If you are planning on holding a formal dinner party, you have a good excuse to dress up your home and yourself, and enjoy being a generous host. On this type of occasion, attention to detail is key, and it’s important not to skip the finer points.
Perhaps the finest point of all formal parties is the wine. Here are a few tips for getting it right, from selecting wines to matching food and decanting and pouring.
Selecting wines: Generally at a formal dinner party, it’s expected that you will serve a range of wines. You may for instance like to serve a different wine for each course.
- Sparkling wines for celebration before sitting down to the table: Petaluma Croser Sparkling from South Australia, Champagne Larmandier Bernier and Champagne Egly-Ouriet.
- Selection of whites for entrée and main: A mixture of Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, and Semillon wines, and maybe an Australian organic wine such as Cullen Mangan White.
- Red wines for entrée and main: Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Merlot, Pinot Noir and organic red wine.
- Fortified wines for the final course: Brown Brothers Tawny Port, and a liqueur muscat from Seppeltsfield.
Glassware: You might think the different shapes of glasses for different wines is all just for appearances, but in fact they do serve a purpose. For instance:
- Red wine is usually served in round bowl-shaped glasses to enable the wine to ‘breathe’, which in turn accentuates its flavours.
- Whites are usually served in tulip-shaped glasses that are narrower than those used for reds. The shape of the glass helps to concentrate the flavour and more fully release the wine bouquet.
- Sparkling wines are served in tall, thin glasses such as flutes or trumpet-shaped glasses. This helps to maintain the cool temperature of the wine for longer and allows the bubbles to be slowly released to the top of the glass. The shape of the glass also directs the wine to the centre of the tongue to detect the fruit and acid balance.
- Fortified and dessert wines are usually stronger and served in smaller quantities and in smaller glasses.
Drink temperatures and decanting: In general, white wines, rosés and light Sherries should be served at a cool temperature – somewhere between 10 and 14 degrees, while sparkling wines are served chilled at 6° to 10°C.
Reds and darker Sherries are usually served at somewhere around room temperature, although if the weather is very hot, you might want to cool them a bit to ensure they are at a good drinking temperature. 16°C is a good starting point.
Decanters help wine to breathe and rest, and they add a touch of elegance to the décor. They can also allow any sediment in the wine to settle – in which case you need to pour the wine into the glasses at an angle so no sediment goes into your guests’ drinks. This should preferably be done out of sight of your guests.
Glasses should be filled to around two-thirds full, although Champagne may be filled closer to the top of the glass.
Suggestions for food and wine pairing:
- Starters – offer your guests some sparkling wine and canapés soon after their arrival.
- Entrée – a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio with light fish, rice, pasta or poultry dishes.
- Mains – for lighter mains such as veal or grilled beef serve with a Chardonnay or Shiraz, and heavier meat dishes with an organic red wine, a Cab Sav or a Merlot.
- Dessert – serve a sweet dessert or cheese plate with a tawny port or Muscat wine, to round off the meal nicely.
Relax and enjoy! Lastly, make sure not to get too worried if things don’t go perfectly. It’s more important that you enjoy the occasion and your guests, and partake of the variety of delicious wines and foods at your table!