September 2, 2009
Even when hosting a wine dinner, you should start with the food! Create a menu featuring simple, delicious food that allows the flavors of the wine to be the star of the meal. It always works to stick to the basics, a fresh cut of meat with salt and pepper cooked on the grill, some roasted potatoes and fresh, seasonal veggies drizzled with good olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. I always look to my garden or the farmers market to inspire my menu choices.
If you have some special wine that you have been waiting to open for a particular occasion, then it is appropriate to build your menu around that wine. An additional approach is to create your menu around the wine’s region. If you are serving all French wine, why not serve all French food?
When shopping for wine, I recommend going to a wine shop with a knowledgeable staff and a diverse amount of small production wine. Grocery stores and wholesale stores offer a variety of recognizable labels, most are mass-produced wines, but aren’t all bad. Yet, think of how lovely it would be to greet your guests at the door with glass of superb small production champagne for less than what you would spend at Costco.
If you have access to a wine shop that carries some boutique wines (that doesn’t mean that they have to be expensive), chances are they will guide you to a wonderful selection. If you’re unfamiliar with what wines you like to drink it is always a good idea to ask a knowledgeable staff person for a suggestion. I will share my menu and see if they can guide me to some reasonable recommendations. Many times, they suggested a great wine that ended up being under my budgeted costs.
It can be intimidating to know which wine glasses to use with different wines. Remember that a bigger glass is always the most versatile. If you would like to invest in some nice wine glasses like a Reidel or Spiegelau and you are on a budget, get the burgundy glass or an all-purpose. You can use that size for whites, reds and even champagne. I was pleased to find that you can purchase a set of 4 crystal burgundy Spiegelau glasses for just $50 on amazon.com.
For pouring a glass of wine, fill the glass a quarter to a third of the way full, or about 3 to 4 oz.. A fun bit of trivia- a burgundy glass holds 24 oz. and a standard bottle of wine is 25 oz.- so you can do the math! We have a joke in our house about “twelve o’ clocking” the bottle or turning it perpendicular to the glass so it all goes in one…you don’t want to do that! You want your guests to discover and enjoy the various wines throughout the night – you don’t want to get them bombed on the first glass!
When setting the table you should aim for a clean look and feel. The wine and the food should be the focus. This does not mean that the table should not be beautiful, but rather simple and understated. Set the table with textures and colors that follow the overall mood of the dinner.
In choosing flowers for a wine focused dinner, smaller “satellite” arrangements work best. You will have a lot of different wine glasses on the table, so you don’t want to clutter your table. Be sure to choose flowers that are not too fragrant. The scent of the flowers will interfere with the taste of the wine and the food.
When dressing the table for any meal, you want to be sure the flowers are not too tall. A little rule that helps me is that if you put your elbow on the table and hold up a fist, the flowers should not be taller than the tip of your knuckles.
The best part of hosting a wine dinner is when you sit down to the table, laden with great food and outstanding wine, surrounded by friends and let your senses take over- pure enjoyment. Be forewarned- your guests will soon be hinting for another invitation!