How to Pick Wines for Hosting a Gathering

Finally, you've done it. You've agreed to host a dinner night for friends and family. You've polled everyone for the preferences, sensitivities, allergies, and hard nos. From that polling, you've curated a wonderful menu that will surely please everyone. Things couldn't be going more smoothly. Then reality sets in. What wine will you offer your guests?!

To simplify this process for you, you really only need to consider two main things:

  1. What meal am I preparing?
  2. Are there any wines I know I don't like?

The first question will help you navigate toward a good candidate to pair with your dish while the second simplifies the process by ruling it out. If you know you don't like malbec, remove it from the lineup of options.

What will pair well with my menu?

We've written before about basic wine and food pairing. That's when we introduce the concept of congruent pairings versus contrasting pairings. The concept is fairly simple. Do you want the wine to complement your dish by adding balance and heightening the similarities of flavors between the wine and the food? You can think of this as the cucumber and mint flavors in beef raita. Or carrots and potatoes in beef stew.

Or do you want to create an exciting juxtaposition between contrasting flavors that bring out the best in both? Consider the lime in a key lime pie or the peanut butter and chocolate in a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.

Now you have a basic understanding of congruent versus contrasting flavor profiles.

Don't worry, you won't have to scour the list of ingredients to find a match or contrast for them all. Just consider the overall primary flavor experience of the dish. Is it bitter? Acidic? Piquant? Fatty? Salty? Sweet? 

Okay, I know the basic taste component of my dish. What next?

Great! You've categorized your dish into one of the six basic tastes mentioned above. Let's say you're preparing a spicy pork stew with polenta dumplings.

The other flavor profiles that mesh well with spicy/piquant dishes are fat, sweet, and salty. You're going to have a bit of fat from the cooking oil and the pork and there is likely a fair amount of salt in the recipe too. So we should focus on balancing things out with something sweet to drink. How about a nice late harvest Gewürztraminer to contrast the spice? Or a 2018 Syrah, Hyde Vineyard by Ram's Gate Winery to complement the depth of flavor in your stew? You could even do both and present the option to your guests with white or red wine. You'll likely be regarded as a master host or hostess and people will sing your praises for years.

That's a good example, but that's not what I'm making. How do I do it on my own?

Great question. We list out some guidelines in our previous article on wine and food pairing and we'll summarize them here.

First, your wine should be more acidic than the food you're serving. It should be sweeter than what you're serving also. And, finally, the wine should have the same flavor intensity as the food.

  • Pinot Noir pairs with earthy flavors, like mushrooms and truffles 
  • Chardonnay pairs with fatty fish, shellfish, and rich sauces 
  • Champagne and sparkling wines pair with anything salty 
  • Sauvignon Blanc pairs with tart and tangy foods
  • Malbec pairs with sweeter foods, like barbecue sauces
  • Syrah pairs with spicy foods 
  • Zinfandel pairs with terrines, pates, and mousses

If you'd like to learn even more, reserve a Five-Course Wine & Food Pairing curated by our Executive Chef, Stacey Combs and our Director of Winemaking, Joe Nielsen. Then you can take inspiration from the selection of dishes and wines to create your own memorable experiences with your loved ones for years to come.