Choosing wines for Christmas entertaining ought to be fun and there's plenty of choice on The Society's List and even more on our website, but why leave anything to chance? Party planning, like food and wine matching, is more art than science, and is something The Society has perfected over the years, so you may find the tips below useful.
When it comes to finding the right wines for specific dishes, The Society's Food & Wine Matcher has the answers.
Top 10 Tips
- 1. Round up, not down
- 2. Brace yourself for the rush: more drinks tend to be consumed at the beginning of a party, so allow 2-3 drinks per guest for the first hour, after which things tend to slow down considerably (1-2 drinks per hour)
- 3. Don't forget soft drinks and water
- 4. Make sure you have plenty of ice
- 5. Allow for more than one glass per guest to cover losses, breakages and other mishaps
- 6. For wine, work on a ratio of 60% red to 40% white (though you will know your guests best!)
- 7. Remove capsules and corks as you need to, rather than opening everything in advance. You may want to take advantage of The Society's sale or return option. Similarly, keep back-up bottles in the fridge rather than in ice baths, which will dislodge labels
- 8. Think about whether you will need dessert wines and digestifs
- 9. If you're serving lots of different canapés, go for good all-rounders -avoid bone-dry whites or very tannic reds, for example
- 10. Relax and enjoy yourself! A chilled host, with plenty of wine to match, is the key to a good party
How much wine will I need?
A question that immediately spawns several others, so it pays to have a very clear view of your event. For example, is it a drinks party with canapés or a buffet supper with wine? How many of your guests are light drinkers or drivers? Do you envisage offering beer and spirits as well as wine? How many different wines would you like to serve? How long will the party last? Will there be dancing, and other distractions which could reduce consumption?
All of the above impact on the drinks order, so, having digested the above, consider the following:
The average guest will consume about one to two drinks per hour, though it is advisable to order slightly more than you think you will need for the sake of caution.For the first hour of the party, throughput will be more brisk, and you should allow for that.
- One 75cl bottle of table wine yields six generous glasses with food.
- One 75cl bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine yields six generous aperitif measures, or eight measures for a toast.
- One 75cl bottle of dessert or sweet wine yields ten generous measures.
The exception to the rule is vintage port, which throws a sediment, meaning that some of the volume will be lost. This varies, but a safe assumption is that one 75cl bottle will yield eight measures.
Every party is different, but if working to a typical scenario of an aperitif hour followed by sit-down meal, we recommend working to the following quantities:
Allow two and a half glasses per guest of the aperitif wine, as people tend to be thirstier at the beginning of the party.
- The meal
Allow three and a half glasses of wine per guest during these two hours (just over half a bottle each).
- The digestif
Allow for one small glass per guest at the end of the meal (one bottle should serve eight guests).
- The New Year toast
Allow one measure per guest. One 75cl bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine should provide eight measures to toast the arrival of the New Year.
… and for a two-hour drinks/cocktail-style party, we recommend:
Based on the assumption of two or three drinks in the first hour and one or two in the second, estimate at least one bottle per two guests.
Allow at least three bottles or servings of beer per guest.
- Champagne or sparkling wine
If serving as a welcome drink or toast, allow eight measures per bottle and estimate one and a half glasses per guest. If serving throughout the party allow for three glasses per guest and six servings a bottle.
- Spirits and liqueurs
A standard 70cl bottle will generally stretch to 15-17 drinks but this will depend on how they are being served and what, if any, mixers you intend to use.
Which Wines To Choose?
'A good party wine should combine usability (crowd pleasing), authenticity (reflect its style precisely) and value'.
Pierre Mansour (Society buyer)
Once you have worked out how much wine and how many wines you will need, the enjoyable process of selecting the wines themselves can begin.
We find that preferences for red and white wines tend to be fairly even, and normally advise working on a ratio of 60% red and 40% white.
Champagne of course is the traditional choice, particularly for toasts and aperitifs, and The Society stocks an excellent range covering a wide variety of prices. There are several delicious alternatives, such as Crémant de Loire or cava, not to mention English sparkling wine, or today's party-opener of choice, Prosecco.
Ideally, a white wine for an event should be crisp, refreshing and in most cases unoaked. For this reason, a popular choice is sauvignon blanc: many Chilean examples provide excellent value and a good New Zealand sauvignon offers an easy going and citric style, which is very popular.
The Society's range also includes a great deal of white Burgundy that can serve as a crowd pleasing and stylish white. A dry riesling can be an excellent choice, providing crisp refreshment and versatility when standing up to food. Pinot grigio represents the safest Italian option to many, but there are many delicious wines from lesser-known grapes that do the job at least as well, such as fiano.
It is essential that the red be soft and smooth, without too much acidity or tannin intruding on the wine's fruitier flavours. Chilean merlot ticks all the boxes, while classic choices include Beaujolais, Rioja, or young-drinking claret. The Society stocks a good range of well-priced examples of each, including our popular Society-label bottlings.
At the more full-bodied end of the scale, Australian shiraz and Argentine malbec are particularly popular now, while many Languedoc-Roussillon reds provide fantastic quality for the money.
Sweet & Fortified Wines
This category of wines is often overlooked until it comes to Christmas when the choice can seem rather overwhelming. While there's a wine for every pudding, don't forget that sweet wines also go well before and after the meal, with aperitifs and nibbles and cheese and nuts. Our range covers every base from light and fruity Moscato d'Asti to a full-throttle Australian take on tawny port. A bottle of Madeira is an excellent standby for the festive season - a little goes a long way, it keeps well in the fridge and is surprisingly versatile when it comes to food matching.
Some classic partnerships that we have found to work are - Chocolate cake & Maydie Tannat, fruit salad with Moscato d'Asti and Pedro Ximenez poured over ice cream.
> Browse our range of sweet & fortified wines.
Beer, Cider, Spirits & Non-Alcoholic Drinks
The Society's small selection of artisanal beers and ciders gives members the chance to offer something a little bit different to their guests. For fans of mulled wine, our gourmet mulling syrup is a must and we have a number of soft drinks for drivers or children too. The Society's listing of spirits and liqueurs contains many firm favourites with members which have featured on our List for many years.
We hope you find the above helpful. If you would like more advice, please contact us by e-mail or talk with our advisers online in real time using our live web chat. Alternatively, you may also call us on 01438 741177.
For essential ordering information in time for Christmas, view our Christmas FAQs page.