Congratulations! You’ve been asked to “do the wine” for a friend’s big event and, in a moment of weakness, or perhaps sheer madness, you agreed.
The first thing you need to know is that your Daytimer or other life-organizing tool is your friend. “Doing the wine” is all about organization—advance planning, check lists and follow-through.
There are some basic rules of thumb when it comes to choosing and buying wine for a party, a few asterisks to go with those rules, and a couple of things you might not think of considering…but should.
Here’s the first general rule of thumb: assuming the party is going to last a couple of hours, plan on one bottle of wine for each two people attending. That works out to about two glasses per person.
And here’s the first asterisk: When adding up the number of attendees, count only adults of legal drinking age. (This is sort of like taking a political poll involving only those most likely to vote, as opposed to all registered voters.)
A second asterisk: Ask the host whether plans call for a full bar to be set up. If so, you’ll need less wine. If it’s a “hosted bar”—meaning guests do not pay for their drinks—you’ll need less wine still.
Once you have your “most likely to drink wine” count, you’ll easily be able to calculate the number of bottles needed. Even this mathematically challenged wine blogger can handle this task.
Next, it’s time to plug that number into your budget. This is where your wine knowledge will really come in handy, because it’s not always easy to identify true bargains in the marketplace—interesting, enjoyable bottlings that could and perhaps should cost more than they do.
If the budget is tight, turn to a couple more “rules of thumb”:
- Chardonnay is yummy, but Sauvignon Blanc can be every bit as enjoyable, often at half the price.
- Cabernet Sauvignon may be the “king” of red wines, but Merlot is less expensive, and in a group that includes a good many casual wine drinkers, Merlot probably will be more popular.
When looking for bargains, it’s also good to know your American Viticultural Areas or, as such regional designations are known in France, appellations.
A Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County or Monterey County will generally cost less than a comparable bottle from Napa Valley.
Likewise, a Napa Valley Cabernet almost always will cost more…sometimes a lot more…than a comparable bottle from Alexander Valley (in Sonoma County).
Also, unless your budget is unlimited, stay away from “Reserve” wines. They’re always more expensive than a winery’s “regular” bottling of the same variety, and often they’re cloaked in oak flavors that wine casual wine drinkers don’t get and don’t like.
Which brings up another consideration. Not knowing many of the people who will be drinking the wine, nor their personal preferences, how do you determine the wine mix?
We’ll tackle that challenge tomorrow.