Sommeliers tend to reinforce the wine-is-intimidating stereotype: They parade through dining rooms cradling bottles like newborns. They ponder a glass with such consternation you'd think the cure for cancer was hidden deep inside. They decant like biochemists. Is wine really this complicated? No, it's not. Good wine service is about simplicity and comfort, not pomp and circumstance. Use a decent glass. Serve your reds cool. Consider the menu before you buy. And remember these tips that follow. Entertaining with wine at home -- yes, it's that easy.
Boss Your Guests Around
We all do this: Friends ask, "What should I bring?" and we're, like, "Oh, don't worry, whatever... maybe dessert?" Instead, ask them to bring a bottle. Be specific about which one you think would pair best with what you're cooking -- and let your guests know. If, for instance, you're making shellfish soup, tell them to buy a crisp Sancerre. Standing rib roast, a big New World Cabernet. They won't have to figure out what you really wanted (but didn't ask for), and you'll have one less thing to worry about.
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Case the Joint
Purchasing wine by the case is a pro move: You know you've always got a wine you love on hand. Let me make the case for Italian Barbera as your "house wine." It's loaded with fruit, brightened with ample acid, and nearly devoid of tannin, meaning it's tasty, food-friendly, and (usually) inexpensive.
Think Inside the Box
For bigger gatherings, maybe a larger-scale barbecue or even (gasp!) a wedding, embrace boxed wine. More vintners are putting something decent inside. Don't like the packaging? Pour it into a carafe for some visual pop.
Rediscover the Spritz
Wine spritzers are an excellent way to bluff your way through the wine hour. Spend your time and money on the accoutrements ("fancy" club soda, fresh garnishes, big ice cubes) instead of the main ingredient (wine) and still impress guests.
Keep It Glassy
Stylish stemware like Crate & Barrel's Tour white wineglass works for small dinners. But when you're pouring for an army, opt for durable, long-stemmed glasses that cost less and look great. I like the tall 16-ounce ones from Cardinal International (webstaurantstore.com). At less than $4 apiece, I buy them by the case, too.
Run the Numbers on How Much Wine You'll Need
You should figure on three drinks per person, give or take, over the course of an evening. Keep in mind that there are four good-size glasses of wine in a 750-milliliter bottle. Do the math from there. And remember the golden rule of partying: Never run out of wine. Buy more than you need.
End on a High Note
As in show business, you want to leave 'em wanting more. Rather than have their last memory of dinner be of some lukewarm red in their fingerprinted glass, trot out a heady, sweet nectar for dessert. This Isole e Olena Vin Santo del Chianti Classico ($50/half-bottle) will send everyone home raving.