Every savvy host knows that almost half of their overall party budget will be directed to food and beverages and wine can be a significant part of that expense. Wine is not only expensive, it is intimidating. There are thousands of choices and so many new labels; it is easy to make a mistake or worry you are going to make a mistake when selecting wine and champagne for a large crowd. Even experienced party-givers and industry professionals are a little intimidated when it comes to selecting wine. I don’t pretend to be an expert in this area. I know a little, but I prefer to rely on the real experts to guide me. It’s their job to be up on the latest, best, and best priced wines in the market so I go to them for help. Any large wine seller will have an in-house expert. Give them a budget and they should be able to recommend several wines to meet your needs.
Here are the most questions I am most frequently asked about wine:
How much wine do I need for my party?
The basic rule of thumb for calculating consumption is 5 glasses per standard 750 milliliter bottle of wine. Many glasses are oversized but don’t be tempted to over-pour. Five ounces is considered the correct amount per glass no matter how large the glass.
Dinner Party: Estimate four glasses per guest for a four hour dinner party or about one glass per hour. For example, if you have ten guests for four hours, you’d serve forty glasses of wine which would be about 8 bottles. You’ll have to determine the ratio of white to red based on your menu and guest list. (Add 20% extra like the caterers do, especially if you have some heavy drinkers on your guest list.)
Cocktail Party: Estimate three glasses per guest every two hours. For example, if you have ten guests for 2 hours that would be thirty glasses of wine which would be six bottles of wine. Determine your ratio of white to red wine based on the time of year, the time of your party, your menu, and your guest list. Why? Because women will usually drink more white wine than red and men have a tendency to drink more red wine. In summer, typically more people will drink white wine than red. For a party in the afternoon, more people will drink white than red to keep things light. At an evening affair, red is almost always the more popular choice but that could vary depending on the menu. If your guests list includes more women than men and your party is on a summer afternoon, you’ll need a greater percentage of white wine than red. If your party is in the fall, most of your guests are men, and the guests arrive at seven in the evening, you’ll likely serve more red wine than white. Are you completely confused?
How much should I spend on wine for my party?
There are so many good wines available in every price range you can find something to serve that is easy to drink and easy on your pocket, too. I have no trouble finding good wines under $15 per bottle. A few good ones are listed below.
Do I need to rent or buy special glasses?
Anything goes, but if you are having a large party, renting glassware is an easy solution. You can mix and match, too, but that isn’t what wine snobs would tell you. For a large event, you aren’t likely serving high value wines so you don’t have to use the perfect wine glass. Champagne, however, is best served in a flute. Target, Pottery Barn, and Pier 1 all have boxed sets of affordable wine glasses that come in a sturdy box for storage. Buy several of these and you won’t have to worry about renting. I don’t like serving wine in plastic but will occasionally use it for the right occasion—like at the beach where glass is prohibited, for example.
What wines do you recommend?
Since wines are always changing, it is difficult to recommend one. It seems as if every time I go to my favorite wine store, I don’t recognize half of the brands on the shelves. I do have a few “go-to” favorites for different occasions. What I buy depends on the size of the crowd. For small, intimate gatherings, I tend to spend more per bottle than I do when there is a large crowd. Also, I will spend more on wine if the emphasis of the party is on the food. If we’re having a big party with lots of beverage options, I don’t spend a lot on the wine; I like to keep the price around $12 per bottle.
If I have a party coming up and want to be sure of what I’m buying, I will stop into Whole Foods or a wine shop where they have wine tastings to sample wines that will work for my event. They typically have a price break during these events so I try to stock up.