Select and serve wines to their best advantage at your next dinner party.

By By Karen MacNeil
August 29, 2002

Airplanes notwithstanding, there's a reason that wine generallydoesn't come in single-serving containers. From the earliest times,wine has been a drink meant to be shared. While I can imagineeating without wine, I honestly can't conceive of entertainingwithout it. Wine can make the food at a dinner party taste betterin a way no other beverage can.

That said, serving wine raises numerous practical questions.Here are my answers to the questions I'm most commonly asked.

1. How do you choose the right wine for the meal?
Pairing wine with food is about instinct and a good knowledgeof how flavors work together. To pick up some basic tips, take alook at the wine strategies and suggestions I've provided for thesemenus.

Let's say, however, that you have a menu of your own planned andaren't confident in your wine expertise. In this case, take yourmenu with you to the best wine shop in town. Briefly describe thedishes to one of the salespeople, and ask him or her to recommend awine and describe the flavors for you.

Remember: Pairing wine and food isn't a science, and there areno absolutely right or absolutely wrong answers.

2. How many wines should you offer your guests?
I sometimes serve a different wine with every course, butit's also wonderful to serve just two -- one matched to theappetizer and the other to the main dish.

I also sometimes pour two wines per course instead of just one.This encourages tasting, experimentation, comparison, and livelyconversation as guests decide on their favorite.

3. How should the wines be served?
For years, I've assigned one guest the role of "wine buddy."This person's job is to open wines and pour as needed while I'mbusy checking on the lamb and testing the vegetables. No matterwhom I choose, my guests love being the wine buddy. Try it -- itworks!

As for when to serve the wines, there are a few options. I liketo serve an aperitif while guests are standing; empty glasses go to(or remain in) the kitchen. When we sit, the table is set withglasses for the wines to come. I pour the wines for the appetizercourse and the main course at the same time. Though this is alittle unconventional, I prefer it because guests can experimentwith whichever wine they like; it also ensures a more relaxedatmosphere since I don't have to get up and down to remove or setglasses for every course.

4. How many bottles do you need?
A standard 750-milliliter bottle contains about five servingsof wine. I figure each guest will have at least two servings ofevery wine for every course. So, if you had 10 guests, you'd needfour bottles of wine for each course. Beyond this, I plan on oneglass per person for the aperitif wine (or two bottles using theformula above). This is generous math, to be sure, but I'd ratherhave wine left over than run out.

5. Which wineglasses are best?
Stick with large, inexpensive stemmed wineglasses, and don'tworry about having different ones for white and red wine; a singlelarge glass works fine for both. It's nice to have enough glassesso that each guest can have a separate one for the aperitif wine,the appetizer course, and the main course.

If you're having a dinner party and are short on glasses, don'tworry. Using the same glass for several wines is perfectly fine,and contrary to popular opinion, you don't need (and in factshouldn't) rinse the glasses with water between wines. A drop ofthe former wine won't hurt the wine to come.

6. Do you need to worry about letting the wine "breathe"?
Worry? No. But if you're serving a powerful young CabernetSauvignon or Merlot, it will taste softer and more luscious if youpour it out into a carafe, pitcher, or decanter. This isn'tdecanting per se (you're not separating the wine from sediment),but you are aerating the wine by pouring it out of the bottle.

7. What about leftover wine?
Chill any opened bottles overnight to help preserve the wine.In the case of red wine, take the bottle out of the refrigerator anhour or so before enjoying a glass. And don't forget to drink atoast to remember your successful dinner party the nightbefore!