When you’re hosting a dinner party, you’ll probably serve more wines than you would in the course of a normal dinner. Instead of just one wine all through the meal, you might want to serve a different wine with every course. Many people serve a white with the first course and a red with the entrée (and if they love wine, they’ll use a cheese course as an excuse to serve a second, knockout red).
Because you want every wine to taste even better than the one before it — besides blending nicely with the food you’re serving — you should give some thought to the sequence in which the wines will be served.
For example, a very light red wine served before a rich, full-bodied white can work just fine. If the food you’re serving calls for only white wine, there’s really no reason that both wines couldn’t be white: a simpler, lighter white first and a richer, fuller-bodied white second. Likewise, both wines could be red, or you could serve a dry rosé followed by a red.
First things first
Even if you don’t plan to serve hors d’oeuvres, you’ll probably want to offer your guests a drink when they arrive, to set a relaxing tone for the evening. White wine is the usual choice.
But we prefer to serve Champagne as the apéritif because opening the bottle of Champagne is a ceremony that brings together everyone in the group. And, unlike some white wines, Champagne stands alone just fine, without food.
How much is enough
The necessary quantity of each wine depends on all sorts of issues:
- The number of wines being served (if there are several, you’ll need less of each)
- The pace of service (if you plan a long, leisurely meal, you’ll need more of each wine)
- The size of your wine glasses; if you’re using oversized glasses, you need more of each wine, because you’ll probably pour more than you realize into each glass.
Assuming a full-blown dinner that includes an apéritif wine, two wines with dinner, and another with cheese — and guests who all drink moderately — we recommend that you plan to have one bottle of each wine for every four people. That gives each person four ounces of each wine, with plenty left over in the 25-ounce bottle for refills.
One simpler rule of thumb is to figure, in total, a full bottle of wine per guest (total consumption). That quantity might sound high, but if your dinner is spread over several hours and you’re serving a lot of food, it really isn’t immoderate. If you’re concerned that your guests might overindulge, be sure that their water glasses are always full so that they have an alternative to automatically reaching for the wine.
If your dinner party is special enough to have several food courses and several wines, we recommend giving each guest a separate glass for each wine. All those glasses really look festive on the table. And with a separate glass for each wine, no guest feels compelled to empty each glass before going on to the next wine. (You also can tell at a glance who is drinking the wine and who isn’t really interested in it, and you can adjust your pouring accordingly.)
Does It Really Matter Which Glass You Use?
If you are just drinking wine as refreshment with your meal and you are not thinking about the wine much as it goes down, the glass you use probably doesn’t matter in the least. A jelly glass? Why not? Plastic glasses? We’ve used them dozens of times for picnics and other outdoor events.
But if you have a good wine, a special occasion, friends who want to talk about the wine with you, or the boss for dinner, stemware is called for. And it’s not just a question of etiquette and status: Good wine will taste better out of good glasses. Really.
Compare wine glasses to stereo speakers. Any old speaker brings the music to your ears, just like any old glass brings the wine to your lips. But can’t you appreciate the sound so much more from good speakers? The same principle holds true with wine and wine glasses. You can appreciate wine’s aroma and flavor complexities so much more out of a fine wine glass. The medium is the message.
Serving Temperatures for Wines
We serve white wines cool, but not ice-cold—somewhere around 55°F. The same for rosé and blush wines. Really fine, complexly-flavored white wines, such as white Burgundies, are best at around 58° to 60°F. Sometimes restaurants serve white wines too cold, and we actually have to wait a while for the wine to warm up before we drink it. If you like your wine cold, fine; but try drinking your favorite white wine a little less cold, and we bet you’ll discover it has more flavor that way.
One sure way to spoil the fun in drinking most red wines is to drink them too cold. Their tannins (substances that come from the skins of red grapes) can taste really bitter when the wine is cold—just like in a cold cup of very strong tea. If the bottle feels cool to your hand, that’s a good temperature (somewhere in the 62° to 65°F. range). Never serve red wines at warm temperatures—68°F and above. They’ll taste flat, flabby, lifeless, and too hot (from the alcohol).
Champagnes and other sparkling wines are at their best when served cold—about 45° to 48°F. Twenty minutes in an ice bucket or three hours in the fridge will do the trick.
by Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan MW
* Excerpted from Wines for Dummies
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