‘What wine should I serve at a dinner party?’

Sommelier Rudina Arapi gives advice on which wines to serve at a dinner party, how to go about food pairing and why personal preference is important

Words by Club Oenologique Editors

dinner party wine

In our Ask the Sommelier series, we put your wine-related questions to top sommeliers. In this instalment, head sommelier at London’s Galvin at Windows Rudina Arapi talks all things dinner party wine.

‘I’m having a dinner party next month with friends and I know they love their wine, but I’m struggling to decide what’s most important when pulling together some bottles to serve. Should I pair the wine with the food, or just go with what’s most versatile, or something I know everyone will like?’
Seema from Oregon, USA

rudina arapi
Sommelier Rudina Arapi: 'When choosing wine for a dinner party, consider what your guests typically prefer to drink'

Sommelier Rudina Arapi responds:

The priority when choosing wine for a dinner party is to consider what your guests typically prefer to drink. If you’re having a dinner party, you want to make sure your guests are happy, so it’s important to note their preferences as well as your own. You also want to take into consideration the weather and the time of the year too. In the summer, for light alfresco dining, a nice rosé is a better choice than a full-bodied, tannin-heavy red, for example.

While some people might choose wines based on preference alone, I really do believe in pairing the right wine with the right food. For example, at Galvin at Windows I’m always working in collaboration with the chef to create wine pairings for the menu. I’m usually already thinking about which wine will pair with which dishes, but when I taste the dish is when it all comes together. You can do this at home, too. The pairing is important, but as I’ve already stated, what’s most important is what you and your guests like. You could find a perfect pairing, but if you don’t like red wine with your meat, then it’s not going to work. So, in this instance, I’d be looking to serve a fuller-bodied white; something a bit more buttery, oaky and rich.

There needs to be a selection of wines on offer

There needs to be a selection of wines on offer. I recommend a sparkling wine to start with – probably Champagne, as it’s a classic and a great way to start any meal. The rest of the wine selection depends on the menu. Post-sparkling wine, I’d have a couple of white wines for variety. One of my favourite grape varieties is Riesling, but then I would also serve a white Burgundy. Both wines are super-versatile, although they do have their own specific qualities. I’m a fan of Mosel and German Riesling, and one of my favourite producers is Sybille Kuntz, so I’d give a bottle from that winery a go. Having something light, refreshing, citrusy and limey for a starter is a great move. As the meal moves on, I would suggest moving on to a white Burgundy, perhaps a Premier Cru Puligny Montrachet, or something a bit creamier to go along with rounded, more substantial dishes.

dinner party wine
'Opening these wines is a moment to enjoy': sommelier Rudina Arapi suggests you open the dinner party wines guests might bring with them as a gift

After the whites, there should be some great red options. I am a big fan of monovarietal wines, like 100% Pinot Noir and 100% Nebbiolo wines, from a Barolo or Barbaresco from Piedmont to a Brunello di Montalcino using the Sangiovese grape from Tuscany, where I grew up. It’s nice to have some wines that you’re passionate about, or from a producer that your guests aren’t aware of, so they can try something new that reflects a terroir you’re interested in. If you’re finishing off with cheese, port can bring the wow factor, or perhaps a nice Madeira. For sweet wines, I recommend a Tokaji or Monbazillac for versatility.

It’s great to bring a bottle you’re passionate about to the dinner party

If your guests have been kind enough to bring a bottle, there’s a beauty in seeing what everyone’s brought together. Opening these wines is a moment to enjoy, as you get to see what someone else has brought to the table. So, if they’re happy to, I’d open the wines your guests have brought, share it with the rest of your guests and discover more about the bottles.

For choosing wine to bring to someone else’s dinner party, I need to know the person inviting me and their taste, as well as what type of dinner it will be. I would bring something that will have that wow factor, perhaps something interesting and new. I think it’s great to bring a bottle you’re passionate about and maybe tell a bit of story – perhaps a wine from somewhere you’ve travelled or that’s given you some pleasure.

Interview by Louella Berryman

Do you have a question to put to the world’s top sommeliers? Send them to editor@cluboenologique.com