holiday wine dinners

An Expert's Recommendation for Foolproof Wines this Holiday Season

Planning a special holiday wine dinner party for friends or family? You want it to be a party that will be long remembered.  

Or maybe you are planning a low-key, informal ‘kitchen’ party for a few friends to celebrate. This will be a different experience, more casual where friends can loosen-up. 

No matter the type of event, you probably have ideas about the menu you want to serve, the table settings to make everything beautiful, and the lighting and music to set just the right mood. 

But when it comes to the wine, you have no idea. Choice abounds at the big box stores and supermarkets with rows upon rows stacked with bottles from top to bottom, priced from high to low.

How much to have on-hand, what types of wines to serve, and even which labels? It might be easier to grab the boxed wine and be done.

At Big Hammer Wines, we encourage you to slow down. You can elevate any food experience with the right wine and within your budget.

Here is our ultimate guide for choosing the right wines for your next dinner or kitchen party during the holidays.

holiday wine dinner party guide

The Ultimate Wine Dinner Guide to Getting Started 

Whether you plan a formal dinner with fancy china and crystal goblets or a kitchen party with everyday dishes and stemless wine glasses, there are some basic considerations before you begin to choose the right wines.

  1. The number of guests drinking wine throughout the event.
  2. Whether you will serve wine to guests upon arrival before dinner.
  3. The number of courses, or the number of different dishes if serving family or buffet style.
  4. The types of foods you will serve.
  5. Whether any sauces are part of the menu.
  6. Whether guests will bring wine they expect to open during the evening.

Serve the Best Wines at Best Wine Dinner Party

If You Want the Best Wine Dinner Party, Serve the Best Wines 

Wine enhances the meal and the experience so allow your guests to enjoy an elevated experience they will remember.

You could serve 2-Buck Chuck, but this would be insulting to the food, to the event and to your guests. 

If you desire a memorable or special evening, plan on serving a higher quality wine than your day-to-day pour. That is, unless you drink Chateau Margaux on a Tuesday evening.

You can serve premium quality wines without breaking the bank and make your party standout. Many superior quality wines are available for you to choose from in the $20+ range. 

You can certainly spend more if your budget allows. Be aware that wine quality generally increases as the price increases, especially from rock bottom prices. Once the price gets over $40, the quality differences are not as great.

Let your guests know in advance if you want them to bring wine and which wines to bring. Bringing wine to a dinner party causes anxiety in many people, so help your guests out by making a few suggestions.

Also, let them know if they bring wine as a gift that it may not be opened that evening. This helps avoid unmet expectations. They are welcome to bring something else or ask them not to bring anything.

wine variety leads to conversation and choice

Add Wine Variety for Conversation and Choice

When choosing wine, you might start with your favorites or what your guests prefer. Consider which wines would pair best with your menu. 

Wine is very personal and not everyone will like what others might. A good option is to choose a few different wines so that everyone finds something they enjoy.

Also, choosing a variety of wines allows you to introduce unusual wines or wines your guests don’t normally drink. Then wine becomes a conversation piece, adding another dimension to the experience.

Choose the first wines and the last wines carefully because guests will remember these most often. 

Starting with a sparkling wine creates a happy mood and ending with a dessert wine mellows out the end of the evening.

Sparkling Wines More than Just Aperitifs

Sparkling Wines Aren’t Just Aperitifs

At the beginning of the evening, sparkling wines are the best option, though some guests may choose a cocktail. However, sparkling wines are the most versatile wines to serve throughout an entire meal, including dessert.

For sparkling wines, options include:

    • From France: Champagne, Crémant,Pétillante, Blanquette de Limoux
    • Italy: Franciacorta, Trento, Prosecco, Moscato, Spumante, Lambrusco (red)
    • Spain: Cava
    • Other countries with sparkling wines: Germany, USA (California, New Mexico and many others,) South America (Argentina, Chile, Brazil) South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and England

Sparkling wines can be pale in color, rosé or even red (Italy, Australia) with a wide range of prices. 

Before you spring for something new and unusual, be sure you try it first and have more than one option. You don’t want your guests spitting out the sparkling before they’ve even sat down for dinner!

Tip: For those who do not prefer sparkling wines, serve a dry rosé. There are many choices from around the world at different price points.

white wines at wine dinner parties

White Wines Can Rule the Table

Serving white wines today goes beyond the traditional pairing with fish. White wines can be paired with an astonishing variety of foods. 

The range of white wines is so vast, encompassing the lightest Pinot Grigio to the depths of Burgundy and Chenin Blanc.

As with any wine, match the body and flavors of the wines with the food: lighter wines with lighter foods, heavier wines with heavier foods. Sweeter wines, such asGewürztraminer, pair well with spicier foods.

