To me, half the fun of entertaining is planning. Even if it's just a small dinner with friends, I love considering all of the details. And then there's the wine. I enjoy arranging that part, too, but I also know that wine makes many people anxious when they're organizing a party-especially if they're not sure how to proceed on some of the basic issues.
Which Wines to Serve
There's something wonderful about a dinner where the food and wine work seamlessly together. One easy way to achieve a delicious food and wine marriage is to choose a wine that mirrors the dish you're making. So, if your dish is light and fresh with lots of herbal flavors, ask your wine merchant for a wine with similar qualities.
How to Store Wine Until Serving
If you plan to offer red wines, leave them where it's relatively cool. Warm places (like on top of the refrigerator or beside the stove) can make red wine taste flat and dull. White wines need to be served quite cool, but it's hard to find extra space in the refrigerator when entertaining. I like to chill whites in a big, galvanized metal bucket I bought at a garden shop. I fill it with a slushy mix of ice and cold water and put the wine in an hour before the guests arrive; by then, the wine is perfectly chilled. One extra tip: A big garden bucket holds more ice than a typical freezer supplies, so be sure to buy a bag of ice at the supermarket.
There are several advantages to renting glasses-even for a relatively small party. First, you won't have to worry about having enough matching glasses for everyone. Second, the glasses will be delivered to you clean and ready for use. Third, you can return the glasses dirty since the rental company washes them when you're done. Most party rental companies rent wineglasses, and the service is usually inexpensive (starting at less than $1 per glass). I rent large, balloon-shaped glasses and ask for the highest quality available.
Know How Much Wine You Need
It's always better to overestimate since unopened bottles can be saved and enjoyed later. I figure a half-bottle of wine per person as a minimum. While this may seem like a lot-it really isn't since a half-bottle of wine yields about two and a half glasses-remember your guests will probably be sipping wine over the course of many hours.
How to Save Opened Bottles
Whether the wine is red or white, recork opened bottles, and put them in the refrigerator to preserve freshness. White wine will be ready to enjoy the following night straight from the refrigerator. For red wine, you'll want to let it warm to room temperature. And how long can you keep an opened bottle of wine? That depends on the varietal (some-like cabernet sauvignon-are more sturdy than others) and a host of complex factors like the amount of air in the bottle, how quickly you recorked it after it was opened, and so on. But as a general rule of thumb, I find that most opened wines remain in good condition for up to three days.
Cooking with Wine
If a recipe calls for, say, a quarter-cup of white wine, feel free to serve the rest of that bottle to your guests-with one proviso: It should be a good wine. Wine used as an ingredient in a dish should always be high quality, just like any other ingredient in the dish. So when buying a wine for the recipe, choose one that you plan on serving as well. It's not only smart shopping-your dish will taste better, too.
Cooking Light wine expert Karen MacNeil was named Ecolab Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional of 2004 by the James Beard Foundation. Wine prices may vary.