Q: I am planning a holiday wine party for about 20 people. I have yet to finalize the menu, but rather than a sit-down dinner (I don’t have the table space or place settings anyway), I want easy finger foods that I can serve at different intervals that will allow my guests to nibble on at their leisure and encourage them to mingle. I’m open to your suggestions. I can’t afford to buy all the wine for the evening, thus they’ll be bringing their own, but I would like to have a selection of bottles on hand that will go with the food. What advice do you have?
A: Wine parties are popular this time of year. And I certainly appreciate that in these challenging economic times, it isn’t feasible for most but the truly wealthy to offer up a endless supply of booze – thus BYOB is the norm in most situations.
To this end, might I offer a suggestion? Rather than having your guests bring a bunch of random bottles, why not consider a “wine club” format?
Wine clubs are becoming very popular and the idea behind them is that the host sets a theme and purchases a variety of wines that suit the menu. The guests then pitch in some cash - $20 to $40 a piece (depending on the caliber of the wines) to assist with the cost.
This is advantageous for a number of reasons:
1. It simplifies things for your guests. They can attend without worrying about what and how much to bring.
2. You can ensure that the wines served will best showcase the food and vice versa.
3. You can select the order in which the wines are poured so that they will go side by side with the appropriate foods.
4. You can control the amount of wine poured – if you serve one- to two-ounce tastes your guests can sample more wines and you can limit the amount you and your guests drink. 5. You can select a range of price points enabling you and your guests to sample bargain bottles – perhaps finding a few new affordable favourites – and experience higher-end, rare and/or revered wines you might not normally have the opportunity to enjoy.
Let’s consider the food. Start with platters of gourmet cheeses, meats, smoked fish, olives, nuts and dried and fresh fruit. These are lovely in terms of presentation, flavour and texture and can be left out most of the evening for people to snack on at their leisure. But because there is so much variety, wine pairing is often difficult. This is when to break out the sparkling wine because it will act as a palate cleanser and refresher.
Many people think of bubbly only for special occasions, but it is an ideal food wine because it can stand up to just about anything – sweet, salty, briny etc. B.C. makes a number of sparkling wines in the traditional Champagne style (only bubbly from the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne) and most are under $30. Comparable sparkling wines from France would be twice that at least.
Any other wines you serve with these foods should be light and refreshing. Think aromatic whites in an off-dry style like Ehrenfelser, Riesling or Gewurztraminer for goat and blue cheese and spiced nuts or a prepared appetizer like prosciutto-wrapped melon. Rosé wine would be lovely with smoked salmon or spicy salami. Lemony Chenin Blanc or Pinot Gris are naturals with fresh shucked oysters. Super dry Sauvignon Blanc or Semillon are great with olives.
Supplement these platters with a few well presented “amuse bouche” which you can bring out at various intervals and wow your guests. Consider chicken “lollipops” which are bite-size pieces of flattened chicken, skewered and either grilled or broiled and served with a variety of sweet/spicy dipping sauces – serve up an off-dry white such as Bacchus or Auxerrois. Lime and chili marinated shrimp or scallops served on a Chinese soup spoon make for a delightful presentation – dry whites or sparkling wine pairs best.
One of my favourite recipes is grilling or roasting a mustard and herb-crusted rack of lamb, then cutting it up and serving the individual rib chops as an appetizer – no utensils are necessary, guests simply hold the meat by the bone. This is when you break out the big reds such as Syrah or Bordeaux-style blends.
I know you said “finger foods,” but the truth is most people attend parties with an empty belly so they’ll need something fairly substantial to metabolize the alcohol they drink. How about considering a couple of one-pot dishes like Coq Au Vin, Beef Bourginon or Lamb Stew? These are easy, can be made well ahead and left to simmer in a slow cooker so they’ll be ready when your guests arrive. All you’ll need in terms of serving are some small bowls, cutlery and a ladle. What’s more these dishes tend to be very wine friendly as wine is often a key ingredient in the recipe itself. Wine selection is easy as you can simply serve the same wine you used in the dish.
1. There are roughly five medium-size glasses in a bottle and you can count on at least two glasses per person. That means if you have 10 guests, you should have at least five bottles. (Or if you’re one of my friends 10 bottles).
2. For “tasting” size portions you can squeeze out about 10 pours.
3. Pour the wine for your guests rather than having them serve themselves. It’s the responsible approach because they will drink less that way. If you are confident enough, talk about the wine and why you chose it for the occasion.
4. Be sure that you have different glasses for the whites, reds and sparkling wines. Consider renting them if you don’t or asking guests to bring their own.
5. As for serving temperatures, I tend to like my wines on the chilly side for parties as the temperature in the room goes up a notch with added bodies. I find the whites will taste fresher and fruitier when good and cold. Light bodied reds would benefit from 20 minutes in the refrigerator before serving. Open fuller bodied reds, pour into a decanter and leave in cool place to aerate for at least an hour prior to serving.