Good bottles for a bash

Sat, Nov 17, 2012, 00:00

You can find nicely drinkable wines to serve at a party, for not too  much money, and if you're buying in bulk ask for a discount

The party season is starting in earnest, and if you intend throwing a bash of any sort, now is the time to buy the wine. At this stage, staff working in wine shops and off-licences will still have time to talk to you, and take you through the various options. You will even have time to try out a couple of potential wines at home before buying.

If you are buying a case or more, you can expect a discount of some sort, usually in the region of 10 per cent. It is always worth haggling a little too. This includes at the supermarkets, most of which offer a reduction on six bottles or more.

How much to buy depends very much on how much your friends and relations drink, but I would recommend buying too much rather than too little; you do not want to run out on the night. Any leftovers can always be consumed over Christmas, or you may be able to swap it for something else with the retailer who supplied it to you. I would work on half to two-thirds of a bottle of wine per person.

Bear in mind that some guests will not be drinking alcohol, so offer an adult soft drink, or even a mocktail – drinking water all evening can be very boring. Though if you are serving water remeber to keep it coming in jugs.

Keeping white wine cool can be a problem if your fridge is packed with food. Try putting white wine in a shady place outdoors on the morning of the party, if you have a secure back garden, or buying a bag or two of ice on the day. A mix of water and ice will chill your wine more quickly than plain ice, so try to get hold of a few large colourful buckets to keep things chilled in. I would also recommend putting red wine in an unheated room; warm soupy wine can be very unpleasant.

There are two kinds of party these days, and sometimes it is difficult to work out which you have been invited to. One serves just drinks, with a few nibbles, the other includes something more substantial. I don’t want to get into a David Cameron-style argument about suppers versus dinner, but it is useful to know what to expect.

On several occasions I have arrived at a party having eaten a large dinner, only to find the host has put on a huge spread of food. Today we will look at the fork supper, or a party where a plate of hot or cold food will be served.

I am often asked to name the most food-friendly wine, one that will cope with a broad mix of flavours. The slightly surprising answer is Champagne, which goes with just about anything, including lighter meat dishes. So if you intend spending a little extra on your fork supper, you could do worse than crack open the bubbly, in an ideal world, Bollinger. It will certainly add glamour to your party. Otherwise, if you are serving a cold buffet, a medium-bodied fruity white wine, such as unoaked Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc will do perfectly.

With red meat dishes, something big enough to stand up to those robust flavours is required, although try to avoid wines that are too high in alcohol. Depending on the dish, a medium-bodied red of some sort would do best.

With Domini’s rather delicious sounding shredded lamb shank with couscous on page 22, I would be tempted to serve a Cabernet Sauvignon. Lamb and Bordeaux are a classic match that work really well. However, Bordeaux can be a bit light and dry, and that honey and spice really call out for a little bit of warmth and extra fruit, so I would look to Argentina, Australia or Chile, providing they aren’t over 14 per cent alcohol. You could also go for Cabernet’s partner in Bordeaux, Merlot. Merlot generally has lighter tannins and plumper ripe fruit.

Another alternative would be something supple and warming from the south of France, or maybe a Garnacha or Tempranillo from Spain.

None of these wines need to be very expensive; good wine will always show better, but I find that food, particularly slightly spicy food, can go a long way towards hiding any imperfections in a wine.

Tasting notes

St Chinian 2009, Le Chant des Garrigues, 13.5%, €11.99 (down to €8.99 in December)SuperValu has no less than three different St Chinians on sale from the same source. All three are remarkably good, Stockist: SuperValu

Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Jean Bousquet, Tupungato Valley, 14%, €12.99-€13.99A lovely wine with ripe blackcurrant fruits, welcome freshness and a clean, supple finish. Stockists: Donnybrook Fair; Daly’s, Boyle

Martínez Lacuesta Rioja Cosecha 2010, 13%, €11.99Light, supple Rioja with rounded cherry fruits, a hint of spice, and a dry finish. Stockists: Black Pig, Donnybrook; Enowines, Monkstown; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock

Peyres de Loubert 2009, Fronton, France, 13.5%, €14.99This is a delicious wine with a lovely fragrant nose, sweet, ripe, black fruits and a supple finish. This would be a great all-rounder for Christmas. Stockist: M&S

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