How Much Wine Do I Need?

Inasmuch as different groups are more or less inclined to drink wine at all, it’s difficult for me to recommend the proper quantity for your event based on invitees alone. Consider my two wedding receptions, each attended by 100 people – #1 was an equal mix of 20 year-old Marines, punk-rockers and horrified family at a Medieval themed banquet hall in Orange County that we had to be thrown out of at 5:45pm. #2 was relieved family along with co-workers and friends, most involved with wineries, at a Mayacamas Mountain Chalet near the Sonoma/Napa county line which was ours until such hour as we wished to depart.

One 750ml bottle of wine contains about 25.4 ounces of wine. An ordinary glass of wine is 5-7 ounces. A bottle of wine will yield 5 smallish or 4 generous glasses of wine. Figure 55-60 glasses of wine per 12 bottle x 750ml case. If you’re hiring a bartending service, ask what their target pour is. For a wedding reception figure at least one glass of sparkling wine per adult for the toast – often something special for the head table. For a day-time event consider about 30% Red, 60% White and 10% Sweet. For an evening affair 60% Red, 30% White, 10% Sweet

Q: What's the right wine for this meal?

A: The matter of food and wine pairing is best addressed during a personal consultation with a former sous chef and current wine retailer such as McKinney Wine Merchant but if you want to wing it, consider this: If you’re having a cookout or doing generous appetizers in a stand-up party format just get a variety of 3-5 fun wines that people can slosh around: Malbec, Zinfandel, Cote-du-Rhone, Valpolicella, Almansa for red – Whites might include one light and one bolder Chardonnay a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris.

For more serious food or a more formal setting you can’t go too wrong with white/red meat/wine adage. Lighter/crisper whites such as Albarino, Pinot Blanc, Unoaked Chardonnay work best where dishes have higher acid ingredients such as a lemon, wine, tomato or vinegar (btw super-acidic or brined foods aren’t ‘great’ matches for any wine – sauerkraut, pickles, salsa, olives). As for red wine – more fat, more power. Lighter to bigger reds: Gamay, Pinot Noir, Grenache, lighter Syrah, Malbec, Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, heavy Syrah, Tempranillo, Petite Sirah, Nebbiolo, Petit Verdot (there are plenty of caveats/exceptions to this scale – I’m sure to hear about it!)

Q: What temperature should I serve the wine at?

A: Most white and sparkling: 45-50 degrees Lighter reds i.e. Gamay & Pinot Noir: 55-60 degrees (35 minutes in the fridge prior to service) Bigger reds i.e. Cab, Chianti, Malbec: 60-65 (25 minutes in the fridge)

If the wine is too cold, swirl it in the palm of your hand. If it’s too hot, throw an ice cube in it – a little watered down is better than combustible.

Q: How do I know which wine to let breathe?

A: First of all – pulling a cork and setting a full bottle aside does not provide the air/wine interface necessary to aerate wine to a point that will discernably ‘open it up’ or reduce tannic effect. Generally younger wines of made from grapes of higher tannin content are candidates for decanting. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Syrah & Nebbiolo are a few. A good rule of thumb is that if you sip a freshly opened bottle of wine and your teeth start to squeek, you should transfer it to a larger vessel for some time prior to service. A wine that is not ‘drinking well’ after 45 minutes is either too young or irredeemably tannic. Lastly, if you open an old bottle of wine that tastes great in the first few minutes but the color begins to change from a lovely purple or red to a more brickish tone – drink fast and be prepared to write it off. It was fine sealed up in a cool, dark bottle but is taking to air like a vampire to sunlight.

Q: What's the deal with screw-caps?

A: If 200 years ago there were an economic way to place a metal, threaded, sealing closure on a bottle we would only know cork as something our grandfathers’ outfitters had used to make fishing bobbers from. Cork is a wood product harvested from trees. Despite all the effort to insure sterility, living organisms frequently survive the trip from tree to bottle and often proliferate to ruin wine. Traditionalists view the screw cap as something jaundiced fingers tremble away at to access cough-syrup/moonshine hybrids in alleyways or beneath bridges. Pragmatists view them as a clean and convenient closure for some really tasty wines. Retailers don’t take a position.

Q: My guests are wine connoisseurs - I am not and freaked out about it, what should I serve?

A: Presuming that you’re up to speed on the food/occasion/wine pairing thing let’s look at products to avoid: Anything in a 1.5 liter bottle. Anything purchased at a drug or big box store. Moscato, pinot grigio, organic wine. Any wine with a recipe card or sweepstakes necker or any promotional tie-in with a sports team, band, celebrity chef or cause. California Cabernet Sauvignon under $35. Pinot Noir under $28.

If you don’t want to break the bank, look for an unassuming label from Spain, Chile, Argentina, Southern France, Italy, Washington or California’s Central Coast. If it has a ’90 Point’ or higher rating from Wine Spectator or Robert Parker/Wine Advocate that’s a bonus – you should be safe. Of course my best advice is to seek expert help 972-542-4636 (369-2234 after hours)

Q: My guests are dolts - I'm a connoisseur, what should I serve?

A: Whatever you want – I’m not getting into it.

Q: How long will this opened bottle of wine keep? How should I store it?

A: The wine will only degrade but refrigeration is the best preservative for a red or white wine – better than a vacuum device but both a vacuum and cold are best. If it’s red, pull it out of the fridge in time for it to get up to service temperature. You should have very low quality expectations by the third day of storage.

Q: I have a really old bottle of wine (10 years+). Is it any good?

A: Probably not. If you were unaware of its existence until recently and it was found outside of a cool, dark place chances are its toast. The usual recommendation would be to pop the cork soon and find out, but if you think it could be a lost treasure check with an expert.