Dinner parties are fun and all, but there’s no denying that pulling one off requires a bit of work and planning.
Aside from figuring out the guest list and sending out the invitations, the biggest challenge may be deciding the menu. Once the food is squared away, the next important task is choosing the wines to serve.
The key is to pick crowd-pleasing bottles to satisfy different palates and complement the meal.
Here’s what you need to know:
- What makes a great dinner party wine.
- How to choose a dinner party wine.
- Tips for serving wine.
- Sparkling wines for dinner parties.
- White wines for dinner parties.
- Red wines for dinner parties.
- Dessert wines for dinner parties.
What makes a great dinner party wine
The best bottles to pour at a dinner party are wines you and your guests like to drink. That likely means you’ll need a range of wine styles on hand, bottles of white and red. And don’t forget the sparkling. Rule number one is to have a variety so that everyone has something good to drink regardless of their particular preferences.
The next thing to keep in mind is the wine’s versatility. Pick quality wines known for higher acidity — those are the wines that can usually pair well with a range of foods. Light bodied white wines and easy drinking reds are usually the way to go.
Advice for choosing dinner party wines
When in doubt, stick with the classics like Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay for the white wines and Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon for the reds. Those styles of wines work well at dinner parties, no matter if it’s a formal or casual event.
However, there are a few other ways wine can be used to elevate the meal.
“An easy win to ensure that the wine suits the food is to match the nation or style of cuisine. For example, if you’re serving pasta, go with Italian wine. If you’re throwing a barbecue, stock up on wines from one of the great barbecue nations like Argentina or Australia,” says Lindsay Trivers, founder of The Tasting Class in Dubai.
Jordan Lynn, a chef and sommelier who’s hosted plenty of dinner parties through her company Taste It Events, suggests, “Pair to the sauces, spices, and the flavors rather than the proteins.”
“You can have a filet mignon, but if you drown it in a heavy white sauce, I don’t think red wine is the best choice,” Lynn says.
“Sparkling wine is the ultimate way to welcome your guests,” says Trivers.
Tips for serving wine at dinner
Another critical aspect to consider is the budget. Lea Williams, a sommelier and founder of Let’s Talk Wine in New York City, says spending a ton of money on good wine for a dinner party isn’t always necessary. Affordable wines work just as well.
“There are great bottles of wine in the $15 to $20 a bottle range,” Williams says. As for how many bottles are needed, “Expect to serve at least three glasses of wine per person. You should get four hearty glasses per bottle. One thing I’ve learned since I started Let’s Talk Wine in 2013, is that most people aren’t consuming as much as they think they are.”
Experts recommend putting whites and sparkling wine in the fridge well in advance, or else pop them into a full ice bucket about an hour before the party so that they are nice and cold. Serve red wines at room temperature.
Think about the flow of the dinner, and ease into a night of delicious entertainment by greeting guests with a fun and festive bubbly. Once the appetizers and hors d’oeuvres are out, start pouring bottles of light and refreshing, delicately flavored wines as a starter. And as the meal moves on to the heartier dishes, serve heavier, rich white and reds that are more rounded, complex, and structured.
Don’t be afraid to use wine decanters as a table centerpiece.
“Get your decanters out. They look great and are fun to serve, no matter how swanky an affair you’re throwing,” says Trivers. “Generally, decant red wines about an hour before serving. But if you miss your window and need to decant your wines as you go, that’s fine too.”
Lastly, don’t be scared to put on a show. Instead of using universal wine glasses for every pour, switch it up a bit. If you have them — or can borrow them — treat guests to varietal-specific glassware. Use tulip or flute style glasses for the sparkling wine, medium-sized wine glasses for the white wines, and a large wine glass with a broader surface area for the reds.
Large-format bottles can come in handy, too. Not only can larger bottles serve several guests at one time, but they also add to the party’s aesthetic.
“People skip over large-format bottles because they assume that they won’t be able to get through all the wine. But a magnum is only two bottles and is easy to get through at a party with at least four guests. And getting even larger bottles for larger parties is a great way to impact your wine presentation,” says Trivers.
Sparkling wines for dinner parties
Champagne and sparkling wine are always a great choice. For starters, bubbly is very versatile with food. The zippy acid, citrus, and apple characteristics work well with light bites, while the bubbles and rich, savory nuances make them powerful enough to stand up to creamy dishes.
“Sparkling wine is the ultimate way to welcome your guests,” says Trivers.
Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Blanc de Blancs Brut (~$19)
Here’s a clean and dry sparkling wine to tantalize hungry guests’ palates as they arrive at the dinner party. This wine uses grape varieties, including Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc, and Chardonnay grown in the Alsace region of France to create a bubbly that is crisp with high acidity, persistent bubbles, and a refreshing finish.
Llopart Cava Rosé Brut Reserva (~$25)
This crowd-pleasing cherry pink sparkling rosé is made with a blend of Monastrell, Pinot Noir, and Garnacha grown in the Penedes region of Spain. Red fruit fragrances carry onto the palate, while crisp acidity keeps the wine fresh from start to finish.
White wines for dinner parties
When considering white wines, bright and balanced is the way to go. Keep it simple with popular varieties like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc, which are easy to drink and naturally elevate food.
“I love to recommend dry Rieslings for a dinner party. Dry, crisp, and aromatic with beautiful notes of candied pineapple balanced by that bright citrus finish, Rieslings pair beautifully with a variety of dishes,” says Williams.
