“You should keep it to no more than six kinds of wine at a party,” says Christopher Silva, president and CEO of St. Francis Winery and Vineyards of Sonoma. “You don’t want your guests to be overwhelmed. When you go to the department store and there are so many colognes and perfumes, you end up unable to distinguish one from the other.”
On Thursday, September 18, Silva will cohost “Savvy Style: Entertaining with Wine” at Bloomingdale’s in Fashion Valley. Three party themes will be presented by Los Angeles–based event planner Wendy Creed.
For the first theme, an outdoor evening “Summer Soiree,” Creed recommends that hosts “welcome guests with hundreds of flickering candles.” To convey the feel of a Victorian-era safari, she suggests lighter, natural colors. To keep it upscale, she suggests that entertainers move the dining room table into the backyard and use their finest tableware.
“A froth of fine muslin and mosquito netting” can be hung from garden umbrellas at each end of the dining table, offers Creed, “while a white cotton tablecloth drapes the table, recreating the romantic mood favored by those on safari.” For a formal dinner, champagne and wine can be paired with a gourmet three-course barbecue. For a more casual affair, grilled shrimp and corn on the cob can be served with wine in “compact, chic tumblers, as they do in Italy.”
“Wine invites conversation about its history, flavors, and nuances,” says Silva. “You’re not going to hear much conversation about hard liquor.” Silva continues, “Guests love to learn. Make them feel special by giving some thought to what you are serving. Get online and ask your local wine store about your wines so you can educate your guests about what they are drinking.”
But don’t overdo it, he warns. “The key to entertaining with wine is simplicity. You don’t want to intimidate people.” Instead of providing an array of wine-specific glasses, Silva says, “Use simple glasses that you’re comfortable with, particularly when you’re inviting people who might not be diehard oenophiles.”
Silva says the palate is like a sponge. “Like learning a foreign language, the more time you spend with people who are conversant, or even trying to be conversant, the more comfortable you will feel. At the end of the day, it is just a beverage.”
Creed’s second party idea, “Roll Out the Red Carpet,” is intended to make guests feel like a Hollywood star. This kind of theme works best when the purpose of the gathering is to watch an awards show or movie.
“Movie-poster-themed invitations [can] set the tone for this event,” says Creed. On the big day, hosts might want to roll a red-carpet runner up the driveway. “Arm the neighborhood kids with [disposable] flash cameras to call out [guests’] names and snap their photo as they arrive.” A rented candy counter and popcorn machine can be set up at one side of the room. “When guests leave,” Creed adds, “offer everyone their own swag bag filled with fun items.”
“I’ve had popcorn with chardonnay,” says Silva. “It goes well, particularly if it’s buttered popcorn.” Chardonnay-tasting notes often include the word “buttery.” When asked what might pair well with candy, Silva responds, “Merlot, because you get plums, cherries, spice, and pepper. Chocolate and zinfandel go beautifully together.” Most red wines go well with nuts and spicy snacks.
When purchasing wine for a party, one should figure on half a bottle per person. “Like food, it’s better to err on the side of too much,” says Silva. Wine should be kept cool. Silva recommends, “The mid-40s [degrees Fahrenheit] for white wine, low-60-degree range for red wine — heat is not a friend of red wine.”
Creed’s third party theme is a “grown-up slumber party” she calls “Girls’ Night In,” for which the hostess would convert her home into a spa. “The party begins with massages in the sun followed by post-massage sparkling wine and chocolates,” says Creed, adding that once the sun goes down, guests can “work off all the indulgences as [they] learn to pole dance from a professional.”
Creativity, says Creed, is the most important ingredient of a successful event, and the first thing to create is a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. Creed insists the experience need not end when the guests leave.
“The best hostess gift is one that is remembered long after the party is over,” she says. “Your favorite scented candle, a favorite book, fun personalized stationery, or a great CD.” She also recommends gifting a bottle of wine. “Write your name on the label — when they go to drink the bottle, they can make a toast to you.”
Savvy Style: Entertaining with Wine
Thursday, September 18
7057 Friars Road
Cost: $25 reservation fee (redeemed for $25 Bloomingdale’s gift card at event)
Info: 619-610-6699 or www.bloomingdales.com