Choosing wine for a party

Party time is here again but whereas, I suspect, you spend hours planning the food, drink probably doesn’t get much of a look-in until the last minute. A bit of forethought, however can not only mean you drink more appropriately - bearing in mind parties are hot, thirsty events - but save you money into the bargain.

What type of wine to buy depends on the type of event you’re hosting whether it’s an informal get together for family and neighbours, a buffet or a hot sit-down supper. Obviously it depends on the type of food you’re serving too but here’s a general guide to cover most occasions.

Drinks and nibbles
Personally I think it’s hard to beat fizz for a drinks party, even an informal one and with so many excellent inexpensive sparklers on the market it doesn’t have to break the bank. Cava is the obvious choice, especially if you’re serving fizz-based cocktails but there are also good inexpensive sparklers from Australia, New Zealand, not to mention the terminally trendy Pinot Grigio, now available in sparkling form.

To make a cut price ‘champagne’ cocktail put a sugar lump in each glass and pour over a few drops of Angostura bitters. Add a splash (about a dessertspoon) of brandy and top up with well-chilled sparkling wine (I suggest Cava), tilting the glass towards the bottle as you pour.

A cold buffet
Cold food needs lighter, fruitier wines than hot food. In fact it suits the sort of wines you’d take on a picnic - light fruity reds and rosés and crisp whites - all served cool.

Sauvignon Blanc pips chardonnay as the fashionable party white this winter (although an unoaked or lightly oaked chardonnay is always a reliable crowd-pleaser). You might also add a few bottles of Australian riesling for more adventurous guests or those who prefer an off-dry white.

The red that suits a cold spread best - particularly if it contains chicken or salmon - is a fruity pinot noir. The only downside is that they can be expensive but you can find some well-priced examples from Chile and California. And roés - once only drunk in summer - is a great all-rounder. Southern French rosés from the Languedoc or the Rhone offer particularly good value.

A hot supper
Hot food generally needs more full-bodied wines than cold food (though if you’re serving something creamy like a fish or chicken pie you could get away with a lighter white). In general you want a wine that can stand up to strong flavours but which isn’t too high in alcohol - quite a big ask when so many wines are hitting the 14-14.5% ABV mark. Southern French and Spanish reds tend to be quite reasonable as do cheaper Chilean reds but check out the label to make sure you’re not serving a 15% blockbuster. And have plenty of water available so that guests can have an occasional glass if they choose.

How much to buy
The more choice you offer the more you’ll spend so I generally buy no more than 3 different wines for a party. As a general rule I work on the basis of half to two thirds of a bottle per person in total depending how long the party is. (A standard bottle of wine contains six small 125ml glasses) However you know your friends better than I do! If in doubt order a bit more - you can buy wine on a sale or return basis from most retailers.

Keeping cool
With the fridge full to bursting at this time of year the main problem with parties is getting and keeping wine cool. Try and store your bottles in a cold place for a start (though not a freezing one. Beware of the garage if temperatures are sub-zero). The best way to chill bottles for a crowd is to put them in large buckets of iced water - ice and water chill faster than ice alone.

Got other ideas? Do email your favourite pairings to us at greatmatches@matchingfoodandwine.com. To subscribe to our free monthly newsletter and be eligible to enter our fabulous prize draws click here or to get notice of posts as soon as they're published click here.

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