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Entertaining With Wine
© by Linwood Slayton
I have been a long-time advocate of wine, women and song - basic pursuits of happiness in these troubled times. As I mature, I am reminded that wine and women are similar if only because what is important is not quantity but quality.

As for song, well, suffice it to say that music soothes the savage beast in us.

An evening of entertainment at your home should involve good food, good wine, good people, good music and stimulating interaction among your guests. You, the host, have a responsibility to ensure that all of the requisite ingredients are present and that one ingredient does not overshadow the others.

I have attended many social gatherings at elegant homes and have been hosted by the best. However, it never ceases to amaze me when the party lacks "good wine". Yes, I agree that some people are simply not "into" wine and have no knowledge about wine. Does it not make sense that a host should consult a friend who does know about wine if he does not? Of course it does. Just as a host who knows he is a poor cook decides to have the party catered and serves delicious food, he should also "cater" the wine selections if this is not within his sphere of knowledge and ability.

Even those of us who have a fair working knowledge of wine could be well served by seeking expert advice on what wines to serve with a particular array of food and desserts. If you don't know- you'd better ask somebody!

Allow me to share a few basic thoughts and observations on entertaining with wine.

Many non-drinkers face the intimidating challenge of entertaining guests who do drink and enjoy wine. Questions of what wine to serve with what food, how much wine is enough and whether you should offer guests a choice of wine are but a few of the challenges.

When entertaining guests for dinner, it is customary to offer a before dinner wine - aperitif. Typically, this is a simple white wine (can and should be inexpensive but tasty and pleasant) as you don't want this wine to be your best offering. Whether you serve hors d'oeuvres or not, you should offer your guests a drink when they arrive and white wine is the usual choice. This is not the wine with which you want to impress your guests or dazzle them with the quality since you want them to mingle, talk and focus on the people - not the wine.

Some prefer to serve Champagne at this time in lieu of white wine because the opening of a bottle of Champagne is a ceremony that brings together everyone in the group and honors your guests. A glass of Champagne is compelling enough and guests typically unerstand that Champagne is too special to ignore. Unlike many white wines, Champagne stands alone without food.

Which wines should be served? The most important considerations here are (1) whether the wine you serve is ready to drink and (2) whether the wine is compatible with the food. It matters not that you have a 95 rated wine that costs $75 per bottle if the wine needs to be aged 3 more years to be at its best.

There are no hard and fast rules regarding pairing wines with food. Personal tastes vary significantly here. However, one should know what has customarily worked over the years as there is no reason to re- invent the wheel. Classic pairings are just good information to have at your disposal. Here are a few:

  • Oysters and Chablis
  • Lamb and red Bordeaux ( or Chianti)
  • Port with walnuts and Stilton cheese
  • Salmon with Pinot Noir
  • Braised beef with Barolo (Italian red)
  • Beef or steak with red Burgudy or Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Lobster with Chardonnay
  • Grilled chicken with Beaujolais
  • Chocolate with Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Gumbo or other spicy dishes with Zinfandel

Again, these are suggestions at best and represent what others have found likeable. You should begin to learn what you and your friends like and expand upon your own personal experience.

A safe alternative is always to offer two choices with your meals. This allows those who have very strong likes and dislikes to avoid their dislikes.

How much wine should you buy? If you plan to serve several different bottles with different courses, you will need to buy fewer bottles of each type. However, a general rule of thumb is that you should have one bottle of wine per guest. While this may sound like it is too much, if you are serving a lot of food spread over several hours, it won't be too much. It is far better to have too much than too little. Besides, all that your guests don't consume is more for you. As a final note, be sure that you have different glasses for each different type of wine. It is not good to expect your guests to drink Chardonnay out of the same glass from which they drank Cabernet Sauvignon- if nothing else, be sure that the glass is rinsed and the red traces are gone before you pour the white.

Do yourself a favor this week and buy a new bottle of wine and really think about it as you drink it. If you like it, decide what you like about it and why. Then buy a similar bottle and compare. This is the way you develop your personal taste.

A toast:

Champagne to my real friends - real pain to my sham friends!

July 28, 2001

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