than a casual evening with friends. In either case, you can get very nice wines for under $25.
Step 4: If possible, find out what's on the menu. If you can't, think about your hosts. Do they favor ethnic foods or are they more meat-and-potato types?
Step 5: Take your answers to Steps 2, 3 and 4 to a wine shop and talk to the people who work there.
"Trust them rather than trying to shop yourself based on price or what bottle has the prettiest label," says James O. Fraioli, editor-at-large for Touring & Tasting magazine.
Still feel you're in rugged territory? For just about any holiday event, it's hard to go wrong with a pinot noir (red), riesling (sweet or dry white) or anything with bubbles. And here's some event-specific advice from the experts.
FOR A BRUNCH
"Brunch is honestly the easiest," says Mary Ewing-Mulligan, president of the International Wine Center, a New York wine school that trains wine professionals and serious consumers. "A sparkling wine is perfect for brunch."
Champagne is great with eggs or toasted bread flavors, she says. And if your budget isn't quite that generous?
"You can't go wrong with a prosecco or a good cava," says Brian Freedman, a food and wine writer and director of wine education at The Wine School of Philadelphia.
A prosecco is a light sparkling wine from Italy; cava is Spain's answer to prosecco. Both go down easily and are less expensive than Champagne, which is produced only in France.
FOR A DINNER
"We think you should really be driven by the type of food being served," says Karen Page, co-author of "What to Drink With What You Eat." "If you don't know what the food is, go for bubbles or rose."
Other good, all-purpose, food-friendly options are rieslings and pinot noirs, she says.
"Riesling is the single most food-friendly white wine there is," she says. This low-alcohol wine has a hint of sweetness and goes well with spicy cuisines, such as Indian, as well as Asian foods, such as sushi.
Ewing-Mulligan, who calls rieslings the next hot thing in white wines, suggests choosing one from someplace unexpected, such as the Finger Lakes region of New York.
If you'd rather go for something red, pinot noir is considered highly versatile when it comes to pairing with food, doing as well with a hearty red meat as with a delicate seafood.
FOR A PARTY
For parties where the food is likely to be hors d'oeuvres - which often results in an amalgam of flavors and cuisines - consider going with bubbly (everything from cava to Champagne), says Ewing-Mulligan.
"Everybody always appreciates bubbles during the holidays," she says. "It makes everything more festive."
Another good holiday party flavor is red zinfandel, says Michael Chiarello, host of Food Network's "Easy Entertaining." "I call it the golden retriever of red wines," he says. "It likes everybody."
It's also affordable enough that you can bring a magnum (twice as much as a typical bottle) to a party, he says.
- Don't expect your gift bottle to necessarily be opened at dinner, says Ray Isle, senior wine editor at Food & Wine magazine. There's no etiquette that dictates your host (who may have chosen wine for the meal) must open your bottle.
- Consider wines with a story. Perhaps the wine is from a region you recently visited. Or you drank it on a special occasion. Or purchase from a winery that is local to you.
If you can say something personal about the wine when you give it, it makes it more special, says Ewing-Mulligan.
- Don't worry if whatever you bring doesn't go over well. "It's much more fun to experiment than to buy the same thing all the time," Isle says.