Simplified Entertaining with Wine
Simplified Entertaining with Wine
If you’re excited about wine, it’s natural to want to convey that enthusiasm to your guests. But overcomplicating wine selections and wine service can often detract from the overall enjoyment of your attendees. The worlds of wine and hospitality are complex and obtuse – you need to pick your battles! In order to reduce the noise, and hopefully your stress, I have outlined a few simple rules that indicate where to pay attention and when it’s ok to slack off.
1. Choose your focus – wine OR food
It is not impossible to pull off, but outside of a multi-Michelin-starred restaurant, an intricate menu matched to a complicated lineup of wines rarely works perfectly. I find it is better to emphasize either food or beverage, and de-prioritize the other. For example, if you are preparing, say, a Thanksgiving feast with an array of complex side dishes, choose a few easy-going and versatile wines that won’t compete with the various flavors and textures of your meal. Alternatively, if you’re planning to serve a killer selection of bottles, cook something simple like a pork roast or fowl that will support but not interfere with the expression of the wines.
If what are you are hosting is more of a party than a dinner, similar rules apply. By all means, serve great wines, but minimize the selections wherever possible. Many people feel anxiety about wine and worry that they will choose the “wrong” one. I advocate for offering one white and one red only (possibly also one sparkling and one dessert option, depending on the structure of your event). The maximum I would suggest is two in each category, so long as they are in distinctly opposite styles, i.e. a lighter and a more full-bodied option such as Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.
2. Minimize stemware
Stemware can be a source of uncertainly and doubt among both guests and hosts. Certainly, some glassware companies compound the problem by offering a dizzying array of extremely specialized options. Personally, I rarely stray from the three basic shapes – white, Burgundy, and Bordeaux. Each of these glasses is versatile. Use the white wine stem for your sparkling wines as well as crisp or light-bodied whites. The Burgundy bowl is a terrific option for both fuller-bodied whites and lighter reds. All other reds tend to show best in the straight-sided Bordeaux glass. Simple.
Another option is to invest in what’s called a “universal” glass. Many stemware companies produce such a vessel, which is typically a slightly larger version of their white wine glass. I am a big fan of this glass for any party environment, but it also can be a terrific choice for wine-centric dinners. For example, if you are simultaneously serving many different types of wine, the universal glass will take up less real estate on your table than a flight of Burgundy and Bordeaux stems. Also, if you are spreading bottles out across a large number of people, this is the ideal choice, as the nuances of smaller pours of wine can sometimes get lost in a larger bowl.
3. Ensure your glassware is odor free
This is extremely important to the enjoyment of wine. Nothing ruins a dinner party like smelly glasses. I recommend investing in a handful of high-quality buffing rags that you should be sure to wash regularly with unscented detergent. If odors persist, look to this trick employed by a handful of fine-dining establishments and rinse all your glasses with a neutral white wine (like an innocuous Pinot Grigio) prior to service. Whatever wine smell remains in the glass will be far less distracting than the musty or soapy aromas than glasses can sometimes exhibit.
4. Temperature is key
One of the most common blunders of home wine service is improper temperature. Many people tend to serve their whites too cold and their reds too warm. An overly chilled white wine will appear mute and shut down, and any red served at room temperature may appear aggressive or gruff. One simple hack is to remove your white wines from your refrigerator a half an hour before you plan to serve them. At the same time, fill your newly liberated refrigerator shelf space with your red selections. This simple step will dramatically improve your enjoyment of both red and white wines.
This assumes, of course, that you don’t have a wine cellar. If you in fact have a cellar and store your reds at around 55°, that may actually be too cold for consumption. I recommend removing your reds from the cellar 30 – 45 minutes prior to service. Take your heavier reds out in advance, as lighter-bodied reds can handle more of a chill.
5. Don’t overthink aeration
The majority of wines taste best shortly after opening. Decanting should only be a major concern if you are drinking wines of significant age or when cracking a really serious bottle at a very young point in its development, such as a newly released Grand Cru white Burgundy. If you are planning an evening of 20+ year old Barolos, reach out to a merchant or sommelier that you trust for more explicit instructions, as old wines tend to require special care.