Hosting a Dinner Party: How to Choose and Serve Your Wine

Image: Man Serving Champagne to Guests at Dinner Party

Wine is meant to be shared, and there’s no better place to do so than in your own home. Inviting your friends and business associates into your private inner sanctum to enjoy great wine, food and conversation is one of life’s great pleasures.

After you’ve sent the invitations, decided on the menu and polished up the silver, take these steps to select the wine you’ll serve and prepare your wine service for guests.

Image: Man Serving Champagne to Guests at Dinner Party

Select wines that have stories to tell

Start by looking at your menu and see what special wines you already have on hand to pair. Entertaining at home gives you a chance to break open some of those special occasion bottles you’ve been saving in your cellar.

Have some fun and mix things up a little. This is a terrific opportunity to introduce your guests to regions and varietals you appreciate but might be new to them. Did you discover a wonderful winery on your last vacation or a marvelous food and wine pairing at your favorite restaurant? Use these experiences for inspiration to make unique selections.

When you’re deciding what order to serve the wines, remember this tried and true system: white before red, dry before sweet, lighter-bodied before full-bodied.

If you’re short on time or need a few fresh ideas, your local wine shop should be your first stop. Take your menu and inventory from your cellar with you, and the staff will be happy to help offer pairing suggestions.

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Choose the appropriate glassware

Naturally, your dining table will be the centerpiece for your event. Your flatware and decoration — from your antique silver, to those retro or ultra-modern dishes, to your choice of china — will express your personality and good taste.

Remember your choice of glassware will also reflect your appreciation of the fine wines to be served.

Depending on the number of guests and size of your table, you may be able to present a complete array of glassware at each place setting. This would include a glass for each course or wine to be served and a water glass. Some manufacturers have specially designed stemware for each and every grape variety to enhance the flavor profile of that particular wine.

If you wish to simplify your place settings, follow these basic premises when choosing your glasses:

  • Smaller bowls suit lighter bodied, fruity white wines and light reds.
  • Larger bowls show red wines and bigger, oaked whites like Chardonnay to their best. Remember the bigger the wine, the bigger the bowl.
  • Sparkling wines may be served in flutes, but serving sparkling in white wine glasses is becoming more trendy.
  • Stemmed wine glasses are classic choice while stemless offer a more casual and modern aesthetic — but there’s no rule that says you can’t use both!
  • Always choose clear glass so your guests can appreciate the appearance of the wine. Save that pop of color for the water glasses. This is also where you can use your cut crystal.

But what to do if you simply don’t have the space for all those glasses?

In that situation, set the table with the water glass and your choices for the first few wines. Simply remove the used glassware and refresh the setting with the next glasses in your lineup.

Set up a wine service area on a small table or cart in the dining room. Just as a sommelier would, lay out all the glassware needed for the remainder of the meal as well as your decanters, corkscrews and other service paraphernalia. Professionals call this “mise-en-place” or “everything in place.” The presentation will look impressive and having your tools laid out at your fingertips will help your wine service run more smoothly.

Schott Zwiesel Champagne Coupes
Schott Zwiesel Champagne Coupes

Start the evening with sparkling

One wine style that should always be on your list is Champagne or another sparkling wine. There is nothing as festive and welcoming than being greeted with a chilled glass of bubbly upon arrival in someone’s home. Your go-to sparkling is always a good option. Or, try a Champagne from a small, independent grower (a trend-setting choice).

Be sure to set an extra bottle in the wine chiller so guests can have seconds. Leave an empty bottle on display as a conversation starter.

Refine your presentation

Which brings us to the serving of your wonderful wine selections. This is where you can really have fun!

Show your guests the bottle before you bring the wine to your service area to open. As you gently pour the wine through the aerating funnel and into your crystal decanter, talk about the wine – discuss why you chose it, how you discovered it and any other fun anecdotes.

Have coasters on the dining table to showcase the decanters (which will both look elegant and will protect your tablecloth from stains.) Don’t forget to display an empty bottle, too. Your guests will appreciate seeing the label of the wine they’re sipping!

Leave the heavy lifting up to a sommelier

If you would rather sit back and be a guest at your own soirée, consider hiring a sommelier for the evening. A professional wine expert can help you select the wines and ensure seamless service for your occasion. Find a local sommelier online, or ask your favorite wine merchant or restaurant maître d’ for their recommendations.

Wrap up the evening

After all your guests have gone home – happy and no doubt impressed – you may have leftover wine.

Use one of several preservation methods to keep that wine for later. Or, kick off your shoes, put your feet up and raise your glass in a toast to yourself. You’ve earned it!

Do you have any other tips for entertaining guests?

About the author: Hilarie Larson is a Certified Specialist of Wine, French Wine Scholar and Wine Educator who loves to write and teach about wine in all its many facets. She received the “2013 Emerging Writer Scholarship Award” from the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association. Visit Northwinds Wine Consulting to learn more about bringing the enjoyment of wine to your private or corporate event.