Recently I hosted a local wine club that has been running for more than 22 years. It is a small, intimate bunch, but their engagement around all things wine is something to be admired.
There are people there with excellent wine knowledge and there are some that I'm sure just enjoy the social aspect of the whole thing. But they are all polite, they listen to what is being said and they ask great questions without fear of reprise from their peers - and this particular evening was no different - except for one question. I was asked, "Josh - if we all came to your house for dinner what would you serve us?" To me, this was a double-sided question - of course they wanted to know what wines I might serve them out of my cellar, but I'm sure they were also after how to host the perfect dinner party.
Before we kick off, I just want to clarify one point: a dinner party does not have to be this fancy-pants event that only those highly-capable in the world of food and wine can host. A simple dinner with your friends can be a great dinner party if a little bit of preparation and thought go on behind-the-scenes. Don't become overwhelmed with what your friends do and don't like, or "what if Shelly doesn't like red wine?" - this is YOUR dinner party so do it YOUR way!
Think about what you would like to serve as your main meal and use this as the anchor. The whole food aspect can be built around this. If it is simply a one dish dinner, then that's fine. If you would like to serve canapés and entrées, then think about the path that your guests will travel when eating your food. Start really light and progressively work your way to the main dish.
An example could be scallops for canapés, chicken for entrée and beef, pork or venison for a main. If you are not interested in doing elaborate canapés and entrees, something for your guests to eat before the main meal would always be advisable, try pâté or charcuterie.
Now that you have decided on a menu, it's time to think about the wine, and for some this will be the most daunting aspect of the whole event. What I like to do here is match wines dependant on the texture and weight of the food - scallops, which are light and fine in flavour, will not go well with a gutsy red wine; venison, which is quite gamey, will not pair well with a light white wine. Chances are, you are not going to cook something you have never eaten before, so trust your instinct - I guarantee you will get it right and remember, this is your dinner party!
With the hard work done, it's time to think about how it will all come together so that your friends leave jealous about what a sublime host you were. Make sure you put a lot of effort into the start of your dinner; this will set the tone for what is to come.
Start your guests with a Riesling on arrival, show them that you are serious about the dinner party by this big, bold statement. Yes bubbles have always been a great place to start, and would work absolutely fine, but this is what everyone does so I suggest you dare to be different and reap the rewards! A dry Riesling is a sound bet. Crisp and refreshing, it will cleanse the palate of your guests in preparation for what is to follow. Te Whare Ra Dry Riesling ($25.99) would be my pick - this wine is hand-crafted and one of the finest examples on offer.
Pour 100mls of Riesling into the biggest wine glasses you have as your guests arrive. If you are short of glassware, head down to your local Liquor King and hire some. Good glasses make a huge difference. Once all of the guests have arrived then either serve the canapés, or bring out the charcuterie for people to help themselves. Move on to your next wine.
If you are using charcuterie, move to another crisp white wine like Pinot Gris - the slight oiliness of this varietal will pair well with the fat content in cured meats. Huntaway Pinot Gris ($24.99) is very textural in the mouth and would be an ideal match. If you are serving canapés then use the wine you have selected as a match.
Start by pouring 100mls of each wine to your guests - if they require more, you can top them up with another 50mls as required. If you are moving to an entrée next, pour the wine moments before you serve. If you serve your wines too early then you run the risk of your guests consuming it all before the entrée even makes it to the table - so timing is everything.
For the main event - the dish that you based your whole dinner party on - get it to the table, then pour the wine. 100mls would be more than enough for this.
From here it could be dessert (and if you have been following my previous blogs, you will know my thoughts on this one) - alternatively, a cheese board would finish the meal off nicely. For those of you that go the way of dessert, try a bubbles. You could use anything from Riccadonna Asti ($19.99), Lindauer Brut ($15.99), Te Hana Sparkling ($19.99) or, for those that like to splash out - Daniel Le Brun ($26.99).
With a cheese board, Croft Tawny Port ($39.99) would be a great way to finish the evening. The reason why I prefer to use Port is because with some people, red wine and blue cheese can leave a metallic taste in the mouth and let's be honest, no one wants that!
So to summarise:
Plan your dinner party around your main course
Use charcuterie if you don't want to do an entrée
Ensure you have good glassware
Start with a good dry Riesling like Te Whare Ra ($25.99)
Accommodate 100-150mls for each guest per wine
Pour your wines just before you serve your food or you may run the risk of running out
With dessert, finish with bubbles; with cheese, finish with a Croft Tawny Port ($39.99)
Take appropriate steps to get your guests home safely.
Most importantly, HAVE FUN!