With holidays around the corner, and if you love to entertain, your front door may be a revolving one. Whether it’s a planned dinner party, Thanksgiving or a surprise visit from family, I’ll discuss wines to have on hand to please the crowd and are versatile enough to pair with any food.
It’s all about the planning and being prepared so you can enjoy the party as well! Whether you think about the food first or the booze, it’s easy to build off the other to make your party come together.
First off, how much wine will you need for your dinner party?
Great question, it depends on how many wines you are serving and the total headcount. Use the calculation of one bottle = 5 glasses. If you are serving 3 wines like what we’re tasting today for a group of 8 people, you will need 2 bottles of each wine. Each bottle will yield 5 glasses for a total of 10 glasses per wine. Scale this up to as many different wines and however many people.
Keep in mind people’s preferences like do more of your family and friends prefer red wine? You may want to double up on those instead of the whites. Are they heavy drinkers like my friends? Keep that in mind too!
Pro-tip: purchase by the case. You’ll get a decent discount from the store and you know you’ll have plenty on hand. Don’t worry, I’m sure by the end of the holiday season, any leftovers (if you’re lucky to have any) will be gone.
Having more of a pot-luck style dinner party? It’s ok to ask for people to bring a bottle. More times than not, guests ask what can they bring and most hosts will be respond with “oh, don’t worry, whatever…” but it’s ok to say bring a bottle of Pinot Noir, it will pair perfectly with our main course. Guests will be likely to oblige and it helps cut your cost!
So you’ve got the amount of wine to buy but WHAT wines?
Chances are you'll have a group at your Thanksgiving table whose tastes and wine savvy span a wide range. But choosing wine for such a diverse gathering shouldn't be a brain-twister.
I'll focus on 3 different styles of wine; a sparkling, a white and a red.
I believe every party, event, dinner should start with a sparkler! It’s a great welcome to the party and pairs with almost any appetizer. seafood, veggie, dips, spreads, cheese, meats,whether it’s crunchy, soft, salty it literally pairs well with anything, or heck, just drink it alone!
The one that everyone equates to bubbles first is Champagne. Champagne can only be produced in the Champagne region in France. 3 classifications of Champagne - Prestige Cuvee, Blanc de Noirs, Blanc de Blanc. Prestige Cuvee is just like it sounds, from the high end producers. Blanc de Noirs literally means”white from black” so the juice is from black (or red) grapes like Pinot Noir. Blanc de Blanc is only made from Chardonnay grapes.
Looking for a less expensive sparkling option?
There’s also cava from Spain. Cavas can be made from white or red grapes but must be made champenoise traditional method, all others must be labeled sparkling wine. Like Champagne there are various levels of sweetness from brut to sem-sec to dolcsec, being the sweetest.
Prosecco from Italy is a dry sparkling wine that is also budget friendly. It’s made in the charmat method which means it’s second fermentation occurs in stainless steel, helping with the cost of production.
Serve any sparkling wine in a flute. The reason for this is the narrow bowl naturally helps the wine keep it’s carbonation by reducing the surface area and it’s tall to show it’s dramatic bubbling effect. Serve sparkling wine at 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
So what makes this wine perfect for a dinner party or Thanksgiving? The high acid helps in pairing it with various foods or appetizers. Like stated before, it’s a great way to welcome your guests over conversation and light appetizers. Or save it for the end! It will also pair with dessert.
Riesling is a common wine to serve with the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Dry Rieslings have high acidity which again helps when pairing it with foods.
Now before you say anything, not all rieslings are syrupy sweet. There are actually some elegant, flavorful, dry rieslings that shouldn’t be overlooked. Most commonly, you find rieslings from Germany. But you can find a great selection from France, Washington State and New York.
What makes this a great Thanksgiving wine?
With Riesling, there's a wider range of style than in any other grape. Thanksgiving dinner can be so heavy - you need something moderate to light in alcohol, with high acidity to balance all that richness, plus a touch of sweetness to go with the sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce.
Proper glassware for serving white wine is the tulip glass. Only fill the glass ⅔ of the way so it allows guests to swirl and sniff without spilling. Always serve white wine between 40-50 degrees.
Be careful not to chill it too far, really cold wine hides the aromas and distorts the palate.
The most popular wine to serve with Thanksgiving dinner has to be Pinot Noir. Again, the common theme of being food-friendly is what makes this wine a great choice. There are so many different flavors on a Thanksgiving table. Pinot noir is also a crowd-pleaser because it’s not too tannic, light-bodied yet full of flavor with a smooth, long lasting palate.
Pinot’s can be found all over the price spectrum. I would stay away from the really cheap ones, under $10, as they tend to be more sweet and over-oaked. However, you can find some great Pinot’s in the $20-30 range. Some of my favorites are Mira Winery Pinot Noir and Barrique Cellars Pinot Noir.
Serve red wine in a large bowl glass. Larger glasses help the wine to breath and release all of it’s aromas. Serve red wine at 55 degrees to room temperature.
Pouring a larger, more tannic red wine? Be sure to decant before the dinner party to allow it to open up before guests sit down for dinner. This usually takes about an hour in a standard decanter and it also provides for an elegant presentation.
Serving dessert? It’s always a good idea to end on a high note by serving a great dessert wine. Examples are Sauternes from France, port from Portugal, ice wine from Canada or sherry from Spain. They are usually in half-bottles as you only need a small pour for each guest. These dessert wines are on the higher price point but it will send your guests home raving!
It’s always mandatory to offer something non-alcoholic, whether it be a fun, creative mocktail, or something as simple as tea. Of course you should place water glasses at each place setting as well.
The Perfect mix - these are great wines to serve for a crowd and your thanksgiving dinner but never underestimate people’s palates by buying a mixed case, you’ll be ready for whatever the holiday season throws at you!
Intimidated by not aceing the food/wine pairings? Visit your local wine shop for advice. They are always more than happy to assist if you tell them what you’ll be serving. Also ask about quantity discounts!
Short on fridge space during your dinner party? Use ice buckets to keep the white and sparkling wine chilled. Or better yet come up with a crafty, theme-focused bucket to use like a hallowed out pumpkin for Thanksgiving!
Also, if your guests bring a white wine to serve with dinner but it isn’t chilled, don’t fret. Use an ice bucket and fill with some ice and water for a speedy 20 min chill. Using water increases the surface area so it will chill faster than just using ice.
Gasp, a guest brought a screwtop bottle! Here’s a myth debunked...screwtop doesn’t equate to quality. And actually a lot of higher quality wines are moving to the closure to reduce cost and also cork taint, a common problem with using corks that ruins the wine inside. You will see this more commonly in New World wines.
Speaking of which, when serving wine for the crowd, as a host, please open the bottle and sample in a discrete location to ensure you are not serving spoiled or bad wine. There’s nothing worse than planning a great evening to have it be spoiled by not sampling the wine first.
The first sign of spoiled wine will be the nose. Does it smell like a musty basement or a little off? It may have not been stored properly or it could be that dreaded cork taint. Another good reason to have extra bottles on hand! But don’t throw the corked bottle out, most wine stores will take a corked bottle back and give you a replacement if it is indeed corked.
BEST TIP OF ALL:
Drink and serve what you like. It’s your party you can serve what you want to! Serving wine at dinner parties and holidays can become stuffy and if that’s the way you like it, then great but if your family and friends are more casual, don’t feel intimidated. Having dinner together is what matters most!
Cheers to all and have a Happy Thanksgiving!