It’s that time of year again. Festive times with family and friends are on the horizon and we’re ready to party.
One way to create a unique festive atmosphere is a variation on the traditional holiday dinner party. Consider a wine and food gourmet gathering.
Let me preface this by stating up front that we’ve all suffered through a friend’s idea of a “gourmet” dinner group, where everyone is encouraged to bring their favorite homemade food dish to “share good food and fun times.” Unfortunately, one person’s gourmet meal can be another person’s gulag labor camp mystery meal.
Here’s the antidote: introduce wine as a focal point of the gathering. When planning, base the food on a wine theme. The theme may be a particular varietal (Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon), a particular region (Tuscany, Napa/Sonoma), 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 which your group can then build a food menu around. This is also a proven way to hone your skills of matching food and wine.
Here’s an example of a tried and proven approach.
A group of our friends has participated in many variations of gourmet gatherings over the years. We decided on the wine-themed approach a number of years ago and have been able to sustain a successful, convivial and educational experience. For each gathering, one couple in the group is responsible for setting the theme. One of them selects (and controls) the food menu and another is responsible for the wine selections. Other members of the group then receive their assignments: individual responsibilities for food preparation and, the twist, a committee approach to selecting the wines. (Increasingly these sub groups are mixed sexes.)
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 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 spendthrift and the connoisseur in the group to coexist peacefully.
This approach exposes the overall group, at table, to a broad education in wine, including opportunities such as matching food and wine, how one varietal planted in different regions has unique characteristics in each locale or how to appreciate similar wines across a broad price spectrum. The process also 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 by presenting a wine listing for each member. Use this as a guide to rate the wines, identify those you wish to purchase on your own and as a way to be able to wake up the next morning to refresh your memory of what was actually served the night before.
During the meal, members of the committee present a wine, describing its attributes, why the particular wine has been 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 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! May your holiday gatherings be joyful and convivial. Send me an e-mail seeking further planning advice or describing your gourmet experiences.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.