The unimaginative choice of the overpriced safe brand is unlikely to make friends and certainly won't influence anyone in your favour. Why pay over the odds to keep brand managers in expensive executive cars?
If pre-planning is the golden rule for party cooks, not having to worry too much about the wines on the day will also help make things go with a swing. At the risk of stating the obvious, make sure you have decent glasses and enough of them, a good corkscrew, and plenty of ice. Austrian crystal balloon glasses are not essential on such occasions but what does matter is glasses with a stem. It is surprising how quickly the clammy embrace of the bowl of a glass can turn the most refreshing of wines into an insipid concoction.
White and sparkling wines need to be served chilled, but not freezing, to keep them as refreshingly fruity as possibly. Unless you have a spare fridge, order ice for the day of the party and keep the white wines in buckets or bins until needed. Reds should not be served too warm, or the tannins and alcohol will stick out and the fruit go into hiding. Keep reds outside, on a ledge, or in the coolest place in the house. Open and bring them in as required, ideally three or four at a time. Appoint a couple of willing volunteers to open bottles and do the pouring.
Allow roughly half a bottle per person, according to the drinking habits of your guests. Most retailers, such as Majestic, Thresher, Victoria Wine or Oddbins, will sell on a sale or return basis with case discounts from five to ten per cent (up to 20 per cent on some fizz) and will also offer facilities such as glass loan and local delivery. For the full works, complete with ice tubs, waiters and a wine buyer on hand to advise on cellaring techniques, speak to an independent wine merchant.
Spending between pounds 3 and pounds 5 on a good white or red is a better bet than offering cheap fizz throughout, most of which tends to be dyspeptically hard, acid, or cosmetically sweet. Because of the lack of tannin, dry whites wines are the most popular choice for drinks parties. They should be refreshing, fruity and moreish, and not too oaky, too sweet or too alcoholic. Your best current bets are young dry whites from Chile, South Africa, Australia, Italy or southern France.
You are unlikely to need anything like as much red as white at a drinks party, rather than a buffet, where serious eats would cry out for some absorbent red tannins. I would suggest a rough ratio of one red to three or four whites. Go for quaffable party reds, which means avoiding the "classics", such as Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhone - too serious by far, not to mention expensive, for relatively light finger food. As with the whites, choose a New World red from Chile or Australia for its soft, engaging fruitiness or a new wave Italian, Spanish or southern French red.
Did someone say invitation?
Whites under pounds 5
Sainsbury's South African Colombard pounds 3.29. This bright, aromatic, guava- like young dry white from the Cape with its rounded fruitiness slips down perilously easily
1995 Ridgewood Trebbiano, South East Australia pounds 3.49, Waitrose (plus 12 for 11 in November). Especially good value thanks in part to the relative obscurity of the grape variety, this floral-scented, zingy dry white has a refreshingly zesty, almost Riesling-like fruitiness
1994 Chardonnay, Cave de la Cessane, Vin de Pays d'Oc pounds 4.25, Sainsbury's. A delightfully fruity, unoaked, but full-flavoured, ripe southern French chardonnay from Philippe Maurel and Stephane Vedeau with a buttery richness to put most Macon Blanc to shame
1995 Santa Carolina Sauvignon Blanc, Lontue pounds 3.99, Oddbins A peachy, citrus-zesty sauvignon blanc from Chile's fine 1995 vintage
For pounds 1 less, the all-sauvignon 1995 Santa Carolina Dry White pounds 2.99 is good party fare too
1994 Caliterra Chardonnay, Curico pounds 3.99, Somerfield; Waitrose, Safeway and Oddbins (bin end) have the 1995. Both vintages from Chile offer vibrantly refreshing, unoaked pineapple- citrusy chardonnay fruitiness
1994 Deakin Estate Colombard/Chardonnay pounds 3.99, Victoria Wine (same as Red Cliffs Colombard/Chardonnay at Thresher and stockists Bottoms Up, Wine Rack). This appealing blend of mostly colombard with a dollop of chardonnay is delicately oaked with plenty of tropical pineapple fruitiness cut by a tang of acidity
1995 Villa Montes Sauvignon Blanc pounds 3.99, Oddbins. A halfway house between grassy Sancerre and pungent New Zealand sauvignon, this is a crisply zesty, gooseberryish sauvignon blanc with the zing of the new vintage
1995 Barrel-fermented Chenin Blanc pounds 3.99, Tesco. This spritz-fresh chenin from Kym Milne stood out at the recent South African tasting for its combination of deliciously fresh, crisp peach and grapefruit flavours and richness of texture
1994 Somontano Chenin Blanc pounds 3.99, Tesco. Another chenin blanc star from Tesco, this affordable new wave dry white from Spain's Somontano region is refreshingly fruity with a grapefruity twist
1994 Chardonnay, Andre Hardy pounds 4.39, Oddbins. Lemon-fresh undertones from fermentation in tank rather than oak keep this weighty, richly buttered, full-bodied chardonnay fresh.
Reds under pounds 5
1994 Albor Rioja, Campo Viejo pounds 3.79, Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up. Juicy, young unoaked, strawberryish rioja with minimal, easy-drinking, almost Beaujolais-like soft tannins. For tighter budgets, the juicy, strawberryish Copa Real Tinto pounds 2.99, is the answer
Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon pounds 3.99, Tesco. With its vivid, lively, gushingly youthful blackcurrant fruit, this delightfully supple-textured Chilean red makes an ideal party red
1993 Palacio de la Vega Cabernet Tempranillo, Navarra pounds 3.99, Oddbins. A modern-style Navarra blend whose fruity, raspberry and blackcurrant flavours are enhanced by juicily tender ripe tannins.
Champagnes and sparklers
Champagne is the quintessential special occasion wine, but a luxury for a festive drinks party, especially in quantity. In his article on champagne on 28 October, Nicholas Faith ran through some of the in-form Grandes Marques and better value growers' champagnes, including two of my current favourites, the excellent aperitif-style Jean Louis Malard Grand Cru Chouilly and richer, malty Jean Louis Malard Grand Cru Bouzy, both pounds 15.99, Bottoms Up. Green Point, Quartet, Nautilus, Scharffenberger and Deutz Marlborough Cuvee are all top quality pounds 10-ish alternatives to champagne, but even with a discount can still be dear for a party.
For decent, affordable fizz, choose from Australia's Angas Brut alternative, Yaldara pounds 4.79,Majestic (by the case); Sainsbury's crisp and tangily dry Cava pounds 4.99; Tesco's biscuity, convincingly champagne-like Blanquette de Limoux pounds 5.99; or, budget permitting, the widely stocked, opulent but crisp, toasty Yalumba Cuvee One Pinot Noir Chardonnay pounds 7.99- pounds 8.49. Even if you were planning on moving on to whites and reds, you might consider having a few bottles of fizz around, a half-case say for 50 people, to break the iceReuse content