An Alternative Theme for the Traditional Holiday Dinner Party

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

As we settle into the holiday spirit and times of joyful camaraderie for the next few weeks, one simple way to sustain a holiday-like festive atmosphere is to find a compelling way to bring together friends and/or family for a fun time and maybe even initiate a new tradition.

Or, if you’re just looking for an excuse to party, here’s a suggestion. It brings together two sure-fire traditions that are a proven match-up: alcohol and partying.

I hesitate to refer to this suggestion as a dinner party. I prefer to view it as a variation on the theme: wine and food gourmet gatherings. Here’s an example of my tried (many times) and proven approach.

Over the years, our groups of friends have participated in many variations of gourmet gatherings. We decided on the wine-themed approach a number of years ago and have been able to sustain a successful, convivial and educational experience every time we meet.

Here’s the twist: introduce wine as the focal point of the gathering. When planning, base the food on a wine theme. The theme may be a particular varietal (Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel), a particular region (Tuscany, Napa/Sonoma California), a combination of the two (Cabernets from different regions around the globe) or any other unique theme someone conjures up (grapes you’ve never heard of). The point is to have an underlying wine theme that your group can then build a food menu around.

This is also a proven way to hone your skills of matching food and wine. As you compare verbal notes of your palate’s experience with your fellow gourmands, you’ll realize the breadth and depth of the uniqueness of your individual palate.

For each gathering, one couple in the group is responsible for setting the theme. Members then receive their assignments: individual responsibilities for food preparation and a committee approach to selecting the wines.

The wine committee meets as a group on the day of the gathering and ventures to a local wine merchant’s shop to select the wines for the gathering (while the other members are toiling at home preparing the food dishes). One guideline: set a budget for the average price of a bottle, then select wines at the average price and, most importantly, at the opposite ends of the price spectrum. This will result in a broad range of tasting experiences. It also allows the penny pincher and the connoisseur in the group to peacefully coexist.

This approach exposes the wine committee to a broad education in wine: how to match food and wine, how one varietal planted in different regions of the world has unique characteristics in each locale, how to differentiate among multiple producers’ offerings and styles, how to appreciate similar wines across a broad spectrum of price and how to read a wine label. It evens functions as a venue for group dynamics: conflict resolution, ego sublimation and negotiating skills.

In anticipation of the gourmet gathering, one member of the wine committee is responsible for memorializing the wine selections and presenting a wine menu for the group to share. Use this as a guide to rate the wines, identify the wines you wish to purchase on your own and as a way to be able to wake up the next morning and refer to the menu as a refresher of what was served the night before.

During the meal, each member of the committee presents a wine, describing its attributes, why the particular wine was chosen for the particular food course and soliciting opinions from the rest of the group.

What better way to expand your knowledge of wine than to meet with friends, enjoy good food and wine and engage in conversation? Speaking of conversation, it never ceases to amaze me how different the group’s dynamics function when wine is introduced into the mix. Unusual topics arise, hidden personality traits surface and long-withheld inner personal secrets are freely shared.

Bon appetite! Send me an e-mail describing your experiences or to seek advice on planning your own gourmet experience.

Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted numerous wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.



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