4 Tips for the Perfect Dinner Party Wine


You’re invited to a dinner party and you want to bring a nice bottle of wine. A quick trip to the wine store and you become overwhelmed by the racks upon racks of bottles. What to choose? That is the question of the moment. Should you pick a red, a white or a lovely forbidden box of wine? If only you had a few tips to guide you.

If I had a quarter for every bottle of wine I have received from my dinner party guests as a host gift, I would be one very rich (and sloshed) foodie. With the holiday entertaining season just around the corner, I thought it would be a great idea to share with you a few tips for selecting a perfect dinner party wine.

So I turned to an expert for help. Catherine Douglas is a global traveler and has studied the fabulous world of wines for several years. She has recently become the Marketing and Communications Manager at Adelsheim Vineyard in Newberg, Oregon following a 4 year stint working for a winery in Central Otago, New Zealand. Would you believe we actually graduated high school together in Northern Michigan over 10 years ago? Thanks to the power of the internet we have since reconnected and discovered we shared the same passions for great flavors.


We all know that the world of wine can be terribly confusing and a bit overwhelming, but hopefully with a few simple tips, it will all become a little easier to understand.  Here are a few of my suggestions to help you find that perfect bottle of wine for your holiday party:

1: Ask Your Local Wine Retailer – I can guarantee that your local wine retailer has tasted nearly every wine ever made in or imported into the USA. The person behind the counter truly is one of your best resources. They not only know about wines, but they also have a vested interest in making you happy so you come back to see them again (and buy more wine!). The key here, though, is making sure that you don’t feel nervous about asking them. They WANT you to ask. Truly. Don’t be afraid.

Furthermore, they know about wine and food pairings. If you know what your dinner party host is serving, tell your retailer. They will be able to offer suggestions to go with everything from appetizers to dessert. Which brings me to my next point…

2: Think About Food Parings – If you were to Google “food and wine pairings,” you would be hit with a slew of websites offering charts and interactive tools. For the most part, these charts are pretty good. They definitely make commonly-known generalities like Pinot noir with lamb, Chardonnay paired with creamy chicken dishes, and Beaujolais Nouveau nicely accompanying the Thanksgiving turkey.

If you know what your dinner party host is serving, don’t discount the power of the Internet to offer suggestions. A site that I really like is Food & Wine Paring. I find their interactive tool to be very easy to use and all of their suggestions to be pretty spot on. Over time, the more you drink and learn about wine, the more pairing wine will come naturally.

If worst comes to worst, out of any wine I can think of, Pinot gris (aka Pinot grigio) is probably your best bet if you don’t know what people like or what meal is going to be served. It is an extremely neutral and versatile white wine that can be enjoyed by a wide variety of people and with a wide range of meals. The flip side of that, I’ve often heard “those in the know” describe it as “boring,” but that’s just the glass being half empty, I guess. I prefer the term “versatile” or “neutral.”

Wine with Plates584

3: What Matters is Value – There are obviously a range of price brackets that you could be buying from. Generally, the more expensive the wine, the better it is. You get what you pay for, just like clothes or haircuts.

However, more expensive doesn’t always mean better. What matters is its value – i.e. do you personally feel like you got enough out of the wine to justify the price you paid for it?  Case in point, I came out of a tasting once where an $18 bottle of Pinot noir held its own against a $48 bottle. If that doesn’t throw off everything you think about when you’re standing in a store in front of a wall of wine, and trying to decide what is best, I don’t know what will.

My advice here – don’t buy the cheapest bottle, but you don’t have buy the most expensive bottle either. There are some excellent wines out on the shelves for under $25 and some even better wines in the under $45 range. It’s a perfect price range for any type of dinner party.

4. Consider Looking Locally – Amazing wines are not limited to the most famous areas like California, Oregon, France and New Zealand. Consider selecting a wine from a winery in your local area. It not only creates a personal connection to the wine, but is also a great talking point at a dinner party.

There are many non-traditional wine-producing areas of the country that are quickly gaining a reputation for producing some very good wines. Upstate New York and the west coast of Michigan are two examples. There are some beautiful white wines coming out of these areas.

Virginia is another state that is moving full-steam ahead. There are over 100 wineries in this state and a slew of accommodation and dining options. In fact, Travel + Leisure magazine named it as one of the five up and coming wine destinations worldwide.

And of course I can’t forget about Adelsheim Vineyard in Newberg, Oregon!

I believe that every state in the country now has a winery, which would make it very easy for you to obtain something local – and keep the locavores among us very happy!


The Bottom Line – There are hundreds of factors that could be taken into account when purchasing wine for your holiday party. However, the bottom line is this: if the wine is a good value to you as the drinker, then it is a good wine for you. I often say that wine is like art – what some people really love doesn’t appeal at all to others. It’s a bit of an ambiguous piece of advice from someone that is supposed to be giving tips on buying wine, but it’s the truth.

If all else fails, pick up a nice bottle of Champagne or Prosecco because nothing says “holiday party” like a glass of bubbles!

Catherine Douglas is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Adelsheim Vineyard in Newberg, Oregon and a shameless supporter of Pinot noir from Oregon, USA and Central Otago, New Zealand. You can follow Adelsheim Vineyard on Twitter and Facebook. Photos by: Carolyn Wells-Kramer at CWK Photography.

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