Are you aiming to host a drinks party over the next few weeks? A little forward planning will ensure a stress-free event that you can enjoy. And if you are relaxed, your guests will be too. Now is the time to press gang or bribe your teenage children and their friends into helping out. If they can take coats and serve drinks and finger food, you will have time to mingle.
Keep a steady supply of nibbles circulating so that your guests don’t teeter over after a few drinks. Cocktails are a great idea but make sure you have a competent mixologist on hand to avoid queues. I would also recommend avoiding very alcoholic cocktails. Sangrias, spritzers and mojitos can all be made in bulk and allow you to use a little imagination with the ingredients. Given the time of year, you could also consider serving a mulled wine.
When it comes to wine, you should certainly serve one white wine and one red, and possibly a sparkling wine, and/or a rosé too. Here, again, you should avoid anything too alcoholic. Full-bodied, high-octane wines are always better served with robust food.
For your drinks party go for lighter wines, preferably at or below 13.5 per cent alcohol by volume (abv). Happily, most sparkling wine, crisp whites and fruity reds fall into this category, as do all of the featured wines here today. Otherwise, sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, albariño, muscadet, vinho verde and riesling are usually lighter in alcohol.
For red wines, consider Beaujolais, pinot noir, merlot, tempranillo, Valpolicella and Bardolino. While it may not be summer, rosé is always popular and there are plenty of inexpensive options around if the pricey big names don’t fit your budget.
There is no doubt that sparkling wine adds a festive touch to proceedings. If you are serving inexpensive fizz, pimp it up with a dash of cranberry juice, pomegranate or some other fruit. A bellini, mimosa or kir royale are the classic recipes but feel free to experiment a little. I also feature a Pet Nat, a great, fresh, low-alcohol wine for parties, although it might be challenging for those who haven’t tried it before.
If you are having a large gathering and your budget is tight, you may be tempted to buy the latest bargain-bin wines in your local supermarket. Before buying, it is always a good idea to take a trial bottle home to make sure your guests will enjoy it. Much of the time it is worth paying a euro or two more. However, this is not the time to open your finest wines. Drinks parties are about having fun and the wines should be festive too; gluggers rather than thoughtful sippers.
Remember that you may need to hire glasses. Most independent retailers and O’Briens offer these when you buy your wine there. Most will also offer the wine on a sale-or-return basis so you don’t need to worry about overstocking or, worse, running out of wine. If you intend holding a smaller more intimate affair, you may be able to spend a little more on your wine – I have included some suggestions.
Remember to keep plenty of cloths on hand for looking after drips and spills. Make sure you have plenty of decent corkscrews to hand and consider opening a few bottles in advance to avoid delays.
You can theme your drinks and finger food around a country. If you fancy going full Italian, I feature a sparkling, white and red wine from the same country. Serve alongside some mixed bruschetta, arancini and other nibbles for an Italian experience. You could even include an Italian beer such as Peroni or Moretti and possibly even negronis too.
Alternatively, a Champagne or crémant, a good muscadet and the Beaujolais featured here will bring a French element to the occasion. A French 75 cocktail and some gougères, vol-au-vents and tartines would complete the theme.
It is hard for me to recommend how much wine you should buy. It all depends on the kind of friends you have. However, two to three drinks per guest is a good starting point. Is your party going to be BYOB? If so, you may need to buy a lot less wine, although your guests will be treated to an eclectic selection.
There will certainly be plenty of guests who don’t want to drink alcohol. Make sure you cater for them properly and offer something more than fizzy water – but have plenty of water on hand. A good mocktail is always much more interesting and, if you want alcohol-free wine, I find the sparkling versions are a better option.
There is no shortage of very good alcohol-free beers available too. As well as the big brands you could try the new Lucky Saint alcohol-free lager and the Wicklow Wolf Moonlight. When it comes to alcoholic beers, we have a great range of Irish craft beers that offer much more interest than the better-known names. Go for lighter session beers that will slake the thirst. The three included here hover around the 4 per cent abv mark.
As suggested above, your wines should be light and fruity. White and sparkling wines should be kept well chilled – remember to get some ice when you buy your drinks – and red wines shouldn’t be too warm. As well as the red wines below, Lidl has the excellent unoaked Ermita Rioja Joven for a bargain €11.99, and Dunnes the Réserve de Luch Pinot Noir (€8.60).
Three sparkling wines
Rizzardi Prosecco Frizzante, NV
€13.95 down from €16.45, 11% abv
Fresh and fizzy with light pear fruits.
Meinklang Prosa Pet Nat Rosé
€21.50-€23, 10.5% abv
Crisp, lightly sparkling, with fresh raspberries and redcurrants.
From Lennox Street Grocer; Lilith; MacCurtain; Greenman; 64Wine;
Whelehan’s; The Wine Pair.
Veuve Monsigny Champagne No. 111 Brut
€21.99, 12.5% abv
Fresh and zesty with creamy apple fruits and brioche.
Three white wines
Roero Arneis 2022
€11.99, 12.5% abv
Delicate herbal aromas, fresh orchard fruits and almonds.
Marks & Spencer Classics No. 3 Gavi
€10.80. 12.5% abv
Ripe pears and refreshing citrus acidity, finishing dry.
From Marks & Spencer.
Albariño Rías Baixas Bodegas Eidosela 2022
€19-19.50, 12.5% abv
Plump, ripe stone fruits with mouth-watering lemon zest.
From independent wine shops.
Three red wines
Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore 2021
€11.99, 13.5% abv
Warm, rounded, sweet red cherry fruits with a hint of spice.
Fleurie 2021 Pierre Ponnelle
€12.96, 13% abv
Easy-drinking, smooth, rounded red fruits. Serve cool.
From Dunnes Stores.
Beaujolais 2021 L’Ancien 2021, Jean-Paull Brun
€23.25, 12.5% abv
Vibrant, fresh, crunchy strawberry fruits and a smooth finish.
From Wines Direct, Mullingar, Athlone and Winesdirect.ie.
Whiplash Rollover Session IPA
€2.60-€3 for a 33cl can, 3.8% abv
Lightly hoppy with appetising fresh fruits and citrus.
Rascals Happy Days Juicy, Session Juicy Pale Ale
€2.60-€3 for a 33cl can, 4.1% abv
Mouth-watering juicy, ripe tropical fruits with subtle malts.
Wicklow Wolf Avalanche Pale Ale
€3.15-€3.50 for a 440cl can, 4.1% abv
Lively, zesty peaches and mangos with a citrus edge.