Tips for Holiday Entertaining

The holiday season is a time for gathering, entertaining, and further more, a time for sharing wine amongst friends and family. Whether you are on a budget, willing to splurge or somewhere in between, here are a few simple tips and entertaining ideas for following when gathering for the holiday season!
1.  Consider your audience. Entertaining for a group of smarty pants wine enthusiasts? Or, do you have a mix of beer/wine drinkers, with a few in between who love a little something unique from the wine dept? All good questions to ask yourself before heading out to purchase your libation goodies.
For the Smarty Pants Wine Nerd Party
Wanna go Big ($$$)? There are a cpl of ways you can go about this one.  First, select a wide variety of Old World (everything EU) & New World (everything outside of the EU) wines from around the globe paying attention to the smaller, unique (more boutique) driven producers. Whether it an obscure region or a smaller famed producer, the prices in this category can notch up a little higher. Depending on how much you want to spend, the sky can be the limit here. From smaller ‘grower styled’ Champagne (or a bubble you absolutely cannot resist) to a family estate in an obscure part of the world that shows your group a new grape or region (IE: Plavac Mali from Croatia), you can really take this idea to any level you feel comfortable.
**My advice for finding some of the most unique & rare finds for this option, is to belly up to the counter of your favorite retailer and pick his/her brain regarding their favorite ‘around the globe’ nerdy wine finds. Depending upon the shop, you’ll find that each of the retailers in your area will have their own interests. Some of the most unique collections in the Twin Cities come from a few of these, my favorite retailers: Solo Vino Wine Shop in St Paul, South Lyndale Liquor in S. Mpls, Sunfish Cellars in St. Paul, N. Loop Wine & Spirits downtown Mpls. Try a few of these for some fun wines, all equipped with knowledgeable staffs for helping!
On a budget, but want to impress your wine geek friends? Head back to a few of these (your favorite wine shops) and let them know your budget stipulations. Between those $11-$15 gems from Sicily, the Loire or even Eastern Europe – you can still find some really impressive (and unique!) grape varietals and producers to stun any audience. One of my favorites in this category…The Evolúció Furmint from Hungary!
**My best tip for deciding how many different kinds of wine to go with. I’m gonna tell you to go with no more than 7-8 for a group of 12-15pp. If you serve too many wines, the group loses focus (especially after adding alcohol), and will forget what wines they’d had in the end.
Mix of Beer/Wine Drinkers with a few wine geeks in between. Again, I can’t stress enough the importance of finding a retailer you feel comfortable going to that you know will handle your needs/budget like a pro.
Lay out a variety of 4-5 good beer styles (local to international selections), with 3 solid wine choices for your group.
Wine: Even if your posse isn’t the most sophisticated of palates, doesn’t mean you’re throwing jug wine up on the table. Again, go with a variety of international selections. Spain is always a fabulous direction for an easy drinking red if you’re looking to spend between $10-$15bt. Pick a grape like Monastrell that’ll keep almost everyone at the party happy. For white, pick a wine like Vinho Verde from Portugal or even a fun fresh southern French white that won’t break the bank. I’ve really liked the Domaine Gayda ‘Flying Solo’ from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France this year. Soft, cheerful and a easy sipper for $12. And last, pick something juicy and rich. Here, Chilean Carménères or even a dark & busty Washington state Syrah or Merlot do the trick often.
**For those real wine geeks that you know are coming, break a little something out later just for them. A bottle or two of something ‘special’ to share, while most are indulging, goes a long way. Either pull out something from your own cellar that has a little age on it that you’ve been waiting to try, or spend up to $25-$30 on a fun new wine that you’re interested in sharing with someone who will appreciate your generosity.  
Beer: Stay tuned for more ‘entertaining beer tips’ from my friend, Michael Agnew of A Perfect Pint. Later this month, in his new monthly Amusée column, A Monthly Pint, he shares some of his favorite tips for holiday entertaining with beer.
2.  Theme your party! While yes, the holidays may be the reason for the season, sharing a theme for your event gives everyone the option to show off their style.
Luxury!  Every year, my Girls n Grapes group hosts a luxury tasting. Each girl brings 2-3 bts that they find ‘luxurious’. Luxurious doesn’t have to mean ‘expensive’, but perhaps whatever   ‘luxury’ means to that person. Some of our favorite finds are generally $30-$40 bubblies we found throughout the year that made our palates say ‘ahhhhh’. Like this one! Szigeti Blanc de Blanc from Austria – yum! One of my favorites this year.
**How to do this with a large group.  Have each person bring what they feel is this year’s favorite libation for them. Beer. Wine. Doesn’t matter! Could be their ‘house’ favorite or a wine they discovered while on a fun vacation. This way, everyone has a story, or a conversation to share about what they brought.
Make it regional or themed in the way of a wine style. All bubbles. All from Italy. All from Napa. All Old World. OR All Pinot Noirs. All Cabernets. All something other than Chardonnay. OR Any which way you see it.
**Have your guests bring any price point from each of these categories for your next wine party and you’ll watch your party erupt with conversation!
3.  Make Tasting Stations with Wines or Beers Paired to an appetizer or cheese/meat selection.
I love doing this as it makes it more of a little mini tasting for your guests, giving them something fun to do for your party. Situate one in the kitchen, one in the dining room, one in the living room. Even better…make a cute card for the station for why the pairing works! For a few tasty food/wine pairing ideas, head to one of our favorite Pinterest boards.
4.  Next biggest question is, how much do I buy?  Generally speaking, this is a question that sometimes only you can answer.
Big drinkers and your party is strictly casual with your guests free pouring themselves, without wine education involved? My best estimate is always 5-6 pours per bottle. Have approx. 3 styles of wine you’re pouring and you have about half wine drinkers, half beer drinkers? Take 60% of the total coming and factor about 6 pours per bottle. Depending on whether or not you know the folks coming, you can generally assume most folks this time of year will drink more red, so it’s always best to grab an extra bt or two of the reds you purchase – just in case. 
More of a wine themed event with a little fun ‘education’ tossed in? Here’s where you can factor approx. 7 pours per bottle. If you make this more of a ‘tasting’ where you are trying a wide variety of wines and you have 8-10 different styles of wine you can sneak out a little more per bottle. (For example: A party of 20pp and 10 wines? Approx 2-3bts of each wine is usually plenty.)
5.  Last, give your guests something to remember your fun evening together! Want to make the occasion even more special? Make a fun menu of your theme, the wines, the pairings or maybe even just some fun wine tips on them for pairing to the holidays! Make sure your menu card has the date of your event, so guests can remember the fun time they had when looking back of the holiday they spent with you. Here are a few cute ideas for take aways!
Most importantly – have fun! Don’t make your party snooty or even too geeky if everyone’s not on the same page. Read your group and ask for suggestions. Have a close group of friends that are into wine, but just want to gather for the holidays to share a little tipple? Then share and toast what you may! After all, it is the happiest time of the year. Enjoy, celebrate & spend the holidays the best way you know how.
Clink Clink!
(Balloon photo credit via Honey & Fitz Blog) 


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