Planning Wines for a Party

A guide to stress-free entertaining


Getting ready for a holiday party should be fun but, with so many things to worry about, it’s not surprising that it can also be stressful. How much ice will you need? How many bottles of wine should you buy and what kinds? How about glassware, and napkins, oh and garbage bags? There are plenty of details to remember. Can it be any easier? Please!

Well, yes, it can. With a few simple guides you can set up a winning party in no time at all. For more information about setting up a bar, head to The Set the Bar for the Party Season, and tips on making sure you have all the food under control, check out How to Plan for the Perfect Party.

For getting your wines all lined up in row, read on for our party planning trips.

How many bottles do I need?
Before you plan your wine-buying you might want to think about what sort of menu you’ll be planning. Changing up your menu, or even your style of service, should influence your wine selection. We can start with how many bottles you may need. For a regular party, you should figure on two drinks per person for the first hour and then one additional drink per person for each additional hour.

For example, if you’ll only be serving wine to your guests and there will be 24 guests joining you for four hours you’re looking at a total of 24x5 = 120 drinks, which is about 24 bottles of wine. An easy number to use since you can buy a case each of two wines and be done with it.

Keeping it simple for hors d’oeuvres
If you are keeping things simple, think about keeping the wine selection simple. I would focus on having no more than three wines: a white, a red, and a sparkler. In truth, for a casual get-together like this, especially around the holidays, you might even forgo the white and settle in with a nice sparkling wine and a lighter styled red like a moderately priced Pinot Noir or Chianti.

If there’s going to be more than a little cheese though, you might want to add that white wine back in. In general, white wines tend to be easier to pair with cheese.

Serving a buffet
If you’re planning on a buffet you can go with the standard wine pairing rules. White wines do go with white-fleshed meats like poultry, fish and pork -- though some preparations might make a red more appropriate. Conversely, red wines do go with red meats, so don’t be afraid to make pairings by that old rule of thumb. The only other point to keep in mind is that successful wine and food pairings generally match items of similar weight and intensity.

So, if you’re serving beef, a red is appropriate, though a simple roasted filet will be better paired with lighter-styled red than beef stew or a blackened steak, for example. One last point here is that if your buffet is casual, it can present some logistical problems, so keeping the wine selections simple can help everyone out.

Will it be a seated dinner?
If you are serving a plated meal, you have a lot more flexibility in wine pairings as you not only know what you’re serving but also when you're serving it. A rule of thumb to successful wine dinners is to increase intensity as you go. That means serving a light white and the accompanying food before a heavy white, or a light red for that matter.

That last part might surprise some people, but I find that alternating white and red courses early on in the meal can make it more exciting. I love to have a light white, followed by a light red, which then leads into a richer white. The increased contrast between the wines in this sequence can be surprising and seems to highlight the best qualities of each.

How many glasses will I need?
This is a great question and one that may change depending on the style of service. You don’t want to have exactly the right number of glasses; some might break, some might get misplaced. To be safe, add in an extra 30% to your glassware requirements. So, for 24 guests you should have at least 32 glasses.

This is true if you’re having a buffet or a mingling party; people will likely only need a single glass. If you’re having a sit-down dinner party you might want to consider having the appropriate glasses for each wine flight. In this case it’s good to have a back-up or two for each style of glass, though with everyone seated, the chances of breakage are less than with a mingling group.

Chilling Champagne or wine quickly
Caught out with a warm bottle? Here's what you do to get it chilled quickly: Grab a bucket and plant your bottle in the center, add a layer of ice around the base of the bottle and cover the ice with a few tablespoons of salt; keep repeating, alternating layers of ice and salt until the bucket is full. Now fill the bucket with cold water. The salt will drop the temperature of the water well below freezing, providing you with the rapid cooling you need. Give the bottle a few gentle spins every few minutes to help even out the cooling effects. Your bubbly should be ready to pop in 15 minutes.
Happy holidays to all the great hosts and guests out there!

To view the photos for this article, go to Tips for Planning Wines for Your Party.

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