Choosing wine for a cocktail party provides a different challenge than pairing wines for a meal. Unless food is going to be an integral part of your event, the wines you choose should be able to stand on their own with big, bold complex flavors. Perhaps the best choice is sparkling wine.
Served ice cold it is light and refreshing and goes well with a remarkable array of foods and snacks from mild cheeses, salty snacks like nuts, crackers and chips, as well as seafood and cold cuts.
There is no need to go out and buy the most expensive vintage French champagne, especially for a large gathering. Besides reasonably priced sparkling wines from California, such as Tott’s and Korbel, you can still bring in some international flair for a budget with Cava from Spain and Prosecco from Italy. These are both crisp and dry and quite reasonably priced, good versions can be found for around $10. You can even stretch your budget a bit by offering a splash of peach nectar or pomegranate juice for a tasty treat.
However, it is highly recommended to by sparkling wine with “All-Natural” or “Methode Champagne” on the label. Artificially carbonated sparkling wine can have some unpleasant after taste and give one a pretty nasty hangover.
When choosing still wines for a cocktail party, look no further than the wines of the New World, which boast a slightly higher alcohol content, fruit-forward flavor profiles and in the case of red wines, a big tannic mouth feel to cut through the salty snack food.
For white wine choices, California and Chile are the best sources for interesting, moderately-priced Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. If you choose an oaked Chardonnay and a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, you’ll have a distinct choice for your guests, and since these are two of the most popular grape varietals, you will have your white wine drinkers covered.
The above regions are also good bets for red wines, but you can certainly add Australia and Argentina into the mix.
Two good choices to have on hand are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The Cabernet will be the bolder, more powerful wine and Merlot will be smoother and more delicate, even though New World Merlots will be a bit fruitier, than a Pomerol from Bordeaux.
Though there are some serious, high-end wines from Australia, their budget red wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz can be both interesting and affordable. It may be fun to have a California and Australia wine side by side for the contrast. Since the boom in Australian wines, they have become extremely popular and are especially good in a cocktail party setting.
In the last 10 years, the wines of Argentina have really begun to cause a stir. If you open a few bottles of a typical Malbeck, you will be sure to turn some heads. Though the Malbec varietal was mostly considered a blending grape in France, it has been taken to new heights in Argentina. There are also very refined Bordeaux-style blends that can be had for under $20 and can be absolutely delicious.
One of the good things about choosing New World wines is that vintage year is usually not an issue. The New World wines are blessed with consistently good weather and these wines are generally produced to be drunk right off the shelf.
Unless you are doing a cocktail party that is focused on wine and wine tasting, it’s best to have no more than 4 kinds of wine, 2 red and 2 white. Make sure that they are in the same price range, so that there won’t be an obvious rise or drop in quality and keep the white and sparkling wines on ice.
Wine preferences tend to be seasonal, so you might want to have more white wine in the warm weather and more reds during the cold. Even in the hot weather, it doesn’t hurt to refresh the red in the ice bucket for 10 minutes. The correct temperature for red wine is around 65F, not 80!
Since not everyone will be drinking wine, you can figure one bottle of wine for three guests. It is not uncommon for 2 adults to share a 750ml bottle of wine over dinner, guests at a cocktail party will be doing more drinking and mingling than eating, though be sure to have plenty of snacks on hand.
Rather than provide you with a ponderous list of personal favorites, these simple guidelines are a great starting point for choosing wines for your party, and allowing for the flexibility of choosing favorites and experimenting with fantastic wines from around the world. Have a great time at your next party!