Trivers suggests mixing it up with wines guests may not be so familiar with but are sure to get people talking.
“As a sommelier, it is fun to present a wine that isn’t quite as well known. So I try to offer wines with a similar flavor profile, but a bit less common, such as Albariño from Galicia, Spain, or a dry Vouvray or Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie from France,” says Trivers.
Giovanni Rosso Etna Bianco (~$32)
Pass the hors d’oeuvres and the Etna Bianco. A perfect dinner party starter wine, this Sicilian stunner can pair with almost any type of light bite thanks to its simple fresh floral, melon, and stone fruit characteristics. A dash of minerality on the palate leads to a quick but invigorating finish your guests won’t get enough of.
DeLille Cellars Columbia Valley Chaleur Blanc (~$40)
This easy-drinking blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillion from Washington state’s Columbia Valley will keep dinner guests satiated while nibbling on appetizers, but it has the structure to stand up to heavier dishes should partygoers decide to keep sipping it throughout the night. It’s incredibly aromatic with scents of tropical fruit and peach. Meanwhile, grapefruit and florals flavor the palate, and a splash of minerality gives the wine an inviting edge.
Jean Paul Droin Chablis Premier Cru Vosgros (~$41)
This is the medium-bodied Chardonnay to pair with all your rich and creamy dishes and roasted white meats. Pronounced aromas of orchard fruit and citrus peel rise from the glass, while the palate is chock full of saline nuances that balance complex flavors of honey and apple. This is a wine that fills the mouth with flavor that lasts through the very long finish.
Red wines for dinner parties
Pinot Noir is the ultimate crowd-pleaser at dinner parties. Its light body and fruit-forward flavors make it a perfect pairing partner with many different dishes. Pinot Noir is also a wine style that will appeal to the palates of both entry-level dinner guests and wine enthusiasts.
“Pinot Noir can work with heartier seafood, sauces, or meats, especially if they have more tannin,” says Lynn.
For Williams, Gamay from Beaujolais is also a perfect pairing.
“I love to serve Beaujolais-Villages. Soft tannins, tart cherry, and raspberry, with a subtle earthy finish. It checks the boxes for red wine lovers and pairs well with everything on your table. And Beaujolais offers moderate alcohol. So you can sip on them all night long,” Williams says.
Another easy-drinking red wine that delivers ample fruit with a sturdy backbone to stand up to various foods?
“Rioja,” says Trivers.
Alpha Estate Hedgehog Vineyard Xinomavro (~$27)
Now here’s an affordable alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon that is sure to get your dinner guests talking. Bright and so deep dark red it almost appears purple in the glass, this wine displays aromas of berries, spice, and leathery earth. A full-bodied red wine through and through, it remains soft on the palate with supple tannins and a long, elegant finish.
Cadence Coda Columbia Valley Red Mountain (~$30)
This blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot can stand up to just about any hearty main dish, especially if steak or lamb is involved. Aromas of black fruit spice get an earthy lift while the palate is saturated with dark ripe fruits, fresh herbs, and cassis flavors. Tannins are grippy and structured, leading to an incredibly long finish. Pour this baby in a decanter hours before your guests arrive, and let it serve as a table centerpiece until serving.
The Eyrie Vineyards Dundee Hills Estate Pinot Noir (~$45)
Are grilled meats and veggies on the menu? This bright and complex Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley is a true crowd pleaser with its easy drinkability and abundance of complex, smoky flavors. Fragrances of red cherry and strawberry notes evolve on to the palate, which offers spicy, earthy nuances and well-integrated tannins that extend through the lingering finish.
Dessert wines for dinner parties
If there are bottles to complement the savory dishes of the night, then there should be something served with the sweet treats, too. That’s where a good dessert wine comes into play.
A classic Port can turn up the flavor of any cheese plate, while rich, full-bodied fortified wines can ease the bitterness of chocolates.
However, the best aspect of a dessert wine may be that it has the sweetness and the flavor to act as its own dessert. For guests who might be full from a glorious meal, that may be the perfect way to wind down dinner without forcing another bite.
Bellini Tuscan Dessert Wine (~$22)
An affordable dessert wine made in Italy’s Vin Santo style, this amber-colored syrupy sweet medium-bodied wine made with Trebbiano grapes smells of dried apricot and almonds. Similar flavors show up on the palate, while the wine’s texture remains creamy and lush with a nutty-tasting finish.
Baron Herzog Chenin Blanc Late Harvest Kosher (~$23)
Made with Chenin Blanc grapes grown in Clarksburg, California, this uniquely luscious wine is sweet, but not too sweet, so it won’t overpower the deliciousness of full-flavored desserts. Apple and pear flavors are prominent, while fresh acidity keeps the wine feeling crisp and round in the mouth.
Lamoreaux Landing Riesling Ice Wine (~$33)
If a dinner party guests would rather drink their dessert, then serve this rich, honeyed elixir of a wine. Golden-colored, this wine made with Riesling grown in the Finger Lakes wine region of New York displays ample apple, pear, and orange marmalade aromas. The palate is decadent and exudes the same flavors but with an extra honey-drizzled edge balanced with zippy acidity and a pillowy soft finish.
Château Rabaud-Promis Sauternes (~$40)
Complex and intense with fruity and floral nuances, this wine is a blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc made in France’s famous Sauternes region. Dense and mouth filling, the wine displays ample candied orange, pineapple, floral, and beeswax notes that get a lift from citrusy lemon.