We have a “wine night” with friends pretty frequently and it recently dawned on me that I’ve never written about how that works.
For some, or even most of you, you have some experience with this: you invite pals over, everyone brings a bottle or two to share over dinner, and you talk about the wines – why you chose them and how they fared during the evening. This blog post is to remind those with experience how to make it enjoyable for the newbie guest, and the how-to for a newbie host.
This one wine night I will use as an example is described a bit in this social media post: How was your last Wine Night with friends? We recently shared a 2019 Napa Hindsight Chardonnay that was new to me and Chablis-like due to its fresh fruit and no noticeable oak, then came the Grenache we mistook for Syrah or Mourvedre in a 2007 Domaine Du Pegau Chateauneuf Du Pape, a masterfully balanced 2000 Marcarini Brunate Barolo with dinner that benefitted from 6 hours of decanting, and two I was too tired to taste: 2010 Orma Super Tuscan and Camus VSOP Cognac. If I had to pick a favorite of the night it would be hard as the ones I had were all so good for many different reasons.
Now the details to help our wine 101ers:
Let your guests know what your menu is so they can bring a wine (or two) that they believe will be appropriate for pairing.
Always have a white to start. I’m amazed at how many people prefer sparkling, white or pink wines in general; so having at least one leaves no one out.
Decant any wine, in this case it was the Barolo, if you know requires it due to its youth or older age. Decanting allows more air to envelop a wine that needs to “open up” a bit before drinking. If you’re not sure, taste the wine before you serve it to guests. If it’s tight or tart decant it. You can also search the Internet for the same wine (same vintage year too) and see what others recommend.
Serve appetizers as well as a main course during your evening. Drinking wine without food causes early inebriation so having some starters helps. And as this may be when you are drinking your white wine, serve with cheeses, nuts, and crackers – nothing too big – unless you will be moving onto reds. If you do that before dinner then add in the charcuterie. Some wine people like charcuterie with whites too, it’s not my preference, but as in my recommendation for decanting – taste your food with your wine to educate your palate and form your own opinion.
When you do move onto reds you can do it a couple of different ways. Serve the lower alcohol wines first and move up the bigger ones last. You can decide what is served first depending on the menu. Big wine with big food. In this case we had the Barolo with a lasagna dinner, the Rhone that was more Grenache-based just before, and the Napa Chardonnay first. The Super Tuscan came at the end of the meal and the Cognac came last.
One other note on the order of the wines. If you have an amazing wine to share consider serving it early on in the evening. I had “palate fatigue” and couldn’t taste the final Super Tuscan or enjoy the Cognac, and I may have missed out.
Lastly, encourage your guests to taste each wine before committing to a full glass. That way if it isn’t their “cup of tea” they can move onto something else that is. I like to have at least two bottles open at a time to give guests that option.
Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), a “certification in first globally-recognized course” as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), Level 1 Sake Award from WSET, was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video (over 16k views), authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Long Beach Grand Cru and the Global Wine Awards. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits.