Thanksgiving is in sight. Christmas and New Year’s are not far behind. Gifts and parties are an important part of the mix. Both are certain to involve wine, wine for guests, wine for hosts, wine for parties. What’s one to do!
My first inquiry came early this holiday season. A friend asked me to select “roughly a hundred dollars worth of wine” for a small birthday party he was planning. “About a dozen people. Like me, they don’t know much about wine, so I suggest some red, some white, some sweet, you know, whatever you think.”
The initial dilemma is whether to point out something you’re reasonably sure they will like or should you attempt to elevate their tastes somewhat. That dilemma doesn’t last long. It”s a party after all. They want to have fun. Let the host pull a few corks, and his guests can choose red, white, or sweet as they wish. I pointed him in the direction of some Beaujolais, some Sauvignon Blanc, and some Johannisberg Riesling, suggesting two bottles of the red, three of the dry white, and four of the sweeter Riesling, each bottle running between $10 and $12. Afterward he reported, to my relief, that his friends “loved the wines, especially the Riesling.”
I was lucky. He and his guests were happy. Recommending wine for a party of people about whom you know little is a troublesome task. (That’s why I am always a bit reluctant to write about specific wines in these columns unless I’m sure to define the character of them sufficiently enough to help a follower know what to expect from the description.)
No matter how festive, a party is never a place for showing off your best bottles. Nor is it a place for passing off wines of little character and even less cost. Parties should be fun, so the wine should be pleasant. Because palates vary widely, a host should present just what my friend asked for: some red, some white, some on the sweet side. Not too sweet — those sugars can lead to a heavy head if not sipped with discretion. Fruity wines of moderate alcoholic strength work best, such as those mentioned above. Heavier Rhone wines, Cabernets,and most Chardonnays don’t lend themselves to evening-long sipping as well as lighter wines.
Soon you and I will be asked about suitable wines for Thanksgiving, for the end-of-year dinner parties, the celebratory Champagnes and sparkling wines. At least I can make my thoughts known impersonally in these columns, which is much easier than standing face-to-face with an earnest entreater hoping for some very special advice. Happy November!