This is good news for guests who don’t like red wines. Serving a heavier white alongside the reds allows your guests to choose what they like and still have a food pairing that works.

For all wines, consider any sauces in the dish and match with the sauce, not the underlying dish.

Some white wines to consider:

 Albariño Arneis
Chardonnay * Gewürztraminer
Grüner Veltliner Pinot Grigio
Pinot Blanc Pinot Gris
Marsanne Riesling
Roussanne Sauvignon Blanc
Torrontés Viognier
Vinho Verde Vouvray


 * Has many different expressions from steely Chablis to rich round California-style 

And any of the thousands of white wines made from scores of other grapes in Italy and Greece. Plus, there are many blended white wines you might enjoy.

Try some white wines of the same grape, such as Chardonnay, but from different countries because they will vary in many respects.

Tip: To please a range of tastes, try a medium body Chardonnay or one of the pinot whites. 

red wines king of wine dinners

Red Wines Remain King of the Dinner (or Kitchen) Table

The traditional pairing is of red wine and meat, just ask Argentina.

However, there are a tremendous variety of red grapes and styles of wine. You can even pair red wine with fish, though with care. 

The old rules, while steeped in experience and local knowledge, have been supplemented by new experiences and the global nature of food and wine today. 

Some red wines to consider: 

Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Sauvignon
Carmenere Dolcetto
Gamay Grenache
Petit Verdot Pinot Noir
Malbec  Merlot
Mourvedre  Nebbiolo
Petit Sirah  Sangiovese
Syrah Zinfandel


And like the whites, there are thousands of red wines made from scores of other grapes in Italy, Spain and other countries, and many blended reds, such as Bordeaux. 

Try some red wines made from the same grape, such as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, but from different countries because these will vary in many respects.

Tip: To please a variety of tastes, try a medium body red such as Merlot or Grenache.

Dessert and Wine or Dessert or Wine

Dessert and Wine or Dessert or Wine?

Tradition says to pair desserts with sweeter wines such as French Sauternes, but now even sparkling wines are featured alongside dessert. 

Other great wines to serve with dessert are Port wine from Portugal, Tokaji from Hungary, Icewines from Canada, Sherry from Spain, Passito from Italy, and other dessert wines and sweet wines from around the world.

You could serve just dark chocolate with port or sparkling wine with a few berries, or just a dessert wine on its own.

A small glass of luscious, unctuous dessert wine adds a perfect finishing touch to the end of a long or heavy meal. It will encourage your guests to linger a bit longer.

Tip: Dessert wines tend to have higher alcohol so they are served in smaller portions. One bottle should suffice unless you have a large group.

Great Dinner Parties Demand Great Wine

Great Dinner Parties Demand Great Wine

Make your wine dinner party or kitchen party special and unique by serving quality wine and varieties and styles to fit your menu and your guests tastes. Your party is guaranteed to be a success.

Final tips:

  • Have enough wine on-hand. Plan on one bottle per person, about 4-5 glasses, over the course of the evening. Cork left-over wine and savor it the next day. 
  • The sparkling wine before dinner can be added on or included, depending on your guests.
  • Dessert wines are served in much smaller portions so one bottle is likely to be sufficient.
  • Bring your guests on a wine journey throughout the meal from lighter to heavier, drier to sweeter. 
  • Use different glasses for each wine to keep each wine clean, or separate glasses for sparkling, white, red and dessert. 
  • With a large gathering, serve wine in larger formats such as a magnum (2 bottles).  They are fun and at the end of the evening, guests can sign the bottle.
  • Serve plenty of water throughout the evening so guests do not get dehydrated.
  • Offer coffee at the end of the meal but serve dessert wines before coffee.

Work with a Wine Expert

Work with a Wine Expert

Offering your guests high-quality wine adds another dimension to your dinner party. 

You want your guests to have a good time, be relaxed and be engaged, so choose a variety of wines to allow guests to compare and learn how wines taste with different types of food. 

The best way to have the optimal wine and food pairing is to work with your local wine shop or other wine professional. 

A wine professional can educate you about different wines that will suit your event. They can help you match wines with your menu and find guest friendly options. 

The expertise of a knowledgeable wine professional will make all the difference. 

About Big Hammer Wines

Greg Martellotto, owner of Big Hammer Wines, knows how to entertain, and he knows how great wine elevates the experience. 

He is the consummate wine professional, having worked at all levels of the business from winery to restaurant. He tastes about 4,500 wines every year to ensure his clients have access to the best wines from around the globe.

Trust Big Hammer Wines for all your party needs. We will help you find the right wine for every occasion.  Contact Big Hammer Wines today.

Leave a comment (all fields required)

Comments will be approved before showing up.