How to host the perfect dinner party with wine pairings through each course!
(I partnered with entwine wines to bring you this series!)
I’m pretty sure that the number one thing I’m MOST excited about for 2015 is moving into our new house. I’m excited about it for a number of obvious reasons (bigger house, nicer area, lots of property, etc.), but what makes me absolutely giddy is the thought of hosting dinner parties.
I could barely cook a chicken breast when we moved into our current house three years ago. The idea of hosting a dinner party seemed completely ludicrous!
Once I started teaching myself to cook and got more comfortable in the kitchen, we started having our friends and family over for dinner. We hosted a Thai inspired feast for my mom’s birthday, Thanksgiving two years in a row, a Hawaiian themed Christmas Eve dinner, and lots of simple meals with some good friends and some good wine.
Then, the blog took over my life. More specifically, it took over our dining room. The surface of my dining room table hasn’t seen the light of day in MONTHS because its primary function is to hold all of my photography crap. At any given time the table is supporting various pieces of camera equipment, batteries, backdrops, reflectors, light diffusers, and any number of styling props I neglected to put away.
I can’t believe I’m sharing this embarrassing photo, but I feel like you need to know how bad the problem has become. Yes, that is a batman snuggie blocking the light from our back door. And yes, those are liquor bottles holding up that $0.99 piece of black poster board.
This is my life.
Now do you see why I’m so excited to move and have a dining room again? The new house has enough room for a studio AND a dining room.
Which means I’m going to be hosting the crap out of some dinner parties.
Dinner Party Menu Planning
When I plan out a dinner party, I typically decide the menu based on the number of guests. For a larger dinner party I like to serve a soup, an entrée, and a dessert. I find that making soup in a large batch is much easier than serving up individual appetizers, and dishing out a menu in this way makes it easier on the host because everyone can just sit their butts down and eat.
For smaller parties, I feel like I can be a bit more flexible with our guests because it’s easier to corral them. Plus, fewer guests means I can serve fancier food. But still not REALLY fancy because I just don’t roll like that.
Here’s what I like to serve:
Okay, before you freak out about a five course meal, let me explain.
- Appetizer: For an easy option, stick to a cheese plate.
- Salad: Salads are simple and can be mostly prepared in advance.
- Pasta: Most pasta sauces can be made ahead of time and reheated before serving. If you want to get crazy and make your own homemade pasta, go for it. Just don’t judge me for using the store-bought dried variety.
- Entree: Your entree can be as complicated as you want to make it. I like to pick one protein and one vegetable and keep it as simple as possible.
- Dessert: Bake a pie or cake ahead of time, or take my advice and put together a paired chocolate and wine tasting. Easy as…um.. pie.
If you’ve ever been curious about coordinated wine pairings, LISTEN UP.
There are two general ways I recommend going about pairing wines with your dishes: Contrasting or Complimentary.
Examples of Contrasting Pairings:
- Pairing a tart, acidic salad with a sweet white wine.
- Pairing a sweet salad with a dry white wine.
- Serving a grilled steak with white wine.
- Serving pasta in white sauce with red wine.
Examples of Complimentary Pairings:
- Pairing a sweet creme brulee with a sweet white wine.
- Pairing a tart apple pie with a dry white wine.
- Serving a hearty beef stew with red wine.
- Serving a delicate white fish with white wine.
When picking out a wine to serve with your dish, think about what it is about the dish you want to highlight.
If you are serving a salad that has a hint of sweetness in it, you might decide to pair it with a dry white wine because a sweet wine could make the salad taste tart in comparison. If you’ve prepared Beouf Bourguignon for your guests (bravo!), you may want to stick with a classic red wine to bring out the richness of the dish.
Or, if you really just have no idea where to start, follow my advice:
- Serve both sweet and dry wine with the appetizers.
- Serve dry wine with dinner.
- Serve sweet wine with the dessert.
Well, I don’t have any scientific reasoning behind this, but here’s why I do it this way:
- Appetizer: I like to offer several types of wine when guests first arrive so they can choose something they are comfortable with and mingle with the other guests. This would also be a great time to rock some sangria or wine cocktails.
- Dinner: I serve dry wine with dinner because it will go with just about anything; sometimes sweet wine can be a little weird next to a wedge salad or grilled steak.
- Dessert: Sweet wine goes with dessert because they are both sweet. Simple enough, right? Hot mulled wine is also an awesome idea when it’s cold outside.
Foolproof Pairing Ideas
Baby steps, people.
Let me introduce you to Wente Vineyard’s entwine wine portfolio label, which was developed in collaboration with Food Network and launched in 2011.
entwine wines were developed specifically to be paired with food (and are just as tasty when sipped on their own). Could they be any more perfect for a dinner party?
Oh, wait – I almost forgot to tell you the best part. The back of the wine bottle tells you which foods to pair the wine with!
The Chardonnay “entwines” with shellfish, goat cheese, and cream sauces.
The Merlot goes with grilled pork, meatloaf, tomato sauce, and pizza.
Each bottle comes with built-in suggestions right on the back. That’s not to say you have to follow these suggestions, but it certainly helps to have a place to start.
Special thanks to entwine wines for sponsoring this series! I hope this guide brings you a sense of confidence in the kitchen when entertaining with wine. I’d love to answer any questions you have in the comment section below!