A “how-to” guide for selecting wine for a party.
By Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week August 26, 2004
Selecting wines for a catered event does not have to be stress provoking. There are some guidelines that can make this aspect of planning an event easy, even for a “non-wine” person. The key is to remember that a party is supposed to be fun, not only for your guests but for you as well.
The kind and amount of wine that you select will depend upon several factors, including the type of party (luncheon or dinner), the number of guests, the menu, potential themes, and what other liquor/drinks will be served. The first step is to determine if your caterer will allow you to supply your own wine. This can not only save money, but will provide many more options in terms of styles, vintage, and cost. Some caterers charge a “corkage” fee for each bottle served, so be sure to clarify that issue before purchasing your own wine.
The greatest resource is a trusted retailer, preferably someone that you have purchased from before or that comes highly recommended. The best have a large selection of moderately priced wines, and experience supplying wine to large parties. There is usually a volume discount, often as much as 10 %. Some retailers will allow a credit or refund for returned unopened bottles, but that may not be important if you want to keep the leftovers for yourself. Since you may not want to pick up your order, find out if there is a delivery charge and be prepared to discuss the number of guests, type of food, budget, and other details about your party.
Usually, you will be given a number of suggestions since many different wines are appropriate for large parties. Unless you have a particular type that you prefer, it is best to go with “fruit-forward” wines which taste good with or without food since most of the wine is consumed before or after the meal. These include white wines such as Australian Chardonnay and New Zealand or California Sauvignon Blanc and reds such as Australian Shiraz, French wines from the Rhone or Languedoc, lesser known Italian varieties and Malbec from Argentina. For toasts, Champagne from France or a sparking wine from California or Spain is appropriate, usually a dry “Brut” unless it will be served with dessert for which a slightly sweeter “demi-sec” works better.
While you can taste the wines in the store, a better idea is to purchase a bottle of several different types in the same price range and have a tasting party. Invite some friends over, open all the bottles, put them in paper bags and pour them “blind.” Even without the food that you will be serving the evening of your affair, you will be able to compare the wines and make an appropriate selection.
The amount of wine to order varies with the type of party. There are about 5 glasses of wine in each 750 ml. bottle and the usual estimate is a half bottle per person for dinner wines to make sure you do not run out. If the wine is going to be served during a cocktail hour as well as during the meal, most experts recommend a bottle per person. You can instruct the waiters to ask before they refill a wine glass, especially toward the end of the evening and to not open all of the bottles at once which will reduce wastage.
At a recent tasting there were several wines that are moderately priced and flavorful which would be good choices to serve at a catered event. Tohu Sauvignon Blanc 2002 is produced by one of the indigenous tribes in New Zealand and is delightfully smooth with a nice balance of apricot flavors and acidity. The West Brook Sauvignon Blanc 2003 is also produced in New Zealand and has passion fruit flavors. From Australian, the Selena Estate Chardonnay 2003 is soft and has citrus and melon tastes while the Black Wing Chardonnay 2003 has a bit more fruit. Elsa Chardonnay/Semillon 2002 is produced in Argentina and is medium bodied with melon flavors and a touch of oak and vanilla.
For kosher wines consider the Teal Lake Shiraz and Chardonnay which are flavorful and wonderful bargains.
A very good red wine produced in Sicily is Fuedo Arancio Merlot 2001 which is filled with cherry and plum flavors. The Meridian Shiraz/Cabernet 2001 is from one of the best known California winemakers but is not a bulk wine. It has blackberry and spice flavors that would work well with a meat course. The Australian Kangaroo Ridge Merlot 2002 has rich fig and cherry tastes while the Domaine Le Mas de Collines Cote du Rhone 2000 from France is spicy and more earthy.