Don’t save a great bottle for anything more than a rainy day. One of the great fallacies of wine is that waiting makes it better. No doubt, there are many wines that get drunk too young, and patience can be a virtue when it comes to the most important wines. But even most top wines today can be enjoyed relatively young.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t collect and age wines if that’s your interest. But too often many of us keep wines around longer than we should, either because we’re waiting for just the right moment or because we forget that we’re saving it (stored away in a cellar or library). That, of course, can be a good and happy mistake if you find something that’s been unintentionally aged and is still good.
Nothing will give more pleasure than opening a great bottle with people you like and enjoying the fact it has been saved for that moment or occasion, even if you really didn’t save it for that moment in time. So, don’t horde those special bottles – open them, enjoy them, and buy more – because there’s always more like it.
Always be prepared for that instant party. Keep a few bottles on hand at all times, preferably one white (something versatile like an unoaked Chardonnay, Verdicchio, or lighter Pinot Gris/Grigio), one red (something light-bodied, like Pinot Noir or good Beaujolais/Gamay), and one sparkling (something light and fruity like Prosecco). If you don’t have the space, make sure you keep a bottle of the fizzy stuff in the fridge since it requires extensive chilling. All other bottles should be stored slightly below room temp. Nothing I dislike more than a red that is too warm. If you decide to serve a full-bodied white, don't over-chill. Take out of fridge 15-20 mins before serving. Light whites, roses (a little less), and sweet whites should be well chilled.
If it’s a dinner party, make sure red, white, rose, and sparkling are represented so your guests have options. Depending on what you’re serving, time of year, occasion, weather, and guests’ preferences, if known, lean more heavily on one style, i.e. white/rose for summer, red for winter. If you start with a cocktail hour or it’s a cocktail party, add a couple extra bottles of sparkling wine. Sparkling goes with everything, well liked, preferred opener, and perfect for any occasion. Try to avoid an aromatic white (not a good opener). Buy extra if it’s in the budget (you don’t want to run out of guests’ favorite bottle) because you can drink what’s left.
How much wine? How many friends are wine drinkers? What type of party are you having? In general, plan that every guest will drink at least two glasses of wine. A bottle contains five glasses at 5 oz each, but since it’s your party and not a restaurant, expect 4 glasses from each bottle. Rule of thumb – one bottle per two guests, then add at least one more bottle to make sure you don’t run out, four guests = three bottles, eight guests = five bottles, and so on.
Don’t be the guest who brings the cheap stuff. But that doesn’t mean you have to splurge. How much should you spend? Think of the cost of buying the host dinner at a nice restaurant, nothing extravagant or too high priced. Remember expensive doesn’t equal great or special. Sometimes you can get a lovely bottle between $15-$20 that makes for a perfect house gift. Choose something that shows you gave it some thought and try to find out your hostess/host’s taste. Thoughtfulness outweighs the price tag.
Don’t assume your bottle will get opened. As a host/hostess, it’s polite to open and serve any bottles your guests bring with them to the party or ask them if they would like it opened or saved. In my experience, most guests will not expect their bottle to be opened. It is a pleasant surprise when it is. If the bottle is specifically meant for that night, open it before you leave and say it needed decanting or aerated, which maybe it does, and some whites too. If the message isn’t understood, ask “I was thinking of bringing over a special bottle to go with dinner (if you knew what was being served). But I wanted to check since you may already picked out a bottle for us to drink for dinner.
Use glassware to match the party. Don’t serve wine in SOLO cups. They are meant for beer. If you don’t want to break the bank or outside party, buy plastic stem or stemless cups (Govino has some nice ones), especially if the party is casual. If you entertain a lot, then invest in dishwasher safe stemmed glasses or stemless (if you have rowdy friends) for your parties. Not necessary to serve distinct red and white wine glasses unless a formal party or you are serving older vintages of reds or reds/whites that require aeration/decanting (see my decanting post on the blog).
Michael Troy Nagy
Wine Educator/Wine Steward/Blogger
WSET Level 3 Advanced Certification