Insider secrets to serving wine at a dinner party

We are lucky enough to live close enough to the world-renowned Barossa Valley in South Australia to be able to engage in regular wine tasting with family and friends. On a recent day out we were able to talk to some of these winery professionals about how they serve wine at dinners and events held at their own establishments. And while they didn’t want to give away all their secrets, we think we gleaned enough for any of us mere mortals to provide or oversight the wine menu at our own very successful dinner party. Check out their top tips below.

If everyone is bringing a bottle to share, be VERY specific

You don’t want someone bringing a $50 bottle of Shiraz that delights any palate, while another person brings a cleanskin that is only good for cleaning the rust out the sink. Likewise, you don’t want all the guys bringing reds if the girls like a fruity white. Plan ahead and instruct everyone what price range to choose from, and which type of wine to bring so everyone can enjoy a good night with a wonderful variety of wine.

If attempting to correctly pair food and wine, consider supplying all the wine yourself

This could simply mean that everyone throws some money into the pot to contribute to the overall purchase, leaving you the choice of which wines to buy and pair with each course. This is the preferred method of many professionals to ensure that guests don’t turn up with a wine completely inappropriate to the meal being served and then be offended when you don’t serve it.

Plan how you are going to serve different wines at the correct temperature

If you live in hot climates you might need to chill both the red and white wines, while in cooler areas you might just need an ice bucket or small fridge to cool the whites. Champagne and bubbly wine is best served when they are really cold, while others whites are generally okay at the temperature your fridge operates at. Reds on the other hand should generally be just below room temperature, but as just stated, if you are dining in a tropical part of the world or under a hot, sultry verandah, those reds might also need cooling a little.

Know which wines will be served in which order and have appropriate glassware ready

Many prefer to serve a glass of champagne as soon as guests arrive. And some guests will like to stay with bubbly through the early part of the meal while others will have moved onto the white or red wine selection. While the wine choice will depend upon the meal being served, a rule of thumb is to move from the sparkling wine to the light and then rich white wines. If rose is to be served it can then come out before the light and the heavy reds. Finally you will bring out the dessert wines. If you were out to impress with a 10-course meal, you might go through each of these steps, whereas a more simple three-course dinner might only involve half those wines.

Don’t run out of wine

A good dinner party can either make or break your reputation, and running out of wine half-way through the evening is a definite no-no. A normal-sized bottle of wine can serve four to six people (depending upon how much you serve) and if the dinner party is to last for some hours then you can normally expect most people to drink three to four glasses of wine. So a safe bet is to plan for one bottle of wine per person, but that will be made more difficult by the number of different wines being served. For instance, if ten people were attending and you were only serving two wines, you might need to buy five of each. If however, you plan on having five different wines, then you might only buy two bottles of each.

Consider serving the wine instead of leaving open bottles on the table

If your father-in-law or best friend likes to indulge more heavily than others at the table then leaving an open bottle within arms-reach is a sure way to blow your plan for one bottle per person. Why not personally serve each person and then return the bottle to the fridge or ice bucket (in the other room). As long as you keep an eye on the overall drinking speed of those at the table, this can be an occasion to shine as the perfect host, introducing each wine as it is served, while keeping an eye on how much is being consumed.

Keep water decanters and suitable glasses on the table

Guests can then drink as much water as they please. You can buy some fancy decanters and even place suitable fruits in them (as long as it does not interfere with their taste buds). The water will assist guests in not drinking too much wine just because they are thirsty or to wash down some spicy or hot food. 

Decide ahead of time whether you will decant the heavy and aged reds

This can be quite the show when done properly, but it is advisable you practice beforehand so as to not look like a rank amateur in front of your guests. Being able to show your guests what is involved and why it is being done can be quite entertaining to those not in the know. You can even involve guests in the experience and allow them to assist you.

The dinner party should be all about enjoying the experience

Hopefully by the time your guests chew their last spoonful of dessert and drink that last sip of sweet wine, they are full of compliments and praise on the entire evening. They will have enjoyed the sumptuous food and loved the delightful selection of wines. All that is left now is to decide how the evening will end. Will you provide a light cheese platter for people to nibble on around the fire, or a glass of fortified wine or whisky before saying farewells, or will you just remove the dishes and say goodnight? While your guests may not remember every detail of the dinner party, they will remember how it ended, so do give some thought as to how you will farewell your guests properly so they will want to come back for more. And please don’t let anyone drink and drive. You want everyone to be able to get safely home, so ensure beforehand that there are enough designated drivers on hand, or perhaps even book a car to take them home.

Living each adventure, 
Christine and Trevor

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Wine Review: Mt Benson 2015 Anarchist Shiraz

DISCLAIMER: This article is written for informational purposes only and is based on Christine and Trevor’s own life experiences. No food or wine featured on this site should ever be consumed or handled if known or suspected allergies exist. Nothing featured here should be taken as medical, professional or legal advice. It is always recommended that you consult the appropriate professional before changing any routine or adopting any new procedure.

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Insider secrets to serving wine at a dinner party

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