By Laura Ness
Say you’re hosting an anniversary, birthday, holiday or family get-together. Or maybe it’s your turn to coordinate the upcoming block party. What kind of wines should you have on hand for such a mixed group?
If you’ve got more than 10 people in the party, invest in six different wines. Just by offering this level of choice — and being available to explain them, people will be happy.
Everyone likes to try something new. People who are just beginning to explore wine appreciate the chance to experiment and venture out. The already wine savvy love the chance to share their knowledge and opinions with explorers. Make sure to have both red and white wine glasses for those who are purists. Or, declare the rules off limits, and use stemless Riedel all around. If it’s a supremely hot day, nobody will fault you for using fun plastic stemware.
1. There will be those who need something sweet like a Riesling. (Check the label for “RS” which is residual sugar. It should be between 2 percent and 3 percent.) Or select a white blend like Cinnabar’s “Incantation” or Biltmore Winery’s “Century White American.” Serve spicy spring rolls, samosas and chicken satay. Watch them smile.
2. For those who don’t like sweet-sweet but also don’t like dry-dry either, you should offer a Viognier from Lodi or a Chardonnay from Napa or Sonoma. Viognier is a touchstone for those who love the perfumey floral fruity essence of this very summery wine. Chardonnay is all over the map. So unless you know exactly what your guests like (the Aunt who only drinks “big oak” or the niece who only drinks “steel fermented”), put them in a place to try something new. The fruit of Viognier almost always wins most white lovers over. And it also goes with Asian cuisine and appetizers nicely.
3. For the sophisticated white drinker, choose an Albariño or a Sauvignon Blanc — go for a Lake County or Monterey Sauv Blanc or an Albariño from Monterey. Look for alcohols under 13.8 percent if you want a wine on the crisper side, which is what lovers of these wines expect. These wines are awesome with seafood — crab cakes, marinated calamari, even har gow (shrimp dumplings). Or, go with a salsa of cantaloupe, Serrano chiles, Fresno chiles and cilantro with thick corn chips.
4. Now the reds. You must have a Cabernet or Cab blend for the Bordeaux lovers who immediately point to the label if it says “Cab” – although you can certainly get away with a blend that is heavily Merlot as well. More people are coming out of the closet on Merlot. They’ve always loved it, but have felt weird expressing a preference for that over Pinot Noir – the dimpled red-headed darling of the last decade. It’s liberating to finally say, “I’ll have a MERLOT!”
I would not serve a Pinot Noir unless you yourself have a solid favorite. There are just too many styles to take a chance unless you know exactly what your Pinot-loving uncle (the one who is going to leave you his six-car garage filled with the Maseratis and the new Bentley) likes to uncork.
5. Round out the red offering with a Syrah. There are many good choices, especially from Paso Robles and Livermore, although cool climate ones from Sonoma Coast and the Santa Lucia Highlands are highly intriguing, filled with white pepper, dancing sugar plums and a whole lotta attitude. More people like Syrah than any sommelier or wine store dude would care to admit. At every tasting, people seem to be riveted by a good syrah more than anything else. There’s just nothing quite like the sensuality of the plummy fruit, the smokey meat and the big velvety mouthfeel.
6. For those who like to live large and will only be happy with the biggest seat in the house, you really must have a Zinfandel or a Petite Sirah. Or, if you’re adventurous, a blend based on the two. These wines are almost always built like a Mack truck with as much subtlety as – and all the vast expanse of – a plumber’s crack. They will be the wine that becomes the common denominator once any kind of chocolate, baked fruit tart or pie is served. There is nothing quite like a sip of Petite Sirah with a chocolate truffle or a bite of blueberry pie. Except perhaps a big fat anise biscotti dipped in a giant goblet of Zin.
Don’t forget the big-bowled glasses for these big reds. They feel and taste more luxurious and give the wine room to swirl — and send its bouquet heavenward.