by Rick Riozza
There’s the old adage that a bottle of wine at dinner works great for a couple enjoying three glasses apiece, or, if three people are dining together, it’s two glasses each. Wine for a large dinner party is something else altogether. With the holiday season well upon us, even those people who don’t realize they give dinner parties do—they’re called holiday family dinners. And, frankly, no one really knows how much Uncle John will be drinking this year.
Wine enjoyment is ever increasing as many families are now providing wine at their holiday gatherings, and, often there is a considerable amount of time trying to decide which wine to buy. The answer is easy: don’t be that concerned. It doesn’t matter much what wine you serve as long as there’s plenty of it; and it’s not too sweet! —we’ll save that for dessert.
As mentioned in my last column, German Riesling Kabinett QBA wines, with their fresh, tart, apple flavors, along with a tinge of sweetness and a well-balanced refreshing acidity, compliment wonderfully holiday fare. And the new dry Rosés just out—even those which are a touch sweet are quite often very good. Ask the wine clerk or your merchant what they’re carrying.
The current rage is a medium bodied Pinot Noir that seems to go great with everything. Predominant flavors of berry (raspberry/strawberry), black cherry, cinnamon, and a smidge of mint are to be enjoyed. See my next article on this wine.
Actually—the type of wine is not your biggest concern, it’s the quantity. People new to wine, still associate it with spirits, which is poured sparingly. However if you have 12 people over and bought only 3 bottles of wine, each person will not get more than a full glass of wine during dinner. Problematic.
I’m aware there is an ethical consideration: Is it right to pour so much wine down the throats of your guests—even if they are relatives! Wine is meant to be drunk. And of course there are drunkards who drink wine. And it’s no longer politically correct to joke about alcoholism unless you’re a comic at the Improv! Reservations about alcohol content are understandable.
Theologians have it correct: “The healthy man drinks to celebrate life and to remember God; the unhealthy one, however, drinks to forget.”
But the reason wine has been civilized man’s favorite beverage since the dawn of time is the fact that moderate wine drinking doesn’t make one drunk. Those who enjoy a bottle or two of wine over the course of a full course meal invariably are in far better shape than those who enjoy three Martinis during lunch.
One of the wonderful qualities of wine is that the alcohol content of our table wine is well balanced by the pace at which we eat and the amount we eat. Food & wine is always a team.
In part, the hesitancy to buy a lot of wine for dinner is based on economics. The classic 4 liter jug, (my favorite being Galleano Winery Zinfandel ) or the new and improved boxed wine is the remedy here. If you remember back to the fun family holiday gatherings, your favorite ones are where the wine—whatever it was—flowed freely. With all the good wine being made these days, so much of it does make it into the big containers. Almaden and Big House Box wines are value-priced and fairly decent.
Funny—but there are still a few boorish types who may turn their noses up at less expensive wines. Most often they’ll only chime in if they see the bottle or read the label: they won’t risk an ego slam if the wine they comment on turns out to be reputable. I’ve never met a true wine lover who does not get immense pleasure from simply drinking a decent table wine with good company.
If you are serving a jug or a boxed wine, pick up two or three inexpensive decanters, fill them and keep them in the fridge 20 minutes before the meal. I favor filling up old stylish wine bottles—always gives the dinner table a festive look. Don’t make excuses for what you serve. Most guests will be looking to you for a cue before talking about the wine; generally speaking, if you think it’s good, so will they.
Great wines are meant to be shared with a few friends who really appreciate them. In such instances, the wine is central to the gathering. At holiday dinner parties, unless almost everyone is an absolute wine enthusiast, wine is poured to enhance the gathering, not dominate it. There is no need to bring out great bottles—although it’s a real treat to do so once in a while.
My advice is to provide an excellent dessert wine such as a Hungarian Tokaji [tohk-EYE-ee], a Vintage Port, a Bordeaux Sauternes, or a Southern French Banyuls. With the proper smaller pour, everyone around the table can be served from only one bottle, and, everyone is happy to be included in the sweet finish to the meal.
With all that said, the most important thing to bring to the table, of course, is a grateful & humble heart.
Happy Holidays! Cheers!
Rick continues to host & entertain at business & private wine events and tastings. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org