I just got back from Paris. That sounds show-offy, doesn’t it? Well, it just gets worse. I was there with my dear friend David Jimenez, now a Parisian. For five glorious days, he showed me his Paris. Longtime readers of Kansas City Spaces remember David, who, as the “Inside Design” columnist, shared his decorating virtuosity and impeccable style before moving to San Francisco, and then, last October, to Paris.
On my visit, we spent a lot of time in David’s favorite cafes, people-watching, yakking, and yes, drinking wine, usually Bordeaux or Sancerre. It’s hard to get a second-rate glass of wine in Paris, although it wouldn’t have mattered if we had because my philosophy concerning wine is that it’s mostly about with whom you’re drinking it. I would rather drink box wine with people I love like Jimenez—than Chateau d’Yquem with people I don’t. The only time you need the distraction of a $200 bottle of wine is when you’re with bad company, like a wine bore. Happily for me, the wine and the conversation in Paris were both delicious.
But I’ll shut up about Paris
Back here in the states, no one has to drink second-rate wine either because—have you noticed?—we are living through a great age for wine. There is so much delicious, inexpensive wine out there! Even box wines, Bota Box and Wine Cube in particular, are respectable for casual drinking. My theory is that warehouse clubs and online vendors like wine.com have compelled wine producers to up their game, and we are all enjoying the benefits.
You easily can find information about wine: magazines like Wine Spectator; wine blogs (my fave is The Feiring Line, by Time travel and wine columnist Alice Feiring); entire sections at the bookstore. (If you’re going to read one wine book, read Bacchus and Me, by Jay McInerney.) But I will never be an expert because my eyes glaze over after the first mentions of viticulture and barrel fermentation. What’s more important to most of us is how wine can be used to have a rockin’ good time. Here, then are some tips for making the most of le vin at your gatherings.
When in doubt, go to to New Zealand
Wine is a self-contained party in a bottle. It’s really all you need to have a simple get-together with a friend or two. I always have several bottles of nice white wine chillin’ in our fridge, and some pistachio nuts or olives on the shelf—makings for a small, spontaneous party. Some of the best times we’ve had at our house have been spur-of-the-moment parties with a bottle or two of wine in the kitchen or on the deck.
New Zealand sauvignon blancs (NZSBs) are perfect for a spontaneous party. The ones I’ve tried are tart, refreshing and versatile enough to be enjoyed with any kind of food. Villa Maria, Whitehaven, Kim Crawford and Costco’s Kirkland brand all make delicious NZSBs, available for under $15 a bottle. Warning: many of the NZSBs are screw tops, but that doesn’t mean they’re not good wines. I like the convenience of screw tops, but I do not like being denied the sound of the cork being popped—one of my favorite sounds in the world.
Some of my friends categorically refuse to serve red wine at parties in their houses because they are afraid of spillage. I serve red wine with reckless abandon, but I respect everybody’s right to protect his or her white damask sofas from gesticulating, intoxicated people.
Because at parties, people spill; they just do. They jostle one another, they embrace, they sit on the floor, and they knock red wine out of each other’s hands and it will make you crazy. If you have beautiful white furniture or rugs, which I don’t, a red wine spill can be catastrophic. Yes, I know you can pour soda water and salt over it, but it never looks the same. And I have friends who have had to have furniture recovered and rugs replaced at great expense because of spilled red wine. Plus, the offending guest feels much worse after having ruined a beautiful piece of furniture than he or she would by having to drink a glass of white wine instead of red. So by all means refuse to serve red wine if you have nice white furniture and rugs. Now you have no reason not to entertain.
Wine and rambunctious dinner parties
If you are a wine aficionado, you are probably already horrified by what I’ve said and will be even more so when I tell you that when I have a dinner party I don’t pay that much attention to food and wine pairings.
I think it’s more important to keep whatever wine you have flowing. I usually open whatever anybody brings me, making sure I have at least one open bottle of white and red on the table at all times throughout dinner. Then if I run out of the largesse from my friends, I go to our own back-up bottles, usually NZSBs and the very quaffable Apothic Red blend, available for less than eight bucks a bottle.
I am very lucky in that I have friends who bring nice wines—as one should when one goes to a dinner party. If someone is gracious enough to invite you over for dinner, by all means bring a nice bottle of wine. By “nice” I mean spend more than you would on an everyday bottle for yourself.
For dinner parties I always figure on having a full bottle of wine per guest (total consumption). That quantity might sound high, but if your dinner is spread out over several hours and you are serving a lot of food, it isn’t immoderate. If you’re concerned your guests will get toasted, be sure their water glasses are always full so they have an alternative to automatically reaching for the wine. Calling Uber is a good solution for guests “too tired” to drive home.
My own general guidelines
Even though I just revealed how neglectful I am about food and wine pairings when I entertain, I do have some deeply felt personal opinions about which wines go with certain foods.
Rieslings taste good with Kansas City barbecue and Mexican food. I like a gewürztraminer with take-out Chinese. A dry rosé is delicious with grilled salmon, as is cabernet sauvignon with beef tenderloin. Champagne tastes wonderful with sushi. My trusty NZSBs go well with meals that present a wide range of flavors, like Thanksgiving dinner. And either Bordeaux or Sancerre go perfectly with people-watching in Paris.
Because life’s too short to hand-wash
I love the look of sparkling stemware on a dinner table, but not necessarily matched, sparkling stemware. I think it’s fine to mix, as long as you have the same level of formality. Of course, I’m rationalizing because I don’t have a matched set of anything right now. I’ve never kept my nice stemware locked up for special occasions. I use it all the time and I’m too lazy to wash it by hand, so I throw it in the dishwasher. It usually survives, but not always, and that’s the price I pay for my sloth.
One of these days I’m going to march in to Halls and buy a dozen each of chardonnay, cabernet and pinot noir stems in the Riedel Veritas pattern, at $28 a stem. Wine tastes better out of Riedel, and although their glasses are exquisitely light, they are not fragile. In fact, they are dishwasher safe, as long as you don’t crowd them.