As I plan a graduation party for our youngest, the ghosts of parties past alert me to the fact that my method of selecting and buying wine needed to be more informed than standing in the wine section of my favorite wine and spirits merchant counting on my fingers. Typically I’d count couples and divide: the women will likely drink wine and the men, beer. In my middleclass experience if I’m not serving mixed drinks, with a few exceptions, like those who don’t drink alcohol at all, the libations usually do divide along those lines.
So I’d try to remember who likes what type of wine and cover the spectrum of preferences. Then, my speculation is proved absolutely wrong and the bottles of the reemerging Pouilly-Fuisse are left unopened and the more widely known Chardonnay is gone or the Pinot noir is left alone while the popular merlot is history. Or, the one bottle of white Zinfandel purchased, just in case, for an aunt with a sweet tooth, is never even opened and collects dust in the wine rack for months to come.
So what I’ve learned through trial and error is this: If there are no known wine aficionados in attendance at your party, think red and white and people will adjust their taste according to what is available. And from there, choose a middle ground for each wine for example, for the white, a less bold Pinot Grigio to please most palates or at least not offend. For the red, yes, merlot is popular but perhaps a tad spicy for some and a bit heavy for summer parties so a nice, velvety Pinot noir might be just the thing. Of course these picks are just an example. If you know what will please your crowd better than I’ve known the preferences of mine in the past, choose your red and white according to knowledge of preference in tandem with pairing with food. But again, the Pinot Grigio and the Pinot noir, in my opinion, are quite versatile in complimenting a diverse menu.
And with the added advice of the wine consultant at one of my favorite wine and spirits establishments, (where ever I can find the wines I want at the best price). Once you’ve decided on the types of wines, the next thing you’ll need to figure is how much wine you should buy for your event. Assuming you are not hosting a frat party, rule of thumb for dinner parties averages one half of a bottle or two 6 ounce glasses per person. A cocktail party averages two glasses per person assuming there will be beer and mixed drinks as well. If you are serving only wine and beer as I will be doing at our upcoming soiree, the average is calculated at three glasses per person.
Your next calculation is how much of each wine should you purchase. Again, taking into consideration the season, which will shift your selection slightly toward having more cold white wine during warmer months, rule of thumb goes something like this: Luncheons or cocktail parties with a very light menu, 2/3 white wine to 1/3 red. Parties with appetizer buffet or hors d’oeuvres, an even amount of each type of wine is your best bet. For full meals or multi course dinners select your wines according to your menu items keeping traditional food pairing in mind with heavy and red meats best with red and seafood and some poultry going very well with white.
If you’re still unsure, one simple fact that can diffuse any confusion over who likes what and which wine to serve with what is that a sparkling wine or champagne pairs well with almost any kind of food and will add a touch of elegance to your gathering. Pick one, pop the cork and have a time!