‘Tis the season for celebrating! Unfortunately, for some hosts and hostesses, that means agonizing over wine and wine service. But have no fear: The owner of Virginia Philip Wine Shop & Academy in downtown West Palm Beach (101 N. Clematis St., Suite 150; 561/721-6000) is here to answer your holiday queries regarding everything from wine temperature to proper glassware.
1. What is a good number of wines to serve at a wine party?
Four to six wines maximum. For the cocktail hour, a Champagne/sparkling wine, lighter white such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, a lighter red such as Pinot Noir or a dry Rosé. For dinner, try a heavier white wine such as Chardonnay or Viognier and a heavier red such as Merlot or Cabernet—unless the entrée is fish; then I would go with Pinot Noir. Port or a dessert wine at the end is always a nice touch.
2. Should you equally divide the number of whites and reds?
It all depends on the menu being served. Typically, guests should start off with lighter wines, working their way up to the heavier wines.
3. What temperature should reds be served at? Whites?
• Champagne/sparkling: 40-44 degrees
• Lighter whites such as Riesling or Pinot Grigio: 42-46 degrees
• Heavier whites such as Meursault or big, buttery Chardonnays or older whites: 55-60 degrees (Americans have a tendency to drink their whites far too cold and their reds far too warm.)
• Lighter reds such as Chianti, Cru Beaujolais and Pinot Noir: 55-62 degrees
• Heavier reds such as Bordeaux, Cabernet and Malbec, etc.: 60-68 degrees
4. Does the glass really matter when it comes to reds and whites?
Yes! The size and bowl of the glass will enhance the acid and aroma structure in the wine. A thick or cheap glass will not taste the same as a varietal designated Riedel or Speigalau.
5. What are some alternatives to the usual suspects of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet?
Riesling, dry Rosé, Gruner Veltliner, Torrontès, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Albariño, Rioja, Nero d’Avola.
6. What are some tips about serving wine that even a novice can follow?
• Do not serve the whites too cold or the reds too warm.
• Buy to please a variety of palates—not just your own.
• Do not over pour the wine in the glass; spills will occur.
• Do not pick reds that need decanting unless you know how to do it properly and have the equipment.
• When selecting Ports, go with an LBV which rarely requires decanting.
• Make sure you have enough wine.
7. What are some must-haves when throwing a wine party?
• A proper corkscrew such as a Screwpull or Waiters corkscrew
• Proper glassware or one good all purpose glass
• A bottle or two of White Zinfandel on hand (there is always someone in the group who is asking for it; usually the guest of the invited)
• Wine B’Gone for spills on clothing or furniture
• Wine glass jewelry: Everyone is always confusing which glass belongs to which person.